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Joe's Neighborhood

Safe houses and travel

10/16/2013

Safe houses are good things to have in your survival bag. Lord, life is complicated enough what with recent droughts, floods, tornadoes and man-made craziness. You need a place to go that makes you breathe more slowly and smile just a little. And maybe where you can ask your mom, who is holding a cool wash rag to your brow, to rub your neck at that one sore spot. Ahhhh, that’s it. A safe house.

That is the small difficulty with travel. Where are your safe houses when you’re 4,338 miles from the nearest Hy-Vee? And it’s particularly a problem when you’re just a tad bit anxious before you ever leave town and are going to live in, say, the Netherlands. I mean, really, I’m about to get into a 650,000 pound hunk of metal and fly across water? Lots of water? I was fortunate that my doctor prescribed medication so I could walk onto the plane without embarrassing my wife by crying and screaming and diving into the pond in front of the Des Moines International Airport. Unfortunately, I was so nervous when I took the medication to make me not nervous, that the little not-nervous pill refused to go down my throat, and instead took a strange detour up my nasal passage. This made me a little more nervous. See, this is why we need safe houses.

joes1This small plane is NOT a safe house. This is the baby plane you take to get to the big momma plane to fly over the bottomless ocean. The baby plane was not made for sturdy types like myself. Perhaps when I was 10, I could have comfortably flown in this plane. OK, maybe when I was 8. While trying to get into this Lilliputian plane carrying my 300-pound backpack, I cracked my head on the top of the door, stumbled into the flight attendant and was politely told, with uncanny hindsight, to duck. Thank you, ma’am. Next time I climb into a sewer pipe, I’ll remember to keep my head down. But for now, I’m going to wedge myself into the seat, grip tightly the hand of my wife and fly to the momma plane.

joes2Unfortunately, this is also NOT a safe house. This is the airport at Amsterdam. None of these travelers has slept for 40 days and 40 nights. People may be speaking Dutch or they may be speaking sleep-deprived gibberish. You pay your money and make your choice. But what is certainly happening is that the elusive purchase of a train ticket is about to begin for those poor folks forming lines to the left. This may be a good time to take some more of that special not-nervous medication. You cannot purchase a train ticket at this airport with a normal credit or debit card. Instead, you must have a credit or debit card with a secret chip hidden inside. In America, most of us don’t yet have this secret chip. And if you are one of the select few who have an American credit card with the secret chip, you will soon find that you can only use a Dutch debit card with the secret chip. Sorry. This goes a long way in explaining why Leo Tolstoy had Anna Karenina throw herself onto the train tracks. I wanted to throw myself onto the train tracks. But I didn’t have the right Dutch chip card to get to the tracks.

joes3Ah, and this is also NOT a safe house. This is the tram of death. No one riding the tram has ever eaten a dozen donuts at one time. I have. The tram silently pulls up to your stop, the doors open, and you have 1.2 seconds to haul your wife’s four large suitcases, your 300-pound backpack and your sorry rear end that ate all those donuts onto that thin little tram. Don’t get your hopes up. Lolo Jones couldn’t do it. Just accept that you will suffer humiliation when the door closes on your last suitcase. Relax, the door will open again, releasing your luggage, and you will fall into the aisle of the tram with the recalcitrant bag on your tummy. At this point, I personally resisted the urge to wave to my fellow passengers as I lay beached on my back holding my bag. I’m trying to blend into the culture.

joes4Mmmmm. Now this looks like it might be a safe house. I’m going to check it out and get back to you. CV

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, his wife is assisting in the prosecution of war criminals in the Netherlands for several months. He’s along for the ride and writes about being an Iowan in Europe on his blog at www.joesneighborhood.com.

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