On such occasions, it is hard to tell when we really finish, and at what time I can be back at the train station for the ride home. Therefore, I always buy a ticket that allows me to board whatever train I happen to catch.
That Friday, I arrived at the station with 3 minutes to spare before the next train was going to depart for Stuttgart. So, without further ado (i.e. without checking anything else about this particular route), I hopped on that train, leaned back and took my kindle out to read.
The loudspeaker crackled, and I expected to hear the usual bored voice make the usual announcements. Instead, a friendly man's voice, speaking in a natural and lively manner (without the artificially assumed cheerfulness you often hear on trains and planes), informed us passengers about today's trip. I thought, now, that's unusual, but nice, and turned back to my reading.
The train started to move, and there were more such friendly announcements with every stop coming up - and there were many! As it turned out, of all trains going to Stuttgart that afternoon and evening, I had chosen the slowest, stopping at almost every small town and village between the two cities.
And then, the train driver informed us in his by now familiar friendly manner of our next stop - a break of 28 minutes, as is apparently always scheduled for this particular route, in a small town called Süssen.
When I first heard that we were in for a 28-minute-stop, I though "oh great...", but then the train driver added: "And, by the way, there is a real good ice cream parlour near platform 1, if you are looking for a way to spend the next half hour. I always go there myself when I am on this route."
This sounded like a much better idea to me than sitting in the parked train, especially as it was such a beautiful summer's day. So I got off, just as the driver stepped off the front and made his way along the platform. I waited for him and told him that I was going to check out his recommendation, and we went to platform 1 together.
A table in the half-shade was quickly found and ice creams ordered, and we started talking. The driver told me he was only having three more weeks of work here and then leaving for good to make his childhood dream come true: Move to Switzerland, living in the mountains and driving the famous Glacier Express.
He told me that he really liked his job, but was very unhappy with the way the German Bahn (Railway) was being managed. It is a topic often discussed in our national media; from what used to be a very reliable and efficient system, the Bahn has turned into what appears like a bunch of greedy managers, making money on the back of notoriously overworked staff. Late and cancelled trains, lack of information, high ticket prices, dirty trains with toilets and A/C out of order etc. are everyday occurrences, and the company have to pay refunds to fed up passengers all the time. A lot of people only travel by train because they have no choice, and "my" train driver told me that things were going to get worse within the next five years. "You'll see," he said.
We talked about the railway in other countries, and it turned out he knows the North York Moors Railway and the National Railway Museum in York.
That way, we spent a pleasant 25 minutes, enjoyed delicious ice creams, and when it was time to get back on the train, he paid for my ice cream, too! I really did not expect that, and there was not even the slightest hint of anything untoward in his manner, just saying thank you for a friendly encounter and spending his break in pleasant company.
|Taken in Ulm with my mobile phone on the way back to the station
I said good-bye and went back to my former seat, wishing him all the best for his future.
Isn't it sad that those who enjoy their job and are good at it are driven away by mismanagement and wrong decisions? But isn't it nice that people like that still exist, and in spite of how terrible the world looks whenever we switch on the news, there are still such nice surprises happening to us (if we let or make them happen)?
This whole experience reminded me of an older post of mine; back in 2011, I wrote this about a similar situation - also in connection with a train trip.