Metro Mishaps

“’It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ he used to say.

‘You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet,

there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.’”

—J.R.R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings, Part 1: The Fellowship of the Ring (p. 83)

One sunny October day, I arrived at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. And there was my smiling daughter, Jessica, waiting to meet me. She assisted in getting my luggage wheeled down one level below to the train station, where we hopped aboard the next departure to Rotterdam.

Once there, we maneuvered the two suitcases through the hustle and bustle of the crowded station to a little takeaway bistro/grocery she frequented. After we grabbed a couple sandwiches to munch at her apartment for lunch, we whisked out the door to head to the metro.

It was a hectic scene, made even more so by the construction going on. Commuters zipping hither and yon, travelers dragging luggage, passengers picking up snacks — it was a mélange of motion.

Jessica was hauling my small carry-on wheeled bag a few steps in front of me. I was following closely behind with the larger wheeled suitcase I’d checked, sticking to her like glue so I didn’t get lost.

Suddenly a young man emerged from the bistro/grocery we’d just exited — tall (as the Dutch tend to be), with a long scarf wrapped around his neck (as the Dutch like to wear). He clutched a just-purchased cellophane-wrapped sandwich, each half packaged separately but connected in the middle by the cello wrap. He had opened the two halves, as one would a book, holding one half in each hand. Clearly he was anticipating consumption before long.

Jessica sailed rapidly past him. Quickly he raised his lunch in surprise, and then lost his hold on it right as I blew past him.

I felt something hit my leg, but didn’t realize what it was until I turned in slow motion to glance behind me. He, too, looked down at the same patch of pavement. What we both saw was a fully open cello-wrapped sandwich bearing two deep grooves across it from my suitcase wheels. He bent over to rescue it immediately.

First glancing in front of me to locate Jessica, who was unaware of what had just occurred, I then drew a sharp intake of breath as I stared up into this hungry young man’s face.

“I’m sorry,” I murmured with heartfelt emotion. “I’m SO sorry.”

Appearing embarrassed, he swiftly replied, “Oh, I’M sorry,” as he beheld the smashed sandwich in his hands. The word forlorn cannot even begin to describe how he looked. How I wanted to wrap a maternal arm around his shoulders.

There was nary a minute to tarry, however, if I wished to maintain sight of my ever-receding daughter in this metropolitan miasma.  Welcome to Rotterdam.

Finally settled at Jessica’s cozy apartment, we were ready to take the country by storm for the next ten days. Rapid transit, light rail, bus, train, boat, feet — there was no stopping this intrepid mother-daughter duo.

Ready to depart one day for Wilhelmina Pier, we awaited the next metro leaving Rotterdam’s Centraal station. Once the subway arrived, we queued up at the side as doors opened to let the masses exit. Then a wave of humanity spewed forth to enter, I just in front of my daughter. As doors slid rapidly shut behind me, I lurched forward to grab onto a handrail.

It was then that I turned to view Jessica through a glass darkly, realizing too late that she had not made it into the car behind me. Our hands met on opposite sides of the window as our mouths opened in simultaneous Os. Swiftly she receded from view as I pulled out of the station, my fellow passengers here in the Netherlands looking at me oddly as I uttered a lone strangled cry: “Jessicaaaaa!”

I exited at the next stop to call her on my cell phone. She’d been trying to call me but had not been able to connect since the metro had been going through a tunnel. She thought I’d go on to our destination, but quickly jumped off the next train when she heard I’d not continued on to Wilhelmina Pier. At that point, I think she was ready to send her mother back to the States. She lectured me on the necessity of paying attention to my surroundings in a foreign country. I listened, chastened, learning my lesson.
Thus, a mere four weeks later on the other side of the world, when I found myself in a similar situation, I clung fast to the ever-receding sight of my college roommate, Judy, as we clambered aboard metros in Singapore.
Jessica’s Dutch admonition rang in my ears. I kept my wits about me. For two weeks, I paid rapt attention to stops such as Dhoby Ghaut and Jurong — scrambling up and down swiftly moving escalators, whipping in and out of rapidly closing subway doors just one hair’s breadth behind Judy. Swirling about me was a dizzying eddy of hijabs, turbans, Punjabis, and iPod earbuds.
But there was not one sandwich on the whole of that bustling equatorial island with suitcase wheel tracks across it.

Copyright 2012

by Elaine F. Tankard



Filed under Family, Ideas, Travel

2 responses to “Metro Mishaps

  1. This essay makes me laugh – I can just picture the *horror* of the smashed sandwich. Lovely writing!


  2. Many thanks! I do hope that young man’s Dutch day got better.