Monday, 12 November 2007.
I planned to take a bus to Vienna Woods.
“Schwedenplatz to Hutteldorf (U4 green line). Take Bus 147 all the way till the end, before the bus loops back (you’ll know ‘cos that’s when everyone gets off)”.
And so said the Frommers travel guide.
“Take bus 174,” said the lady behind the counter, at the bus station.
No extra charge, as I had a weekly pass.
But where is Bus 174?
I wandered from stop to stop, between bus sign posts spaced a few metres apart.
There was one bus with a driver in it. I went up the bus and asked the driver if it went to Huttelburg. He pointed and gestured and replied in German.
I had absolutely no idea what he just said. Thanked him anyway, in German, and got off the bus.
So I decided to approach a man who was waiting for his bus. A tall man, serious-looking. Dressed in a business suit, with a heavy coat over it.
“Excuse me, do you speak English?” I asked.
A little, he replied with a smile.
“Do you know where I could take bus 174?”
He apologetically said he didn’t know as he wasn’t from around here. Immediately, he went to take a look at the posters on the bus stop post. He stared at it for a while.
Where do you wish to go, he asked.
Huttleburg, I said. I didn’t trust my German pronunciation so I showed him what I had written down earlier. He said it out loud, more for his benefit than mine it seems. Good thing I wrote the words, for my German pronunciation was off.
He walked over to ask an old lady. They conversed in German.
Apparently she didn’t know how to get there either, for she walked over to a cab driver (who was in his cab). She knocked on the window. The driver wound it down. She was too far away for me to catch what she said. Not that I would’ve understood her.
I turned to the man whom I had asked for assistance.
Sorry to have bothered you, I said.
“Oh it’s OK,” he replied. With a smile.
I turned to look at the old lady. She was still conversing with the cabbie. By now, a few other people had noticed our little drama of sorts. I was starting to feel embarrassed, to have troubled no less than three strangers.
The cab driver pointed to a bus stop. The old lady thanked the cabbie (that much German, I understood). She walked a few steps repeated his instructions to the man in the suit.
The man thanked her.
“Danke,” he said.
“Thank you,” I said to the old lady (I still didn’t trust my pronunciation).
“Bitte,” she responded in kind.
The man walked me over to a stop.
Bus 147, he pointed.
Ah! I had gotten the bus number wrong. It wasn’t 174.
Thanks for your help, I said.
With a quick smile.
And then he walked off so quickly that I thought I had missed something. A handshake. A longer grasp of hands even.
But no, it was as if he helped total strangers routinely and didn’t think much about the whole episode.
In my mind, I thought: I doubt if I would ever meet you again, Sir. Or you, Madam.
The few German words I truly understand.