Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Shake, Battle, and Roll

This story took place nearly eleven years ago. If we talk often, you've probably heard it before, but for me, this one never gets old so I wanted to share it here.

After Christmas break my freshman year of college, I came back to find I had been assigned a new roommate - Lara - and would no longer be living alone. It would take me hours and hours to explain how it happened, but against all reason and all my expectations, this bubbly former-sorority-girl and I became BFFs within a year.

One afternoon, we were sitting around our room chatting when my dad called and asked if we wanted to go to a reenactment of the Battle of Aiken. I was in the middle of declining when Lara, the kind of Southern girl who could make Scarlett go green, picked up the other end of the Swatch twin phone and declared that we would LOVE to go. This was how I ended up cold and cranky and trudging through mud at seven in the morning just a few days later. In contrast to my crabbiness, Lara was downright jubilant, skipping ahead of me and then doubling back to breathlessly report on what she had just seen. "Oh look, a rabbit purse - I want that! Hey, sassafras soda - I want that! Look, a petticoat - I want one!"

A few minutes later, she interrupted her recitation to grab my arm and drag me away from my parents, dramatically explaining that she needed a cigarette but that good Southern girls don't smoke in front of parents. As my mom and dad continued on, Lara and I cut through several tents and she fished around in her over-sized purse for a cigarette. "The ground is jumping," she calmly announced as she searched for her lighter. She stopped to light her cigarette as I continued on, expecting her to catch up just a moment later. It took me about four steps to notice she hadn't, so I turned to see what was holding her up. Lara stood still, her lit cigarette clutched loosely in her fingers and halfway to her mouth. I noticed she was making a weird face - one eye was bigger than the other and one side of her mouth drooped down. Assuming she was making fun of some hapless Aikenite, I giggled and turned to see who her target was. I turned back just as she stiffened and headed for the dirt. Somehow, I got to her before the ground did and grabbed her as she fell, dragging us both down into the mud. Once on the ground, Lara stretched to her full five-and-a-half-foot length before balling up and violently twitching her way through the first grande mal seizure I ever witnessed. Not knowing what to do, I crouched over her and tried to hold her down while screaming at her to stop as she spit blood and foam.

I felt a hand on my shoulder and looked up as a tall and hugely bearded man dressed in gray pulled me off of her. A shorter but equally-well-bearded man dressed in blue blocked my view of Lara and the two went to work on her. Nearby, a woman in a hoop-skirted-dress pulled a cell phone from her bodice and called 911. My parents showed up just a moment later, drawn to the crowd. I ran to them, screaming that Lara was dying, because what other explanation could there be. I'm pretty sure that seizure remains the scariest thing I've ever seen.

A few seconds later, the seizure was over and Lara's eyes were slowly coming back into focus. As the haze cleared from her brain, one of the two men crouched over her asked, "Do you know where you are, honey?" Lara looked, wide-eyed from one bearded face to the other before bursting into tears. "I don't even know WHEN I am." (A love of Southern history and a vague belief in reincarnation are a bad, but entertaining, combination.)

A four-wheeler pulled up and the men got Lara and I loaded on the back, as she didn't want to go without me. At the front gate, she was loaded into an ambulance, but again refused to go until she talked to me. Stepping into the ambulance, I leaned forward. "Get my fake ID out of my purse so they don't think I'm the wrong person," she whispered before laying back dramatically, possibly with her arm thrown across her forehead.

My parents and I followed the ambulance to the hospital, as I clutched Lara's purse in my hands and concentrated on not throwing up. We waited a little while before we got to go back to see her. Sitting in the hospital bed, flirting with the young doctor on duty, it was hard to believe this was the same girl who had been twitching and spitting foam just a couple of hours earlier. Feeling better, she was more concerned with getting her hair brushed and going to lunch.

Later that day, we left the hospital with a diagnosis of epilepsy and a bottle of extremely strong medication - Dilantin. The next day, I drove the two of us back to Berry as Lara sat next to me, bouncing along with each bump of the car. Her medication, before the dosage was dropped, made her feel "like a boneless chicken" (her words to a confused professor as she walked out on a philosophy class the next week.) Soon enough, though, we both got used to the changes, and months later she began to randomly make the seizure face to freak me out - her revenge for me making "dead hands" at her in the middle of the night. She also used the diagnosis as an excuse to make me drive us to Taco Bell and Waffle House in the middle of the night, hinting that if she went alone, she might seize and wreck the car - but I can't say that I really minded. More often, I imagine I was happy for the excuse to go for a snack.

Though scary and stressful, Lara's sense of humor and drama eventually turned the episode into a story we loved telling and I have to admit that the line, "I don't even know WHEN I am," still makes me laugh every time. There are many more bizarrely-charming Lara stories, but that's enough for one night. sweet dreams!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

We spent over 200 francs and all we got was a stupid Twix

Well, a Twix and Steph's forgotten house key...

Let's rewind just a little bit... These things happen. We all forget things. Sometimes it's just less convenient than others.

The four of us arrived home from our mountain trip a little past 5 in the evening on Sunday. (A full write-up of the trip is in the works...) I walked in the door, kicked off my shoes, tossed off my backpacks, hugged Chris and settled in for a night of laziness...three minutes later the phone rang - Steph calling to say they couldn't find their house key in their suitcases and asking if they could drop by our place to dig through their bags in comfort. Naturally, we agreed. When I opened the door to two stony faces minutes later, I knew the fate of the key as well as they did, though they insisted on searching anyway. No key. Chris and Dani retreated to the back porch with whiskeys in hand as Steph began making phone calls. Could her apartment concierge help? Nope, no master key. What about a spare key left with friends or family? Nope, no spare key either. This meant two keys were locked in their apartment and one was locked in a mountain chalet that would be uninhabited until mid-October.

So what were the options? Break in a door - expensive. Break in a window - cheaper but still pricey. Skip a day of work and spend eight or nine hours on trains, roundtrip, to retrieve the key in person? That's it - the only option that would work. Thus decided, we grabbed Chinese take-out and all settled into bed (and guestbed) for the night.

The next morning Steph and I got up at six to be ready to head out the door for the seven AM train (160CHF for both) - I was going along to provide moral support and lunch company. The biggest bonus of leaving at this hour was that we would only have to change trains twice on the trip as opposed to our five changes on the way home. We grabbed a couple little pastries and sandwiches as well as a big jug of mint iced tea and caught an absolutely packed train to Bern. In Bern we changed to an equally crowded train to Domodossola where we caught an emptier train to Verdasio. The train to Verdasio turned out to be a panoramic train, so we had to pay a 4 CHF surcharge (8CHF for both) to sit in a train with window that went all the way to the ceiling - something that would have been much more enjoyable had the other occupants of the train not chosen to promptly pull their sun shades down, blocking the view. Once at Verdasio, we took the Funicar cabin thingies to the top of the mountain (27CHF). By this point it was just past 11 in the morning and we had been awake for five hours. Once there, the house was only a 15 minute walk. We arrived and opened the door. Steph stopped long enough to de-boot before running upstairs to look for the key - there it sat, right on the narrow shelf it had been left on. Thusly reunited, we took a brief photo op to celebrate the moment before shedding our unnecessary belongings to go for a nice little walk before lunch. The next train didn't leave until 2:30 and there was no sense in us not taking advantage of the gorgeous weather. We walked for about 45 minutes and then headed to our familiar grotto for lunch (65CHF because we forgot to check our total - whoops!) . Steph had a huge bowl of minestrone while I enjoyed what looked like roughly a week's supply of pasta bolognese. We sat outside as we sipped ice tea and ate lunch, enjoying the breeze. Around us, six or eight retired couples out for a day in the sun munched risotto and sipped wine. I kept a constant eye on people's shoes, making note of how many were wearing hiking boots and how many in sneakers. Since I got my own boots, I'm now obsessed with this.

Soon enough it was time to head back home. Before we left, Steph grabbed a Twix from the restaurant and I bought a jar of mountain honey for our neighbors. In the yellow cabin thingie on the way back down the mountain, we got a sever case of the giggles over the idea that maybe we made the trip just to buy a Twix, hence the title. Back in Verdasio, we caught the panoramic heading back homeward (or other-train-station-wards more likely) we were probably the only people under fifty. Apparently when you retire in Switzerland, you go for long lunches in the mountains and take panoramic trains, because everywhere we look it's socks and sandals and heads covered in white hair - I love it!

An hour later we changed trains in Brig to catch train number four to Bern, where we'll catch train number five to Fribourg. Another packed train - I was really surprised at the number of people traveling during a business day. As an added bonus, this was the fourth time passport control walked right by us. By this point, we had been in and out of Italy twice on Monday and four times this week. The train stank of burning brakes and, faintly, of people. It made me really miss the 'normal' Swiss trains.

Despite the annoyance of having to go back for the key, we actually had a pretty good day full of conversation and laughter, though the last thirty minutes to Fribourg were among the longest in my life. As a final note, after four days of hiking and riding trains, I'm completely sick of smelling people.