"Take off your shirt"!
This is not what most people want to hear while traveling through the British countryside on a train. That's especially true if you are, like me, in less-than-model shape. But first......
Trains are a great way to travel in Europe. After a few days visiting a friend in Swansea, Wales, I decided to take a train to Bath, England. It looked fairly straightforward with only one change of trains in Cardiff, Wales.
My friend was leaving for the weekend but said it would only take a few minutes to get to the train station by taxi since it was Saturday morning. The station would be quiet and the trains fairly empty, or so he thought. He booked me a taxi the night before my trip. Naturally, it arrived late. I had no way to contact my friend as he'd gone off into the woods. I also had no idea what taxi company he booked. So I waited and waited until the taxi eventually showed up.
I told the driver to go to the train station. He said okay but smirked, which I found odd. As we drove to the station I realized we were cutting it close for time, but expected I could find my train quickly. I'd bought a reserved seat and only needed to pick up the ticket to board. We pulled up to the train station with about 5 minutes to spare. But there was a problem.
The station was packed with people. Hence the reason for the cabbie smirk, I suppose.
I rushed around trying to find the ticket machines, which I did with the help of a security guard. I retrieved my ticket and joined the mass of people piling onto the train. Everyone was wearing red clothing sporting the words "Cardiff". Wow, I thought to myself, now there's civic pride!
I boarded the train to see that all seats were taken and the aisle was completely full of people. Completely. There was simply no more room and there was no way I was going down the aisle with my suitcase, especially given the stares of those standing in the aisle. I put it on the shelf at the front of the train, next to what appeared to be a cider bottling plant as there were dozens of bottles of cider already piled up at 11 AM.
I worked my way down the crowded aisle to my window seat, which was naturally at the opposite end of the train car, and saw it was occupied by a college-aged girl. She immediately recognized why I was looking at her inquisitively.
"This your seat?" she asked.
I told her yes, so she got up to let me have the seat. And with that, I became a verbal target for a large number of cider-infused gents. Though honestly I think I was a target the moment I got on in my black-and-not-red shirt.
"You aren't seriously going to make her move, are you mate?" asked a college-aged gent sitting at a table on the other side of the aisle.
The girl interrupted to tell them it was my seat and I should have it. Now, normally I'd gladly have given up my seat, but this was my first trip through this part of the world and I wanted to see the sites. Had I known it would be mostly industrial areas or shrubs planted to hide the train I would have let her have the seat. The guy who had spoken up offered her his seat at the table (one side of the train had tables for four people, the other side had regular train seats).
And cut. End of story. At least that's what I'd hoped. After all, the girl was now sitting with them instead of across the aisle, thanks to me, with her friend in the aisle seat. At this point I tried looking out the window and pretending they didn't exist.
"Nice hair," one of them said derogatorily.
Here we go. My hair is spikey and blond, so this wasn't the first time someone had made a crack. I replied that my hair dryer blew up and shocked me thanks to the higher voltage in the UK.
"Where are you from?" another asked.
Well, I'm from Los Angeles, which to the rest of the world means Hollywood. As soon as I told them, I had a new name, "Hollywood". Wow, so original
"You going to the ballgame at the ballfield, Hollywood?" one asked, again derogatorily.
By this time I'd heard enough chatter to know that the red civic pride shirts were actually for the Cardiff rugby team, and everyone was heading to see the finals between Ireland and Wales for the Six Nations Championship.
"If I'm not mistaken it's a match played on the pitch," I replied.
This brought quite a few laughs and ooooos from their table. Then the girl who had been in my seat asked me where I was going. I told her I was going to Bath. This brought another chorus of laughter.
"You mean Baaahhhth? You going shopping"?
I guess naturally someone who lives in the region would think of shopping instead of sightseeing, but I don't look like the shopping type. I think the hair really threw them. Before I could answer, I heard a command that struck fear in my heart, and I heard the banjo from the movie "Deliverance" in my ears.
"So Hollywood.......take off your shirt," one of the men shouted.
This was such an odd question I just stared at the guy who asked it. I mean, all it takes is a simple glance at me to know I'm not shirtless material. Maybe all the cider had caused cider goggles in this gent. What the heck was I supposed to say to that? What do they do to foreigners on the train who aren't wearing the red shirt?
"Fine, I'm from Canada!" I yelled out.
"So, uh, Canada....." the gent slowly started to ask.
Thankfully, before he could get his question out, the train rolled to a stop, and dozens of empty cider bottles rolled around on the floor. When I reunited with my suitcase, I found that it had been used as a table, with many, many apple ciders spilled on top. I'm just glad it wasn't beer because the cider smells better.
I changed trains and headed to Bath, an eerie silence enveloping the nearly empty car, all the while waiting for someone to yell out, "Hey, Hollywood" !