Friday, February 15, 2008

Mind the Crack

If you've ever ridden the London tube (that's the metro or subway for all us non-Brits), you have probably seen the sign above the door that reads "Mind the Gap." Again, for the non-Brits, that translates, roughly, to "Watch Your Step."

Last week, Joni and Jason, some friends of ours from SoCal, along with their 10-month old daughter, came to visit us in Brussels via London. We made plans to meet some of my friends for lunch near Schuman, so I suggested we take the metro. Seriously, what kind of tour guide would I be without exposing my guests to the workings and smells of the underground? Besides, I wanted them to experience just how different Brussels' underground was compared to London's.

For reasons not important to this story, we got on the metro at the Gare du Midi, which meant that we had to change lines at Arts Loi and then we would have only two stops before our destination. All things considered, and by that, I mean, given that we were riding the subway and Jason was carrying his daughter in some sort of contraption on his back that protruded out a good foot and a half and he had yet to cold-cock someone while turning, we had a pretty smooth experience -- until Joni smelled smoke.

When we got on the new line at Arts Loi, Joni looked at me and asked, "Can you smoke in here?" I looked around and, sure enough, there was a woman, seated about 5 feet from where I was standing and, more importantly, seated directly next to the little sign indicating smoking is not allowed in the metro, thoroughly enjoying herself a cigarette.

The Smoking Lady saw me at about the same time I saw her. Rather good-naturedly, I wagged my finger at her in a "that's a no-no" sort of way, and BAM, cardinal rule violated. How many times have I said that you are never to engage the crazies? Well, let me tell you, finger-wagging at a crazy person is like a waving a red cape to a bull. I know this now. Do with it what you will.

Smoking lady started smiling in that raging psychotic nutjob sort of way, accentuated by tell-tale crazed serial killer eye rolls. And, it seemed, I had her undivided attention. She took a long pull on her cigarette and threw it down at her feet, still very much lit, in the poorly-ventilated train. Part of me knew, just knew, that nothing good was going to come of this. Call it want you want, mojo, intuition, experience, whatever, but I could just sense a bloggable event coming on.

As we approached the Schuman stop, I inched forward, gesturing for Joni and Jason to follow me, so that we would be ready to make a quick exit when the doors opened. Smoking Lady beat us to the punch. When the train stopped, Smoking Lady was in the middle of the train doorway, fidgeting with her skirt. I was trying to figure out the least intrusive way of reaching around her and pushing the little green button that would open the doors, when she hit the release button and solved my problems for me.

Since no one was waiting to board, I figured Smoking Lady would step off the train and head straight. My plan was to step off and make a quick right, hoping Joni and Jason would follow my lead.

Well, you know what they say about the plans of mice and men. Smoking Lady threw me a curve when she stepped straight off the train and then IMMEDIATELY hiked up her skirt and started using the bathroom! At this point, I am directly behind her, with one front on the metro and one foot on the platform, caught between the soon to be closing metro doors and her bare ass, trying not to stumble over her, or, worse, step into anything that came from her general direction.

Backing up was out of the question as I would have run into Joni, who would have run into Jason, who would rammed their baby into whoever was standing behind Jason. With the metro about to depart the station, I edged right and prayed that Joni and Jason would follow. If not, they were screwed, as they had never been in the metro before, did not have a cell phone on them, did not speak French or Flemish, and had no idea where we lived. Basically, your standard tourist nightmare if the guide decides to adopt a "you are on your own" mentality.

Miraculously, we all made it off the train without the baby getting caught between the closing doors and without tumbling over Smoking Lady. Once we were clear of the Smoking Lady, Joni looked at me, kind of dazed, and said, "You know, I always thought you were exaggerating in your blog about crazy things that happen to you over here, but not anymore."


Blogger Di Mackey said...

You're back blogging!!! I should work out RSS feeds so that I don't have this panicked 'HOW MANY HAVE I MISSED!'

12:55 PM  
Anonymous Joni said...

You are a crazy person magnet!!!! No doubt!

5:39 PM  

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