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Train Day

Tuesday, 01 Dec 2015, 00:22 UTC

0. Preface

This was the day of trains — the only day in which we hadn’t been able to reserve all our train tickets online in advance.

So it was a day filled with a little uncertainty, given that each of the three legs of this day’s journey needed to match up in order to get us to Chur where we would meet Gabrielle and Jerry later in the day. They were planning to mean us in the station, there. So obviously… we needed to make it to the station.

There were three legs to the journey.

1. To Milan

We already had reservations for the first leg: a high-speed Frecciarossa train from Florence to Milan.

We arrived at the station with plenty of time to spare. The sun was just coming up, turning the sky an iridescent indigo just as we sat down to eat our breakfast in the station while we waited for the big board to show us which platform our train would be leaving from.

We sat. We ate. We waited. And then the board updated: platform 10. We, along with many others, walked thru the turnstiles and onto the platform. We walked down 9 cars and waited, along with everyone else, for the doors to open.

We waited. They waited. We looked around. They looked around. Time passed. Departure time approached. And still no one was able to board the train — the doors on all the cars remained closed.

Five minutes before departure. A guy comes driving down the platform on a baggage truck telling everyone that indeed this was not the Milan train (big board and platform signage aside). He waved us all over to platform 9. 

This was with five minutes to departure. But it’s not like there was anything we had done wrong, so we weren’t particularly alarmed until it became clear that everyone on platform 10 going to Milan was now running (running!) back down the platform and around the end to board the other (correct) train before it left.

What!? I’m thinking. We wait patiently, and then they switch platforms at the last minute, and they’re going to leave us?

But when in Italy, do as the Italians. So Trudy and I began hustling down platform 10, past car 9, car 8, car 7… all the way to be beginning of the platform and around the end to the next one over, past car 1, car 2, car 3 … until we got to car 9, where the door was open and waiting for us to board.

We got on and found some seats. Behind us people streamed down the platform, running to catch the train which clearly was going to leave on time with or without them. More and more people. They kept coming. (Were all these folks over on platform 10? I didn’t remember them.) 

And then our car filled up. There were no more seats and there was no standing room. And still people were running up to the car, looking in the windows to see if there was room, which there was not.

We were glad we had seats as the train began to pull out of the station.

2. T-Town

The second leg of our trip that day was the dicey one.

There was no way to get online reservations for it. We knew were were just going to have to get tickets the old-fashioned way once we arrived in Milan — Tickets to Tarrano (as Trudy pronounced it).

Just to be sure that we had things covered in case something went wrong, the fair and industrious Trudy had arranged our travel times so that if we missed the first train to Tarrano, we could catch the next one and still make our connection for the third leg on time. (This is why we had left Florence before dawn.)

When we got into Milan station, we went to a kiosk to buy our tickets. Trudy punched the buttons on the machine, but the results didn’t seem right. The only options involved transferring a couple times on the way, and we knew that wasn’t what we were supposed to be doing. So we asked for help from an agent at a podium nearby. She told us that there was a train leaving at 9:20, and that we should see it on the kiosk and just buy that one. That was the train we wanted, she said.

Hm. Not quite sure why we hadn’t seen it before, we returned to another kiosk and sure enough there was a 9:18 train to Torino (not as Trudy pronounced it).  She punched the buttons and swiped our card, and for a moment we were uncertain if the kiosk was going to accept our chip-less credit card. To our (great) relief, it did, and there we were holding two tickets to Torino.

We walked over to the big board to see what platform we needed to go to. And there above us, is showed us where to go to catch the train to Torino. And, we happened to notice, there also, two rows below that, it told folks where to go to catch a different train to Tirano.

Torino. Tirano. We had bought the wrong tickets. We returned to the agent at the podium.

I showed her our tickets and told her, “We want to go to Tirano.”

At first she nodded, but then she did a double-take. “These are to Torino,” she said.

“I know,” I said.

“Different cities,” she said.

With a sheepish look on my face, I said, “I know.”

She nodded. “Change tickets. Two floors down.”

Changing tickets was procedurally straightforward. The system was much like the post office where you pick a number and wait for it to be called. Except that it took a very long time. We waited and waited along with many others who were waiting and waiting for help with various kinds of travel questions and woes. But eventually they called our number, and the woman happily refunded the money for our Torino tickets and also booked us ticket to Tirano, where we wanted to go in the first place.

Let’s just say that if it weren’t for the contingency put into our day by Trudy, we would have missed our train.

But worse could have happened, of course. If it weren’t for the fact that the Torino and Tirano trains were listed above and below each other on the big board, we might not have even noticed our error. We would have boarded the first (incorrect) train and sat happily as it ran westward toward the Mediterranean, whereas we needed to be going north and east toward the Alps and Switzerland.

As it happened, we caught the correct train to the correct city which took us precisely in the correct direction.

3. Arriving in Tirano

With great happiness, we eventually arrived in Tirano, no the border of Italy and Switzerland.

Our train pulled to a stop, and we followed the crowd out to a cobblestone plaza and looked around for some sign of the Bernina Express, which was to be the third leg of our journey.

Sure enough. There it was, across the plaza: the Swiss Rhätishebahnhof where clean, neat, shiny red trains were waiting to take us into the mountains.

Let’s talk about that trip next time. In the meantime, let’s just conclude this story with an observation that the drizzle that was coming down didn’t faze us at all.

Given how wrong the day could have gone, how it almost did, but how it didn’t, we were thrilled to be where we were. And even happier when we found a place where we could have lunch, which is exactly what we proceeded to do.


Sunday, 29 Nov 2015, 20:03 UTC

Bohemian Rhapsody was released forty years ago today. (And of course, there’s this.) The music (but the term music hardly does it justice) papered the inside of my head. And the images are still there, undimmed, today. By listening to it, just by turning up the volume and closing my eyes, I can travel in time. But, forty years.


We are not supposed to be talking about this. We’re supposed — I am supposed — to be talking about trains out of Italy and mountains in Switzerland and Alpen Hütte.

I promise. I’ll get right to it. … No escape from reality.



Comfort Food

Friday, 27 Nov 2015, 18:50 UTC

I managed to manage some real food for Thanksgiving, small bites well chewed — everything except for the green beans, which I didn’t think my throat could manage.

That was yesterday. And as the days have shown us for the last couple weeks, little by little, day by day, things have been getting better. From puddings in the hospital to oatmeal back at home to scrambled eggs and then fried eggs and then ham or chicken chunks.

And then today. Well today I am thankful for a lunch of Tarka Saag Paneer and Basmati rice and naan (Dad: naan!). And a dinner of Thanksgiving leftovers including a drumstick gnawed cleanly to the bone followed by House of Pies dutch apple pie (Bunka: pie!)

Admittedly, it’ll be a while before chips and queso, but I kinda feel like I’m beginning to reenter to world of the normal. … I mean, that pie was really good, therapeutic even!

Thanksgiving 2015

Thursday, 26 Nov 2015, 12:43 UTC

I am thankful for being thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving to you all!


Florentine Shapes

Sunday, 22 Nov 2015, 20:55 UTC

You might recall, that when we spoke last about our fall trip to Italy and Switzerland, the fair and industrious Trudy and I were wrapping up our last day in Florence. But then a little distraction came along, and the travelogue was suspended.

Let’s resume, shall we?

Before we leave Florence behind, how about a little study in the shapes and geometry of the place.

Full disclosure: Trudy’s skeptical of compilations of photos like these, but then I am at the keyboard, aren’t I?

By The Ocean

Sunday, 22 Nov 2015, 02:53 UTC


That Was Recovery

Saturday, 21 Nov 2015, 18:29 UTC


Hours came and went. The sun rose and set. Doctors visited in the morning. Nursing shifts came and went. The Fair and Industrious Trudy never left my bedside.

Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday. Friday. Saturday. Sunday. Days of moments in which the only task was to get to the next moment. The next meal. The next medication. The next walk down the hall.

And on Monday they pulled the drain. They pulled the tube. They pulled the IV in my right hand. They pulled the IV in my left hand. And they finally let me go.

More to come, but I confess that I’m happy to be past that.

The Making of Delirium, 1-2-3

Friday, 20 Nov 2015, 21:12 UTC

I am out of the hospital. Still waiting on full results. But am recovering in relative comfort at home, cared for by the Fair and Industrious Trudy, two dogs and a faithful son, with well wishes coming in from down the street, across town, and across the country.

So let’s get down to business…


Appleton, Wisconsin. Some time in the 1960s. I’m pretty sure that’s where we were, visiting friends who had moved there. 

I remember nothing from the trip other than I was very, very sick. They had me in a bed upstairs, in an attic it seems, for I recall some steep stairs at the end of a long room. But my recollections are unreliable. The only thing I remember clearly is that I was delirious.

The delirium was so complete, that I remember having some kind of Fantastic Voyage in which a large white blood cell was oozing around me.

It would be years before I would figure out what that was all about: the white blood cell was my tongue and the oozing were my efforts to swallow. I know this, because years later as an adult I got very sick and when trying to swallow I found myself instantly and completely thrown back to Appleton, Wisconsin in the 1960s.

When you’re sick, a delirious brain can play games with you.

…which is why I asked you here today. As you know, I’ve just emerged from a week in the hospital. And I have stories of delirium to share.

1. Constructor delirium

After the surgery where they took a hunk out of the back of my tongue, they slipped a feeding tube up my nose, down my throat and into my stomach.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that it wasn’t particularly comfortable, leaving aside the fact that their first attempt (as I lay unconsciously oblivious) was a failure, and they had to first jiggle and finally remove the first (kinked) tube and thread a new one down as I sat upright and fully conscious on the bed.

Now, a tube going down your throat is not a normal thing. And in the darkness of those hospital nights, as I drifted between semi-sleep and semi-not-sleep, my brain just didn’t know what to make of it. The best it could do was translate things into something it knows. And for two horribly confusing nights, my brain was trying to figure out why my throat software had a malfunctioning class constructor.

In this case, there were three constructors involved: two on one side of my throat and one on the other side. And it’s this last one that was causing my brain the most anxiety, because for whatever reason is was in the wrong place, or it was doing the wrong thing, and all my brain wanted to do was rewrite the code to fix the dang thing so that it didn’t hurt so much.

For two nights, that’s all my brain would think about.

2. Anchor tag delirium

As the days merged with nights in the hospital, pretty much the only thing I was concentrating on was managing the pain. The nurses were generally good at this, but sometimes just before a shift change, after too much time had passed, while I was semi-sleeping, my brain would start interpreting the pain as a malformed HTML tag.

The tag should have looked something like this: <a href=”“>pain</a>.

But it was missing the href attribute. Instead, the tag looked something like this: <a>pain</a>. It was missing the reference to the true location of the pain, and as a consequence things were all messed up.

Problem is, knowing this didn’t seem to help. Because no one (including the nurses) came in to add the missing href attribute.

And so for several days, in the delerium of recovery my brain was silently screaming for someone just to fix the dang tag. 

3. Startup script delirium

“Something’s not working right,” I said to Trudy, sitting up in bed.

It was pitch black. She had been deeply asleep, and she didn’t have the faintest idea what I was talking about.

After all, of course something’s not working right: I have throat cancer!

But that wasn’t it. My brain was struggling to interpret some new signals from my body.

Since we had come home, I was drinking Tylenol-3 every 4-6 hours, and that stuff just doesn’t go down easily. On top of that, I had been on the feeding tube so long, that I had a lot of food in me, and … well let’s just say that it was running out of places to go. Or for the medicine to go.  

And every once in a while, I would wake up with a gurgling bubble of nasty, stinging, codeine-y something coming up my throat, making it impossible to lie flat on the bed.

Clearly this isn’t how it’s supposed to work. You’re supposed to lie flat when you sleep, and my brain was trying to figure out what was going wrong.

Actually, my brain had figured it out. It had, while I was sleeping, Googled the problem and figured out that there was just missing a line from my startup script. There was an if-check that my script didn’t have, a check that would detect the presence of these bubbles before they popped and append them to another variable before… well… that was the solution: add the missing line to the script. 

But it wasn’t helping. The bubbles kept percolating up. I couldn’t sleep because of it, and I was exhausted.


“Ben, you have a strange father,” Trudy said after he finished reading.

Maybe so. But I think I’ve worked thru most of the deliria now.



When It Rains

Monday, 09 Nov 2015, 08:49 UTC

When it rains, grow rain lilies.

DSC 0709

Cheeseburgers in Pradise

Monday, 26 Oct 2015, 06:35 UTC

Ok. Enough of that. We’ve got a trip to finish.

If you’re still with me, it was morning in Florence. Early morning. It was time to catch the train.

Trudy and I got up well before the dawn, packed our bags and walked to the train station pulling them behind us, grateful for the sidewalks however narrow, because if we had been pulling those suitcases along the cobblestone streets, the whole city would have been up to see us off.

As it was, there were surprisingly many people arrayed around and in the station. Not surprising for a society that has an efficient train system, I suppose. Gotta be in Milan by morning? Catch the A train. (A good way to start the day, no matter how you look at it!)

And we had to be in Milan by morning. So there we were, outside the station in the dark.

Now, let me say a few words about McDonald’s.

Did you know that their colors in Europe are green and gold? Yes. It’s true. Their livery there reminds one of, say, Subway sandwiches. Secondly, did you know that you can’t get breakfast at the McDonald’s in Florence before 7:00am?

Like… what!? 

This had been our fallback plan. If it was too early to find something real for breakfast, we figured it’d be a sure thing to stop in at the 24hour McDonald’s that was just across the street from the station. Wrong. Hamburgers and fries for breakfast? In the dark? No. No. And no.

The fair and industrious Trudy found a bakery a couple doors down, and we were ready to head north.

More on that later.