Feb 18, 2012
A few centimeters of snow has turned into a natural disaster in the Netherlands today. My train from The Hague to Utrecht stopped just short of the station and idled. I had to catch a train to Frankfurt at 12:10. As noon rolled around on our stalled chariot, I knew I would not make the train. It was in fact 12:30 before we finally pulled about 100 yards forward, into the station.
I looked for the ticket desk and pressed my way through thousands with my guitar, a backpack, and a suitcase that I know for a fact weighs 69 pounds. I found a line and stood in it until a lady announced, in three languages, “If you are going to Germany, go outside all the way to the left. There will be a bus that will take you to a station from which you can catch a train to Germany.” Practically the entire mass of people emptied out through a quarter mile of corridors, down a flight of stairs, past a compressor-powered hurdy-gurdy where people collected donations for something I never figured out, and out onto the bus platforms. The first bus filled up before I could get on. I waited 30 minutes for another bus and it became clear to me that, because I had a suitcase that had to be loaded before I could get on, I would never get on in the crush of people. I went back to the ticket counter to see if I could get to Switzerland through Brussels and Luxembourg. Transfer through France.
The escalator wasn’t working and I had to lug everything up a flight of slushy stairs. Blocking my way to the office, a security guard entertained a crowd at the door. He had a great smile and was obviously trying to protect the ladies inside from a riot. As I got close, he leaned into me and asked what I needed. I said I needed to get to Switzerland, but maybe I could go a different route and avoid Germany altogether. He said, “Yeah, but you’ll never get out of here. You, you, and you, FOLLOW ME.” He spoke in the language of confidence and everyone understood.
We followed him like the pied piper as he told us about the new station they were building and joked that he was now a tour guide. He led us back out to the buses and said, “Everyone going to Germany, go to the last platform.” In English first, then Dutch, then bad German. I can only assume that if you want the most people to understand you among Germans and Dutch, you speak English. Another man supplied a megaphone and our friend from security became an entertainer for hundreds, answering questions, repeating directions, cracking jokes. He never lost his smile or his cool.
In fact, another bus came, but people flooded into the street and rushed it full before it even made it to the platform. I fell in with a few young people on their way to Frankfurt and they all complained that we were too nice and we might never get a bus standing here. One guy had just come back from Australia and was not prepared for negative temperatures. He said, “I’m speaking English because my lips are too cold to speak Dutch.” He was a brilliant guy and kept going around to people, asking questions while I watched his suitcase. He wondered out loud whether he should catch a bus back home and take a car to Frankfurt, or wait here possibly for hours in the cold to catch the bus to the train.
I said, “Which one will be a better story?”
He said, “You’re right.” And we shook hands on it. The other two were a beautiful young couple, a young German student and his Dutch girlfriend. She was only waiting with him to hold on to love to the last minute. He was going back to Frankfurt for school. “I don’t think you’re going to make it tonight,” my new buddy said.
A new bus came, commandeered from some other route, and the security guy made sure it made it to the platform. The crush began. I threw myself into the human funnel with burdens that nearly outweighed me. The security guy stepped into the doorway, allowed passengers to disembark, and held back the masses with that smile. He forced the driver to close the back door, lest the dam break back there before anyone could board up front. He boarded people one by one, and the driver squeezed by us to open the luggage compartment. He actually had to push me over to get there. I had nowhere to go and fell against the pressure of the crowd. I got upright again and shoved my big suitcase back toward him. The girl from the young couple shouted, “Hand it to me! I’m not going.” I pushed as far as I could reach along the icy curb and she grabbed it. I turned forward and wedged my guitar in front of me. I haven’t seen my suitcase since, but I didn’t see it on the curb as we pulled away, either. But who knows? There must have been another hundred people on the platform and I couldn’t see everything. I have no empirical evidence until we get to den Bosch, but I have faith.
Faith is not evidence. Faith is not believing against all evidence. Faith is believing when there is no evidence. I believed in that girl, whose name I later found out was Chelline.
Anyway, the security guy grabbed my arm, blocked the crowd with his body, and said, “Get on.” I don’t know why me. Maybe it’s the hat. Maybe it’s because I told him earlier that I appreciated his help and that I didn’t want his job today. But I’m on the bus. Possibly with 69 pounds of CDs and long underwear. I definitely have my guitar, most of my clothes, and my electronic devices. Oh, and a fantastic toothbrush.
The bus is jolly. Everyone is laughing like old friends. I think the happiest people in the world are the ones who have just survived a disaster.