Austria: Gone In 60 Seconds

MikeachimThe Everyday21 Comments

Fevered Mutterings image: Stopwatch, by wwarby - Flickr

Here’s a true story about how I nearly didn’t go to Austria a few weeks ago.

It was a really close thing.

60 seconds.

5.30am

Stumbling. Coffee. Cannot. Think.

Things, fanned out on the floor in an order than made perfect sense last night – or more correctly, earlier this morning. Most of everything is already packed, but these are the things I’ve made an extra list of, the things I needed overnight: electric toothbrush, washkit, phone, asthma medicine, Kindle, pinstripe pyjamas, bowler hat etc.  Amidst these items are the Things I Cannot Forget Under Any Circumstances (e-tickets, passport, non-e-tickets, wallet, pinstripe pyjamas, bowler hat). They’re all arranged in an order that will make me think about them as I pack them, ingraining that memory to help stave off panic that I’ve forgotten something.

Item 1. It’s….what is it? It’s like a – long stick thing, in some baffling material that isn’t wood and isn’t metal…..plastic, yes, that’s it. I pull the end off, exposing a transparent tube half-full of a dark blue substance. Further investigation uncovers the presence of a very small ball-bearing at one end that seems designed to “roll” the dark liquid out, for reasons currently beyond me.  I experiment fruitlessly.

Ten minutes pass.

Clearly I’m in no fit state for rational thought – I just need to act. I scoop everything into my bag that’s currently within reach including, as I later discover, a small Thai cookbook, a stapler, a credit card statement, an adjustable spanner and a bag of lemons. The coffee is starting to kick in, but it’s only making me more alert, not smarter. I throw some porridge at my face, brush my teeth, slap myself a few times (no reaction) and lurch out the door.

Well, at least I’m early.

I have plenty of time to spare. You know – in case something goes wrong.

6.05am.

The morning air hits me like a something of something. (I’m too tired for metaphors).

I breathe deeply. In – and OUT. And gradually, miraculously, the fog clears. It starts to dawn on me that life is good. I’m about to leave for Austria, starting with a Megabus service that leaves the city centre at 6.55am. I have just under an hour to get there, it’s a half-hour walk and I’m playing it safe by taking the bus (transit time 10 minutes). Another deep breath. My spirits lift. Ah! Yes! Let’s do this.

With a light heart I lift my rucksack and heave it onto one shoulder.

It bursts.

6.15am

I’m sweating enough for my glasses to keep sliding down my nose. I’ve just spent 8 minutes frantically stuffing my gear into another backpack, and 2 minutes kicking my ruined rucksack around the garden, shouting at it like Basil Fawlty.

It’s still going to be ok. I still have 40 minutes. I could still walk – and yet there’s a bus.

I walk to the bus stop, ignoring my pounding heart and wobbly legs.

6.22am

I’m at the bus-stop.

People are looking at me oddly.

Perhaps it’s the madness gleaming in my eyes. Perhaps it’s the way my glasses keep sliding down to the end of my nose. Or perhaps it’s the way I’ve disgorged half of my rucksack into the ground and I’m sifting through my possessions, muttering “no no NO NO NO“, louder and louder, like a kettle of negativity coming to the boil.

My passport is gone.

6.27am

I’m outside my house again. I’ve just done something akin to the 4-minute mile, proportionally scaled down to my non-Bannisterian level of fitness. I totter up, pluck my passport from the stretch of pavement where my rucksack exploded, and turn around. My luggage is back at the bus-stop – I’d asked my wary companions to keep an eye on my possessions, hoping the bus wouldn’t arrive before I got back.

I’m utterly, utterly exhausted. There’s just no way I can run back.

My Megabus to London leaves in 28 minutes.

I run back.

6.31am

My rucksack is alone. The bus came, and the bus went. The next one will be around 6.45am. That’ll probably be too late.

What are my chances of making a run for it? Slim. I’ve tried sprinting with a fully-laden rucksack before – I remember it clearly. I remember the way my knees ached for a week, I remember the accompanying asthma attack. And that was when I was 20. I’m truly too old for that shit.

Hitch-hiking is my only hope.

6.40am

“Oh come ON. COME ON!”

Perhaps hitch-hikers shouldn’t be so aggressive. I’m scowling at the cars whizzing past, jabbing my thumb at them like a Roman Emperor sentencing them to death. None of them are stopping. I curse the British and their inability to make new friends, even ones as scary as I must look right now.

I know it’s probably too late, but while there’s a chance….

6.45am

It’s a 10-minute drive to the city centre. And traffic is picking up. There’s just no way I’m going to get there in time.

How am I going to write this up, I think to myself? People know I’m going to Austria. Sure, it’s common knowledge that I attract disaster, but usually I find a way to muddle my way through. This is different. Not only am I losing hundreds of pounds in tickets, missing the chance to meet someone I admire immensely and not returning to a place I’ve reminisced about for 20 years – I’m not even leaving home this time. I can’t put a funny spin on this one. It’s not funny. Not at all.

Game over.

6.46am

A white van  pulls up in front of me and the passenger door swings open.

“Where are you going?”

Bob (this isn’t his real name, I was way too panicked to ask) immediately understands the situation, and hammers his van to its limits. We power through two sets of greened traffic lights. Hope starts to flame within me once more. And then, with a minute’s driving left and a minute before the Megabus departs – we hit a red light. Hope gutters. Have I really come this far to have this happen to me? Is this fair?

Two minutes later, it’s amber and we’re through.

It’s 6.56am – and the bus will have gone.

6.57am

I’m running again, with a fully laden backpack, a 39-year old man running down the side of the road, dignity in tatters, stumbling, breath whooshing in and out. And then I’m off the path, across a patch of ornamental gardens, my knees like jelly…

“HOLD ON!”

The Megabus driver later told me he always gives late arrivals a couple of minutes. When he saw me explode out the side of a white van and come dashing down the road, those minutes had passed. He’d been ready to go.

Another minute and he would have – and the next 5 days of travel, of mountains and cake and elk and castles and Mozartkugeln and un-fun airport lounges and good conversation and amazing roofs…all of those things would have vanished.

But incredibly, and against the odds, they didn’t.

And I still can’t quite believe that.

(Note: all of this is true. Even the lemons).

Images:  wwarby and Mike Sowden.
  • sharon miro

    It wasn’t funny. You are funny. Your re-tellign of this oh-so-wanted-to-be-a-tragedy event is funny.

    • Mikeachim

      My therapist says it’s important to work these things through in front of a group of people.

      I chose the Internet as my group.

  • Jimbo

    You shouldn’t eat elk with cake. It’s bad for the digestion. As for the rest of this sorry tale, I’ve known you long enough to expect nothing less. I’m just surprised it doesn’t involve pirates and a glass elevator…

    • Mikeachim

      Give it time. I haven’t finished yet.

      And *please* don’t give things away like that. Or at least use the prefix “SPOILERS”.

      Thank you.

      For example:

      [SPOILERS] The elk was how I got from Frankfurt to Salzburg when my flight was delayed.

      See? It’s not hard, is it?

      • Jimbo

        Did you know the first description of an elk was by Caesar in The Gallic Wars:

        “There are also [animals], which are called elks. The shape of these, and the varied colour of their skins, is much like roes, but in size they surpass them a little and are destitute of horns, and have legs without joints and ligatures; nor do they lie down for the purpose of rest, nor, if they have been thrown down by any accident, can they raise or lift themselves up. Trees serve as beds to them ; they lean themselves against them, and thus reclining only slightly, they take their rest; when the huntsmen have discovered from the footsteps of these animals whither they are accustomed to betake themselves, they either undermine all the trees at the roots, or cut into them so far that the upper part of the trees may appear to be left standing. When they have leant upon them, according to their habit, they knock down by their weight the unsupported trees, and fall down themselves along with them.”

        Is that how you caught your elk?
        (Quote from the good people at Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moose)

  • Bowler hat? Bowler hat? Thee’s gone a’ s’thern, lad. Whurr’s tha flat cap ‘n’ whippet, eh?

    *shakes head sadly*

    • Mikeachim

      I’m sorry. It’s a necessary sacrifice to reach a larger audience.

      I should also tell you that I’ve given up spitting tobacco and putting ferrets down my trousers.

      I’m sorry if this offends, but I have to think about my wider career these days.

  • I love stories about travelers getting “saved” by strangers. Glad you made it.

    • Mikeachim

      You’re not the only one.

      And yes, the worst thing about the whole thing now is I never got the contact details of “Bob” and so I can’t thank him properly. Without him, no trip.

  • What is an adjustable spanner? And how big was this bag of lemons? Was the stapler a standard-sized one, or a mini-one? (Who carries a stapler in his/her bag?) And when I see you next, what kind of Thai dish will you cook? I hope it involves basil and green curry.

    • Mikeachim

      1) It’s this.
      Although mine isn’t quite that big.
      As it were.

      2) A number of lemons, each roughly lemon-sized.

      3) Standard stapler. Mini staplers are for effete fools who need a good beating to man them up.

      4) I will cook you something involving both basil AND green curry. Deal?

  • rockpenguin

    Wow! An incredibly unlikely story, told truly brilliantly. If it weren’t you, I would say it was too close to be true….but its you and thus almost probably definitely the literal truth :)

    But HOW did the lemons make it anywhere near your bag? Did your pile of medical stuff include ‘scurvy prevention’?

  • I know it wasn’t funny when it happened but it’s oh so funny now! I wish I had your way with words (although not your disastrous ability to get in trouble). Glad you made it in time and thank goodness for the kindness of strangers :)

  • I.

    Love.

    This.

    Damn, man. Dammit every time. You’re a great writer.

  • Graeme

    Let me get this straight, you found citrus fruit in Yorkshire AND had the first known act of charity from a White Van Man, but thought almost missing a bus was the story here. Words fail……;)

  • That was a nail-biting story, and even better because we’ve all been in the same situation before ourselves!

    Glad you made it, now where in Austria did you go? And what place did you enjoy the most?

  • I’m almost afraid to ask what the bowler hat was for. I have an image of you running down the road with one hand frantically shoving at things flying out of your rucksack and the other firmly planted on top of the hat to keep it from flying away. And this image is made all the stronger since I’ve now met you and know what you really look like (your photos simply do not do you justice). It just feels so…real.

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  • Lorna

    Just reading it again has found me with dropped jaw in utter amazement!

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