I was lying flat on a train platform in Hamburg, Germany at 7 AM. There I was. All five feet twelve inches of me – flat on concrete in my Mary Poppins lookin’ shoe boots and a tan tweed coat I’d gotten at the German version of Goodwill. I was laughing at myself. And a train-full of Germans was also laughing – but I think they were laughing at me. They probably thought “that crazy American,” although they probably couldn’t tell I was American. Maybe they just thought I was drunk. I mean, I had just jumped off a moving train. The scene where I made a scene. It was 1984 and I’d been living in Munich, Germany for a few months as a young, newbie model. My roommate was a girl named Jeanne. She was from Colorado. I hailed from the great state of Missouri. We lived in a place called a pension. We each had a twin bed and the room had a couple of dressers and a sink. The bathroom was down the hall and the showers were a floor up. Down the main hall was the room where the gal who ran the place served rolls and tea every morning. It was nice. I remember loving the white, down comforters and the pillows. We were 19 years old and living on our own in Europe. I was pretty much a goody-goody and my parents gave me a lot of freedom growing up so I didn’t do anything remarkably stupid. Well – there was that ONE time. That’s another story.
We spent our days walking, riding subways, buses, and street cars trying to figure out where to find the photographers and clients who might potentially hire us. This was back before the days of smartphones and Mapquest. Imagine being 19 and in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language; you have a list of addresses and a map. Fun. Every day fun. Go to your agency. Get a list. Hit the road. Go see.
Somewhere along the road, Jeanne and I met some sweet guys who gave us and our coffin-sized luggage a ride to the train station the night we were moving to Hamburg. It was an overnight train headed north. I don’t remember their names, but I do remember it as one of the sweetest things ever. There have been many times when people have done dear things for me. People who I barely knew. People who I will never see again. Often times, the dearness of their tasks don’t touch me until years later. This was one of those things. I remember the “couchette” we were in was for six people. Jeanne and I were in the middle section. Below us was an elderly couple and above us were two guys about our age. It was a sleeping berth. Imagine everyone having a twin bunk. Sometime before we went to sleep Jeanne gave me a brown bag with food in it. Apparently, the guys who gave us a ride to the train station packed us food for the journey. Inside my bag was a sandwich, a carton of yogurt, and a piece of fruit. At the time I thought it was nice and I ate it. Now as a 49-year-old I think it was a most wonderful gesture.
We went to sleep thinking – well, I don’t know what we were thinking. We were 19. I guess we thought the train gods would tell us when to wake up and get off the train. Hamburg. We were going to Hamburg. We didn’t know there were THREE stops in Hamburg. Who came up with that stupid idea? I’m guessing the train stopped at the first one, because when it got to the second stop the young guys who were sleeping above us woke us up to let us know we may want to get off. They said “This is hauptbahnhof.” Of course Jeanne and I had no idea what they meant. It’s as if they were speaking German. They explained that we were at the main train station in Hamburg. So the four of us decided it would be prudent to get off the train. Since the train had already been stopped for a few minutes we started getting our suitcases down – fast. Well, I should say, the guys got the cases down. There was no way Jeanne and I could have gotten them down. Each of them could have held a corpse. This was back in the day when suitcases had a hard body, you could lock them with mini keys, and airlines didn’t charge you extra for going over some random weight limit.
Jeanne stood out on the train platform while the guys and I had a frenzied assembly line going. One would get a case down and throw it to the other guy. He would hand it to me. I would hand it to Jeanne. We had a good system going. This went on for a bit and almost all the cases were out. Then the train started moving. More stuff was then tossed at Jeanne. Jeanne and the suitcases were on the platform. But I was still on the train. I looked right and saw Jeanne. I looked left and saw the end of the train platform. So I did what any rational person would do – I looked for an old, fat lady to land on – and I jumped. Kidding. I jumped. I’m lucky I didn’t jump into one of those poles you always see in movies at train stations. That would have been my luck. To jump into a pole. Not a Polish person. An actual pole. So – I jumped and hit the concrete. Not too hard. I don’t remember any pain. The train wasn’t moving very fast. Probably .4 miles per hour. So I’m flat on my back. I must have looked like Big Bird. So I just laid there and laughed. The folks on the train got a good belly laugh.
Besides the sweetness of the guys who packed food for us, I’m thankful for the guys who woke us up, then helped us get our stuff off the train in a panic. Another set of people who came to our aid that I will never see again. My life has been full of kind strangers.