Being late is an awkward feeling, isn't it? Especially if you show up late for work because of something you are to blame for: You overslept (at least you'll be wide awake in a split of a second), you hopped on the wrong train (Panic!) or missed the right one (the sky is falling!).
At the same time (pun not included), embarrassing situations sometimes look funny in retrospect. Here are two such situations that happened to me roughly ten years ago. So by now I am calm enough to share them.
I was a freelance producer, author and lecturer in Berlin and had a client in Potsdam. Classes started at 9 am, and I usually got up as early as 6 to be there at 8:30 and have a little time for a coffee and preparations. I always took the train for various reasons.
One Monday morning I woke up by myself without the kind support of my alarm clock. That wasn't a good sign to begin with, and what I read on the display of the alarm was even worse: 8:00. I didn't know how I managed to oversleep by two hours, but I did know how to manage to be out of the door after only 15 minutes. Ran to the subway, which just arrived. Good. Change at Alexanderplatz for the regional train. There's one waiting - very good, I *have* to catch it as they leave sparsely. I left my watch in my flat, which isn't too bad. But I forgot my cellphone too, so I cannot call my client.
Potsdam. Finally. What time is it? Station watch, quick glance, don't stop. Seven o'clock. Wait? Seven?!! It was supposed to be 10 or 9:30 at least.
When I woke up, I was so much expecting to be late I, misread the 6 as 8 on the digital display. In addition, summer daylight saving time had ended the day before, and I forgot to set my alarm clock back by one hour. When I woke up, it was only 5. Five not eight.
At least I had now plenty of time for a breakfast.
// --- snip snap ---
Same work, same client. I board the train in front of me which is supposed to take me to Potsdam. Sadly it didn't. Shortly before Potsdam, the train takes a left curve heading south rather than west. Either my reading skills failed again, or somebody else seriously #'$@!-up with the displays at the station. Since I was the only one starting to panic, I guess it was all my fault. The conductor suggests to leave the train at the next but one station so I can take a direct train from there to Potsdam. The next but one stop is a village called Beelitz, and it looks as if I was sent back to the 50's. I take out my cellphone to call my client, but there's zero (zero!) reception. I ask a conductor or so where my train leaves, and if I can call my client using a fixed-line phone: "Well, ei wuff make hop hop 'n' take tscha train da quick." Pointing to narrow track diesel train which must have been almost new 40 years ago. There isn't really a platform, so I climb over one or two tracks, the car smells of wood and diesel fuel, there are wooden benches, and I know the ride is going to be fun, that is if I wasn't late. The train is so slow, you could ride a bicycle next to it. There is no railroad embankment or so, the train is seemingly plowing itself through yellow canola fields and meadows with poppies and cornflowers. It's a sunny and beautiful day. Class will wonder where I am. I am somewhere stuck in the fifties with a good-for-nothing cellphone, a good-for-nothing notebook, wearing "casual business" and a sense of perfume
on an old narrow track train with wooden interior and fumes of diesel fuel.
The first stop is a railroad crossing. On the left, there's a car, on the right there's a cyclist talking to the train driver. Eventually the driver passes a bunch of letters to the cyclist. So he's a postman. They talk a little more. The car is waiting without blowing the horn. I am waiting too, trying hard to enjoy the bizarre situation I am in.
The second stop is somewhere in the middle of a field. There's a farmer's wife standing at the railroad. She is wearing a headscarf, a checkered apron and two bottles of milk. The train driver pays for the milk. They talk.
Does it really matter if I am "only" two or two and a half hours late? I mean it's so .. so calming ... the fields, the flowers, the tchadum-tchadum of the train, the blue sky. There's another farmer's wife hanging up her wash. The driver's opening his window and shouts something, the woman laughs and shouts back.
An hour or so later I am standing in-between computers and a video projector and apologize for being two hours late.