Friday, October 21, 2005
They’re out to get me, not getting me out there
Two weeks ago, there was a national strike. Most of Belgium came to a standstill, largely because virtually no public transport worked that day. Much, if not all of this chaos passed me by, because as you may recall I was ill at the time. So I was quite happy to be lying in my bed while my fellow commuters desperately tried to get to work.
But THEY noticed.
THEY won’t let anybody escape…
Monday morning, I got to the usual platform, still a bit woozy and snotty. Then I noticed that the train had a delay of 10 minutes. Well, it happens from time to time. When I returned from work however, the Brussels subway system was in disarray, “for reasons beyond their control”. So the subway train was late. So I missed my train in Brussels’ Central Station.
Tuesday morning: my usual tram doesn’t show up, nor the next one, nor the one that should follow it. I have to wait for fifteen minutes. Naturally, I miss my train and show up late for work again.
On Wednesday morning, the train is announced with a delay of five minutes. This is not too bad, because I left home a bit too late and now at least I have the time to buy a magazine. I forgot my book for the third day in a row after I’d packed it for our weekend at the sea, where I didn’t read a word in it. When I return from the magazine store, the delay has increased to ten minutes. Me. Late. Work.
Thursday: no delay in the morning, so I’m quite content. But when I return in the evening, the escalators in the subway station do not work. While clambering down I hear the train arrive and leave again right at the moment that I almost reach the platform. Miss connection. Have to wait for twenty minutes. Hooray.
Today, Friday, I didn’t have to fight my way through rush hour, because I have to pick up some prescribed medicines for my coming trips to Africa and the pharmacist’s only opens at 9 o’clock. The train ride to Brussels goes without any surprises. But then of course, I still had to return. The escalators at the subway station are still in repair, but this time I wasn’t surprised. I even got in Central Station well in advance. But then my luck ran out. The 17.25 didn’t show up at 17.25, instead there’s a stop train that really deserves its name, stopping at every spot where it sees more than three cows and a rabbit gathered. So I – foolishly – decide to wait. Then three other trains follow each other in rapid succession. Another stop train arrives, but since it’s already 17.39, I decide to wait for the 17.39 express that inevitably has some delay. A few moments later, the train for Antwerp arrives. It’s the 17.25, which I didn’t expect anymore at 17.45. Anyway, I get on the train, which heads for Antwerp and later the border town of Essen. Normally, this train stops at Antwerp Berchem, then Antwerp Central Station and then continues to Berchem. But because of the delay, the train will not stop at Antwerp Central Station, so the passengers going to Antwerp Central Station have to switch trains in Berchem. This is all explained by the train driver, but because these trains are all so modern, we barely realise that he is saying something. The train sets off again, leaving Berchem Station, and I quickly notice were going in the wrong direction.
We pass Antwerp East Station, but don’t stop there. Instead, our next stop is Ekeren, to the north of Antwerp. When I get out, I can see that I’m not the only one, the little station is flooded with passengers going in the wrong direction. To make things worse, we have to leave the station, walk to the bridge over the tracks, get to the other side and there get to the platform. Miraculously, the train in the other direction hasn’t left already. But it did start to rain and it’s a real downpour by the time the train does arrive.
Anyway, I did arrive, an hour and a half later than normal. And the weekend has finally started. But to prevent similar events next week, I just want to say: YOU win, I repent, please forgive me! I shall never try to escape the nuisances of a general strike again by being sick. I promise!