The three young Americans got on at Hergiswil, Switzerland, which is where the Lucerne train connects with the train from Engelberg and transportation from Mt. Titlis. The three had obviously just come from there because the girl was wearing a new yellow T-shirt with "Titlis" printed across the front and "3020 M, 10,000 Feet" just underneath.
They settled across the aisle from us. She was thin and cute, in spite of a great mop of frizzled blonde hair that looked like a home perm gone bad. One of the boys might have been related to her, but there was a look about him like a house where there's no one home. A definite "out-to-lunch" aura.
The second boy, who would have been nondescript except that he had only one eyebrow that went all the way across his forehead, took a Walkman from his backpack, clamped the earphones to his head and turned it on . . . loud.
There is a tendency to take the misconduct of one's fellow nationals as a personal affront. Some people think that less-than-perfect conduct tends to make all the rest of us look bad in front of foreigners.
A Silent Prayer
From the moment I'd noticed the three, a small voice--way down inside--had started praying, "Lord, let them be English or Germans, or maybe even French."
Then the girl put a stick of gum into her mouth, looked at me, smiled and said, "Hey, hey, whadaya say?"
They were ours.
I muttered a "Fine, thank you," or some other innocuous answer, but she had already looked away and was keeping time to her friend's music by tapping on her armrest.
After a couple of minutes, hoping to call the young man's attention to the fact that everyone at our end of the car was also having to listen to the "music," I leaned toward him.
"Sounds like Chubby Checkers? Is it?"
"Huh?" he said.
"I said it sounds like Chubby Checkers." The girl shook her head. "Naw, he's not into the classics."
"Lord, lord," my wife Joyce murmured.
"It won't work," I said. "He's not listening." She didn't hear me.
My wife is an audiometrist. She tests and evaluates hearing for students in the Los Angeles city school system. After about 15 minutes she felt compelled to say something, so she leaned over and tapped the young man on the knee.
He pulled the earphones away from his head for a moment and looked at her.
"If you continue . . . . " she began. But he shook his head, indicating he couldn't hear, and leaned toward her. She raised her voice and began again. "If you continue to play your music that loud, you're going to damage your cochlea!"
"What?" he asked louder, turning off the Walkman.
"You're going to damage your cochlea!" Joyce almost shouted into the sudden silence.
For some reason this struck "Frizzles" and "Out-to-Lunch" as hilarious. A few other people on our end of the railway car were also tittering. "Earphones" just nodded, smiling.
"What I'm saying," my wife went on, now almost desperately, "is you're going to ruin your inner ear, your hearing."
A look of comprehension lit Earphones' face. "Right," he said. "Thanks." He took the earphones away from his ears, leaving them hanging around his neck. He then flicked the Walkman back on. The music was back, softer for him, louder for the rest of us. I wondered if Joyce's saving his hearing was going to cost us ours.
"Buddy," I said. "Maybe if you'd just turn it down?"
"Can't," he answered. "Knob's busted."
The fourth car of the Lucerne Schnellzug arrived in the station to the accompaniment of Sid Vicious and the Sex Pistols.
We parted company in the Lucerne railway station.
Because of the heavy vehicular traffic around the station the Swiss have built an underpass that takes travelers under major thoroughfares. An escalator at the far end of this underpass takes you back to the surface.
At the base of the escalator we saw the young people again. They had been a little boisterous before, but now they were all relatively quiet as they waited patiently for a very old, very fat woman to get on the escalator. It was becoming increasingly apparent that the woman was quite apprehensive about stepping onto the moving steel tread, but to use the adjacent stairs would have been impossible for her.
All of us were a bit anxious as the woman made little rocking motions, trying to time her move onto the escalator steps. Finally, she took the chance.
For a moment everything seemed all right, then she began to teeter. Her groaning scream was almost matched by the yelled warnings of the young people as they tried to catch her, failed and then scurried onto the moving staircase to lift, attempt to carry and then partially drag the now bleeding and thoroughly terrified woman to safety.
She had apparently sustained some cuts. One, over her left eye, was bleeding severely. And the more she dabbed at it with the end of her scarf, the more it bled.