I was on one of my first solo trips. I had a youth Eurail pass, surely one of the greatest deals on the planet. I carried a backpack that weighed almost as much as I did, and I’m sure my face had that open, I’m off to see Europe, whoopie!, look on it.
I took a train from Germany to Denmark to visit a friend of a friend. My destination had hard to pronounce letters like æ and ø in the name. Go to the area of the tracks for local trains, Anita’s letter instructed. Look for a little red train, about three cars. Like something out of a Hans Christian Andersen tale.
It was early morning as I waited on the station platform. A woman about my age approached me. She had on jeans and her arms and legs were incredibly skinny. Her hair was lanky. She wore a dirty beige coat with fake fur trim. She asked me something, and I shook my head. For once I was glad I lacked the language. I don’t speak Danish, I told her.
I was dismayed when she immediately switched to English. Can you give me some money? Anything? She swayed on her feet. I’m very, very tired, she told me.
I realized I was being hit up by a junkie. Please, I’m just so tired, she repeated. Her voice was flat, no affect, just the monotone of the addicted. I was afraid she was going to fall over. A little red train arrived, it really did look like something out of an exotic fairy tale, and I climbed on grateful for the escape.
On another trip, several decades later, I was on a train that stopped for the customary inspection on the tracks between Holland and Germany. The border control officials emptied out the backpack of a young guy. He stood impassive in the hall of the train car, his belongings spread out on the floor. He looked, rough. Like he’d spent all of his trip in hash bars. Please, I’m just so tired, I suddenly heard an earlier voice whispering.
The dead giveaway might have been the huge marijuana leaf patch he had sewn on his jeans jacket. They removed several plastic baggies – not marijuana – from an inside pouch in his backpack. He was invited to get off the train with the police officers, and we traveled on….
There are the angels that look over young folks traveling by themselves. On that first trip on my way to Denmark, I had to wait several hours very late at night in northern Germany for my connecting train. I remember a lot of really, really drunk people in a nearby bar. A man from Africa came and sat with me and kept me company. We shook hands when our respective trains finally arrived. Thank you for sitting with me, I said. I’ll never forget what he told me: People need to take care of each other.
There are demons that prey on young people. I think of the heavy drug users I’ve seen around the world (I’ve only given two examples, there are so many more), and can only repeat the refrains from Steppenwolf’s songs out of the soundtrack of my high school years. How quickly a magic carpet ride becomes God damn the pusher man.
NOTES: Text © Jadi Campbell 2021. In my first book Broken In, Lisa goes traveling in Bangkok and sees way more than she ever imagined.
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