A Poor Train Of Thought

“Time is a train, makes the future the past, leaves you standing in the station,
with your face pressed up against the glass.”

-Zoo Station,U2

Though it confuses me, I enjoy traveling in Europe.  Europe is a continent without “elbow room”, a common language, automobiles, and apparently deodorant.  Europe is almost the polar opposite of America.

This is mostly because America was founded as the antidote to Europe.  America was designed as a place where people could do as they wanted, when they wanted, and answer to as few people as possible.  When you mix open space with generous portions of beef, then add a dash of large caliber handguns, you get our recipe for freedom.

In America we get into as many cars as possible, in Europe as many people as possible get on a train.

In America, mostly poor people ride trains and the result is not unlike a prison cafeteria, what with all the food stink and semi-random “shiv”-ing.  In Europe, trains are filled with people from nearly every country imaginable plus their luggage, their language, and their lunch.  The wealthy AND the degenerate  ride the train while conducting business, leisure, and the occasional full make-out session (the French never get a room) and the train is like a cafeteria on the international space station; Americans and Germans come and go while the Russians wait patiently for someone to tell them they can come home.

It’s not rare to board a train full of Italian speakers and later exit a train full of French language Swiss or German speaking Frenchmen.  During scheduled stops the culture around you can change so subtly that if you aren’t paying close attention you’ve lost your wallet to some mischievous gypsies.

The train can also make cultural change seem to happen quite abruptly.  In England I once boarded a train in York and at the next stop got off to get some Burger King.  I told the “chap” behind the counter that I wanted two number two combos and upon producing the food he looked at me and said, “Seevuhn Fuftee Eht sir!”

I asked him to repeat himself and he very slowly ennunciated “Seeeevuuuun Fuuuufffftee Eht” while pointing at the register which read 7.58 Euros.  I realized that while I got off the train expecting to speak English in Edinburgh, I had unwittingly forgotten that I would be hearing Scottish Anglish in return.

By the way, when a Scot says “Aye, right!” they apparently mean “Absolutely NOT!”

All of this cultural confusion can make it extremely difficult to understand someone, and when you can’t understand someone it becomes difficult to experience pleasant interaction with them.  This is why most people are sorely vexed by people from foreign cultures.  The changes that foreign immigration brings to the people “in the motherland” seem to appear as abruptly as a train pulling into the station of another country.

What compounds the external problem of not understanding others is the internal problem of not at all understanding yourself, which of course brings me to the Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik.  Anders is the self professed mastermind and instrument of the July 22nd terror assault on the the people of his homeland.

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That’s What You Get…

When I was seven I was running down the hallway of my house when I caught the front edge of my Donald Duck flip flop on a throw rug and pitched face first onto the floor.

While my mother let a startled “Oh no!” slip out, my father calmly looked over the top of his newspaper and said, “That’s what you get for running in the house.”

What’s interesting to me about this story isn’t that it is very exciting (I’m surprised you’re still reading) it’s that it happened to you too right? Sure you probably weren’t running in the house, and Donald Duck flip flops probably didn’t play a role in your unwitting demise, but you did something wrong, suffered the consequence, and got a “That’s what you get…” from someone else.

You got it because it’s a pretty common response to misfortune, especially when opinion says that the misfortune was self-inflicted.

While it’s true that self-inflicted misfortune is generally the natural consequence of human error, humans are great at letting the “self inflicted” part of the misfortune excuse them from feeling any sympathy or offering any grace or mercy.

It goes like this, “If you deserved what happened to you, don’t complain, and don’t expect me to feel sorry for you.”

Saturday, the sad, self-inflicted, denouement of Amy Winehouse’s 27 year run came to a close. Most of us are convinvced that her untimely demise was the end game of a well documented, public struggle with substance abuse.

Her turning up dead was not exactly surprising, the fact that she made this long was actually stunning. The majority response was something along the lines of “Well that’s what you get I guess… I hope the Olsen twins are paying attention.”

Not exactly sympathetic.

Some of you are probably wondering why there should be a sympathetic response. I’ll let Jesus explain it.

In The Gospel Of John, Jesus walks into the temple and finds a man who has been born blind. The disciples asked Jesus whether this man was blind because he sinned, or his parents had sinned?

Their desire was to determine whether not his misfortune was self-inflicted.

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Like A Sore Thumb

I hate to fly on airplanes. From the yellow plastic keg cup oxygen masks to the idea that a car seatbelt is going to save you in a plane crash, everything that’s supposed to make air travel “safe” seems to be ridiculously far fetched.

One of the only things I do like about air travel is the airport. The airport is the transportational equivalent of the shopping mall; every town worth anything has one, and they usually have the same basic essentials.

While they may differ in design, modern airports share the same basic desire to offer us overpriced haircuts, shoeshines, and sandwiches, coupled with partial strip searches and futuristic hand chapping technology.

What’s not to love?

Something I’ve learned in my travels is that when I’m flying back into Portland International Airport, from anywhere else in the world, I don’t actually actually need to know the gate number that my flight is leaving from: I just need to know the airline I’m flying with.

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