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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Getting Kicked Off A Train in Spain

It all started innocent enough. I absolutely had no intentions of being a stowaway this time. Oh no, I looked upon those days of hapless train hopping, as a pastime of unmistakable immaturity. Yes, a sign of true juvenilia. That belonged to my youthful days….way back…in a spruce-like, bygone era…way back…in last November. While I was in Italy. It was so easy then. But now, I had grown up into respectful adulthood. Had hatched out of that spring egg of delinquency and tomfoolery , so no more dodging train conductors in order for a free ride on a locomotive.

I was in a rush, I was going to take the night train to Granada, where the famous Alhambra lies, polished like a dazzling gem in the south Spanish sun. As it was, the ticket booths at the train station in Valencia were all closed. And I was told by one of the workers to just get on the train, and purchase my ticket from the conductor. I consented towards the idea and went towards the train to board that great steel beast that was going to whisk me away to southern, Moorish Spain.

But as I boarded, a shadow of my old self flashed before me. Why, I could actually try to see how long I could go without paying. If I was extremely dexterous at it, I might get a free lift to Granada. If I didn’t succeed, all I had to do was just pay the conductor the amount. Seeing how I was told to pay this way to begin with.

It was to be an 8 hour long trip. So any success with this attempt would be quite the feat. I had to be like a cat. Ever watchful, ever present, and so very fast. My senses pricked up to their utmost ability to apprehend any type of encounter with a worker. I had one advantage. I looked the part of a normal back-packer from somewhere in northern Europe who probably would’ve paid. And pretending ignorance of any language they threw at me would be believable.

I headed for the sleeper cars to blend in with the congestion that had formed there because somehow the train company had booked too many passengers for the sleeper cars. (or maybe there were more scoundrels like me.) But I met a Canadian couple from Toronto, who were waiting for another sleeper car to come out. I was chatting a little bit with them. And when one of the conductors would approach, I’d sort of disappear.
A lot of the time, for the very beginning of the trip, while the train was just getting its engine warmed up, I hid in water closets. In Italy, if you hid in one without shutting the lock sign, it gave no indication that anyone was in there. Therefore hiding in one, without locking the door made the conductors think that well, obviously, no one was hiding in there. Reverse psychology, so to speak. In Spain, as I learned, they little regarded this nuance, and just opened the door. At one point, I was just standing there, looking at myself in the mirror, when the lead conductor opened the door, saw that someone was in there, and then shut it back. I thought that I was safe, that I had passed the first examination. That the game was in my favor. Brian Harrison =1. Train Conductor =0.
Usually the train conductor goes through the train from the beginning and punches everyone tickets. If you slip past this inspection time, then the odds are definitely in your favor. This is where I believed myself to be.

I continued to rummage about the train, I hid my bag on a luggage rack. Met 2 other stowaways, who were playing the same game I was. And explored the train almost from top to bottom. And as the time commenced, and the train dashed off into the inky blackness of this Spanish night, I counted myself as victorious. And wound up in the “seats only” section of the train, (where I was going to buy a ticket for from the first place.) I ended up in the door section talking to the 2 other stowaways who seemed to be rather certain that the chief inspection time had passed and it was okay to relax. They both were Italians, from Rome. And they both couldn’t speak hardly any Spanish (which is funny to me seeing how close their language is to Spanish) and they knew a little English. We conversed with each other in broken Italian, English, and Spanish. Somehow we could understand each other to some degree. We were talking about all sorts of things. They offered me a beer. And we were quite relaxed and at ease, when the lead conductor pops out of no where. He was this middle-aged man, who had this bristly moustache, for bristly moustaches seem to be all the rage for train conductors around the world. And he immediately started talking to the Italian gents. He knew from the get go that these Italians had not paid. They had some sort of ticket that they had purchased in Italy. But for some strange reason it was not valid in Spain. The conversation mostly took place in bad English, for neither could speak the others language. So it was apparent to me that no consolation was to be found and the train conductor was pretty firm in his deliberation to throw them off the train. Seeing all this before my eyes, I really wondered if he included me with them. And that maybe, I could just play it off as though, I was just in the entry way stretching my legs, peering out the window, out at the opaque darkness. Maybe he would pass over me.
But this didn’t occur. This particular train conductor was incredibly sharp and from his very brief glimpse of me half an hour before, in the water closet, when he opened the door on me, he knew that I was a non-paying passenger. So he definitely included me in his speech about getting thrown off the train. He was not mad. He seemed to thrive in the amusement of us being ousted off his vehicle. It was though, he knew the game all the while, was undisputed master at it, and was merely gloating at his vanquished opponents. He would say things like, “You guys will be sleeping…peering, looking up at the stars. It shall be a fabulous night for you guys freezing in the desert air looking up at the moon and stars.” And then he would laugh to himself. Even in the midst of this situation, I couldn’t help but like the guy. I tried to pay the fee then. But he would have none of it. He said that I had had my chance and that I was to be off the train at the next stop.

The next stop was this place called “Almansa”. A little town about an hour or so outside of Valencia. The door opened and the three of us with our luggage were very ceremoniously shown the door. And as the train sat there, for it seemed a long time, all the conductors came to the doorway and peered out at us, while a multitude of the passengers flocked to the windows and the doorways, to gawk at the spectacle. Meanwhile, the lead conductor with his bristly mustaches proceeded to crack jokes about the ordeal, saying things like “I hope you like your stay at this great touristy city of Almansa. People flock from all the world to come to the place where you are spending the night.” I even chimed in, and asked if they had post cards of Almansa at the train station. The Italians were getting a big kick out of everything, talking incessantly in Italian at the train conductor. Until the train door shut, the train started its engine again, and it was whisked off away into the darkness of this strange night.

Then we were left to ourselves. We walked to the deserted train station of this tiny town and asked the awake security patrolman, what time does the next train come by going to Granada. He said the next night at this time. In fact, that was the last train for the night. So, any train coming or going wouldn’t be until the sun was up the next day. So the idea was then hatched, to go hitch-hiking. But the impossibility of this was beyond belief. Because, we were 3 guys and in the middle of the night. What moron would pick us up? But one of the Italians, wanted to try it seeing how there was nothing else to do.

So we found this little roundabout where 2 roads intersected, and began to put our thumbs out anytime any midnight rambling vehicle approached. And of course, with no big surprise to myself the car would just pass right on by. The two Italians were an interesting lot. I only caught one of their names. The lighter skinned one with the long hair was named Stefano. He was a pianist back home in Rome. He would play occasionally for low-scale performances and would play the keys for classic rock covers, but mostly he was a piano tutor. His friend, was clean-shaven, darker, and with an ear ring, and what seemed to me shifty, envious eyes was a student studying geology. Though, he didn’t strike me as the scientist type. He seemed to be more domineering than Stefano and to make most of the decisions. Stefano sort of fit the bill for the musician type, laid back for the most part, and the two of them would argue like Italians always do with arms flailing every which way until it seemed that the student of geology had won. And of course, I was out of the entire argument, my Italian, barely able to ascertain what they were even talking about.

The morale of the situation was not low. Yes, we had just been kicked off a train and stranded in a little Spanish town until the next day, but I looked on it all, as a sort of adventure I was enjoying, though me losing this one train ride to Granada, meant that I would not be going to Granada at all, and that I would have visited Spain twice without seeing the Alhambra. But oh well, I’ve got to save something for old age. Yes, I had to get back to Barcelona to catch my flight out of here again.
My two newly found amicis were not worried about time at all. And they seemed to have a substitute for any feelings of loss that they may have encountered through the series of misfortunes. They had brought with them enough beer and booze to last them through the night, which they aptly insisted that I take some. I only had another of their beers. Meanwhile they drank on. As you can see, spirits were actually soaring considering the circumstance.

But this formed a huge problem. For the roundabout that we seemed to have somewhat encamped ourselves around, was right under some apartments. It wouldn’t have been a problem had it just been me. I mean eventually, I got so exhausted that I leaned back and was on the verge of sleeping rather peacefully. But these two Italians, decided that beer was not enough and they began to mix Pepsi with Rum. Both of which they brought with them for this sole purpose. And as they were a bit extroverted with the beer when I first met them, they now began to go overboard. They grew louder and louder. But not so much in their frolicsome air of playfulness as before, but they began to grow angry with one another. One of them threw a pepsi bottle cap at me while I lay there about to fall asleep. Then, a huge argument took place. They were yelling and carrying on, getting in each other’s face. The dominant one kept throwing his face into the other’s, telling him to hit him if he wanted. Until the chance was not taken and this dominant, shifty eyed one reached back and slapped the pianist in the face. I guess to show him how it is done. This set off Stefano, and he began to yell, almost scream in the face of the other. While, the other who seemed to have more control squinted his envious eyes in contempt at the other. Their yelling at one another, I knew that the neighbors heard. I just sat there. Knowing that the result was not going to be good. I considered it unwise to step in the middle of a drunken fight. Let the two of them duke it out, if they must. When they come to their senses, they’ll realize how stupid the ordeal was. And I also knew that the police would probably show up pretty soon, but I didn’t really care. Because, I wasn’t drunk. And I thought that if worse came to worse, it would probably be easier and warmer to sleep in a jail cell for the night than here.

It wasn’t too long before their hollering and ranting did attract the flashing lights, and 4 vehicles surrounded us. And about 8 personnel, mostly male, with some females got out of their vehicles and strutted towards us commandingly. Some of these where in normal police uniforms, others seemed to be deck out in some type of military operative uniforms. The leader happened to be another middle-aged man with a bristly-moustache. (I don’t know what it is about these moustaches; it must be the power they exude.)
He meticulously slipped on his leather gloves and proceeded to look at our documents. Like the train conductor, this guy seemed to be rather relaxed about the whole deal. In fact, broken conversation between the Spanish police and the two Italians about Italian police ensued. Everyone seemed to be shooting bull back and forth. There was no solemnity. Only a casual warning. I remained quiet and very alert and sober. It wasn’t long before the Spanish police realized that the two Italians were completely hammered. They seemed to smirk at this. They only warned us to keep quiet. Told us to throw away our trash and that we should try sleeping not at this spot. The policemen in Spain, from my experience are the most amiable in the world. I’ve had two run-ins with them thus far, and they are the best to work with. (except for the obvious language barrier). If this took place here in the US, then my experience would expect, a whole lot of BS power-tripping. Cops in America, are really big on inducing fear into anyone. And had this been anywhere in Eastern Europe, we would’ve been paying rubles or zloty or what every source of money they required. Officers in Eastern Europe are all about the bribes and money they get from you.
But in Spain, only a pinch of a warning. And some jovial camaraderie to boot.
Wanting to pay these policemen respect, I compliantly fetched the beer cans. While the majority of the officers of Almansa got in their cars. But the two Italians like a bunch of drunken ignoramuses hugged each other and began yelling again. I think they were making up with one another. The police approached them again, warning them to be quiet. I could see that no good was going to come about hanging around with these morons. So I immediately stole away up the hill, to get away from their loud stupidity. I found a nice little park and there tried to crash on a park bench. I do not know what happened to my compadres. Sometime in the early morning, I heard them talking loudly approaching. But they passed right by this ideal park and walked on up the hill to goodness knows where. I resisted any urge to call out to them, seeing how I just wanted to spend the rest of the night in peace and to myself. The next morning I caught a train back to Valencia.


Blogger Rach H. said...

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2:13 AM  

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