My Best Parking Ticket, Ever.

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So I had just sat down to lunch at a window seat at a down town eatery. The city I live in has a great old section that is well preserved and view from my second story perch was of a cobblestone street running like an orderly riverbed around granite foundations and street lamps. One of the difficulties of old cobble stone streets and 200+ year old buildings is the “picturesque” to “usable” ratio. In short, these street’s don’t accommodate modern vehicles well. Especially if you drive a soccer-mom mobile. As I munched away on my sandwich I spotted one of our many, MANY meter readers, doing his thing up and down the side of the road. In a city with such limited parking, they have to really be on top of the parking meters and believe me, they are. One vehicle he stopped at stood out. It was exactly the kind of vehicle that makes fourteen year old boys go “Oooh, MAN! Cool!” but should make any adult roll their eyes. The meter reader stopped, walked around, ran the plate number, wrote something down in his book and then waled briskly away. A minute or two later, he was back with his little truck… and a boot. This must not have been his first ticket because he immediately got out all the tools and started to clamp on the boot. It’s funny. If it was a small sedan or something I probably would have felt bad for the owner, but because it was a too-big-for-the-city, pimped-out mobile with tinted windows and fat tires, I confess it made me giggle inside. Buddha would not have been proud of me.

I watched the cool-mobile get the boot and then watched over my plate of french fries as the owner came out to find his now immovable vehicle. He didn’t look like the type I expected. Nothing too outrageous in his dress or manner but he did have one notable… eh… accessory. His car wore it’s boot on the left front tire. His left leg sported a full air cast. Both of them it seemed, had been booted. He took it in good stride, took the ticket off the windshield and pulled out his cell phone to call the city.

My fries were done and the check was paid and I made my way to my car. As I rounded the corner back to my parking spot, there on the sidewalk was the same meter reader, just finishing the ticket on my car. No boot, just a ticket. I let out a “Aw, drat” as I walked up. I try really hard to keep my profanity “G” rated now that I have a miniature human with an ear for repetition in the house. I plucked the ticket off the wind screen and glanced back at the guy and I saw him cringe a little bit. I can only imagine how much vitriol he’s had directed at him over the years. Talk about a thankless job. I kind of smirked and shrugged with a bit of a pained expression. He brightened almost immediately at my lack of expletives and said “Is that your first ticket since January?” I said that it was and he explained that I didn’t have to pay that one provided I didn’t get another until June. Actually, he called it “complimentary”. I laughed at the idea of a complimentary ticket and he quickly stated that I could put it in a scrap book and leave it for the kids. I laughed again and thanked him for the tip. Unexpectedly, he came back with something I never thought I’d hear a meter reader say. “Hey, if you want, just put the ticket back on your car and I’ll give you another two free hours.” That stopped me. I thanked him again but said that I really did need to get back to work. I unlocked my car and he added, “Don’t be hatin’ “. I tuned back and replied, “Hey, we all gotta work.” and waved good bye to him with my ticket.

We do all gotta’ work, and we could all use some slack for just doing what we’re supposed to do. It’s important to remember that sometimes. Here’s hoping I have enough change to feed the meters for the next three months so I don’t have to chat with him again, though.

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Do not take the night train from Munich to Prague. Conclusion.

…So we had gotten seats and the train was just about packed. Not only were there no open seats to be seen anywhere, It became increasingly obvious that there weren’t any anywhere. Slightly and not so slightly panicked looking Koreans drifted by our doorway, each with a look like that of a child looking for their lost mom. The whistle blew, the train lurched and we were on our way. As I sat in my lucky seat, I very shortly became aware of a few things. First of all, this was a nine hour train ride on which I would be surrounded by nothing but the Korean language. I prayed that SOMEONE here spoke english and wouldn’t mind chatting a bit. Second, that with the heat and the humidity and now the crush of an overloaded train car, it was turning into sauna here. Fast.

I still wasn’t too keen on getting out of my seat even for the thirty seconds that it would take to open the window lest someone leap into it behind me. The seatless still prowled the hallway looking for the weak of bladder or the very, very foolish who went looking for the snack car. Eventually, I asked out loud if someone could open the window. The guy across from me quickly replied in flawless english, “Good idea” and nodded to the guy on my left, who looked a bit like an Asian Elvis. The hair product alone was impressive, but the clothing choice of unbuttoned while shirt, necklaces and tight black pants really set the image off nicely. Being closest to the window, Elvis managed to get it open and back to his seat before a squatter moved in on the vacancy. The stagnant hot air was replaced with blowing hot air and we listened to the train groan its way out of the marshaling yard. After tickets were checked but before we all got too comfortable, I decided to see if we could improve our seating arrangement. I turned to Elvis and explained that my wife was in the next car and would he be okay with switching? We’d all have seats but that way Action Girl and I could be together. He looked at me from under his moussed mantle and quickly responded, “Okay.” I was delighted. I smiled. He smiled.

He didn’t move.

Uh Oh.

The english speaker across from me started to laugh and then quickly explained to Elvis in Korean what he had just said “Okay” to. Elvis’ smile vanished. Apparently, Elvis didn’t speak english and had been bluffing with his best “Okay”.

He was a man of his “Okay” though. The switch was made and Action Girl joined me in the compartment that was the lap of communist comfort. About this time, the sky could hold the humidity no longer and suddenly, it was like we were traveling under a waterfall. The open window let in sheet of rain and someone sprang up to slam it shut, whereupon he compartment quickly reverted to a steam bath. Ugh!

After about five hours of this joy we finally pulled into a siding and awaited a new engine to take us the rest of the way to Prague. I dared to leave my seat and go out into the hall to stretch my legs and my translator came to join me. The hall way was disgusting. The floors were soaked from the rain and up an down them there were Korean students sleeping or trying very hard to sleep, mostly lying on bits of soaked cardboard. Oh and did I mention the bathrooms? You don’t want to know the state of the bathrooms. Honest.

As it turned out, the nice guy / translator spoke perfect english and had previously spent quite a good amount of time in the states. He explained that this was a package trip from his university and that they had been traveling together for about a week. He was really a nice person to chat with and as my wife did her best to convince her self that she was sleeping, the Nice Guy and I had some good chats. Most of them started with a, “Holy Sh1t! it’s hot in here!”. After an uncomfortable hour or so, the train wobbled with the coupling of the new engine and we were off. I had really gotten to like the Nice Guy. He was a chess player, a scholar and had a really good wit. In short, just the kind of person you’d want to be trapped with in a smelly, wet, steel tube for nine hours.

We were in the home stretch now. The Koreans however were in trouble. Czech ticket agents came through the cars with way too much bluster. They did not look happy and other than the fact that it was something like four in the morning, we quickly found out why. The Koreans had the wrong tickets. All of them. Everywhere you looked, panic was spreading. They all needed to buy new tickets for the Czech part of the trip but to do this you needed money, and money is what most of them didn’t have. They didn’t have it in droves. Our tickets, thankfully, were correct and the ticket collector let us off with only a severe glare. We were, after all, foreign. There was much horse trading and begging amongst the group for loans and the tour operator trying to get the ticket collectors to see reason. It must have all worked out because the collectors finally disappeared and only came back to bother us seven or eight more times. Essentially, just enough to keep anyone from sleeping.

As we rolled into the outskirts of Prague, Action Girl pointed out bonfires dotting the woods. Gypsy encampments, we decided. A little over an hour later we squealed our way into the train station and squirted off the Hell Train on to the main platform. We looked around in a haze made of sleeplessness and being in an utterly unfamiliar place. All the signs were written in cyrillic and we had no idea where to find The Doctor. Then his voice piped up behind us. “Right now,” he stated dryly, “You are saying to your self ‘What the hell did I do to deserve that?'”. We boggled. Did we look that bad? Well… yes, I suppose we did. He took us to breakfast and over what was possibly the most lovely food we had had in months (or at least the most appreciated), we told him our story. He smiled and took a drink of orange juice. “That’s interesting.” he finally said. “Because for me it was exactly the same except for the Koreans. On my train, they were all Japanese.”

I will never take the night train from Munich to Prague again. I don’t care if I have to walk. The really best part of all this is that a friend of ours went to Prague via Munich just a few years ago. She told us her itinerary before she left and we warned her in the strongest possible way. She naturally did it any way and though her experience didn’t include the asian tour group, she told us later that she regrets not following our advice. It’s refreshing to know that some things in the world never seem to change.
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I’ve run out of room to get to the bit with the Evil Eye, but I’m sure I’ll mention it later in another post. Suffice it to say that gypsy’s can be a real pain when they are trying to rip you off but if you shoo them away with too much vigor, get ready for a hex.

Any way… That was the worst night ever for us. A cranky two year old at three in the morning is the minor leagues in comparison. I just have to remind Action Girl about it from time to time when sleep seems to be illusive. “Well, at least we’re not going to Prague by train”. That usually adds some good perspective.

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