Sunday, January 21, 2007
The Sad Saga of the Defunct Wheelie Bag
I awoke Sunday at 9 a.m. in the same bed I'd slept in for 60 days of 2004, in El Raval, a Pakistani/Arabic/artist neighborhood in Barcelona.
My mind was happy to be in Barcelona. My body, even after twelve hours of sleep, wasn't happy regardless of its location. It just hurt.
Friday and Saturday were a blur of planes and trains, of trying to sleep on a six-hour transatlantic flight while being constantly interrupted by flight attendants brightly hoping to further assist me with food and water, of dragging the wheelie over the broken pavement of JC as it passively resisted by trying to throw itself to the curb. Nice people helped me carry the wheelie down the stairs to the Grove Street PATH stop and from the World Trade Center A train station to the actual platform. Other than that, I weaved around stations, using handicapped-accessible elevators when available.
The JFK train-to-the-plane is especially wheelie-accessible. In the old days, I would have been most-unhappy going up the stairs, crossing the tracks, then going down the stairs to the bus. Today there are elevators.
I thought I'd overpacked, but no one charged me extra at the airport, so I guess I did all right. Funny how much less is required to go around the world for a year than to go do an office job for two months.
In Barcelona, the wheelie route to the train was good too, but when I got to Barcelona Sants--the main train station near the center--I ran into trouble.
My plan had been to easily transfer to the subway, which would zip me down to the meeting point near the flat I'd rented, so I could pick up the keys from Maria, the Rentalona agent. But there were lots of stairs in between me and the subway platform.
So what, I thought. That's what wheels are for. I merrily dragged the wheelie down the stairs and proceeded to walk down the platform.
The wheelie kicked me in the calf. Hey! Thats gonna bruise. What's your problem, stupid wheelie bag?
Oh. The handle had fallen off. I'll stuff it back in. Right after I catch this train.
Wheelie and I lurched onto the subway car, then I knelt to examine the damage.
No, I wouldn't be stuffing it back in. The handle had completely snapped off. Damn. Some people just aren't meant to own wheelies. I stuffed the handle into the suitcase, wincing as I felt it rip the lining.
At Parallel metro, a nice Pakistani woman helped me dragged the unwieldy handle-less beast up the stairs. I didn't see the meeting place, so I dragged the wheelie another block while hunting for a sign for Rincon del Artista, where Maria was waiting. Nothing. Dragged it another block. Damn unpleasant, this dragging. To use the wheels, I had to crouch over and walk near to the ground. Ouch.
I must have missed the meeting place. I called the Rentalona office a few times but got no answer. I headed towards the apartment. At the plaza in front of the supermarket, I stopped and fell into a heap on a bench next to two old men, who ignored me. I called Rentalona again. Still no answer. I fired up my laptop, searched for Maria's mobile number. Hey, that's nice! An unsecured wi-fi signal right here downstairs from my flat!
But there was no mobile number. I'd have to go find her.
"Perdone, " I addressed the two old men. "Mon ami est..." Argh, that's not Spanish. Try again.
"Mi amiga est..." The two old men stared expectantly.
"Donde esta Rincon del Artista?"
They stared at me blankly. I switched tactics. Pretended to lift the bag and looked pained. Very heavy.
"Ah! " They laughed.
I showed my outstretched hand, indicating five. "Cinco minutos! Je vais a..." Damn. That's not Spanish either. "Yo... " What, yo what? I couldn't remember how to say I go! I showed walking with my fingers and pointed. Then walked back and pointed to the suitcase.
They got it. I think they agreed to watch my heavy bag for five minutes.
I raced off to Parallel, still could not find the meeting point, when my phone rang. It was Dorata in the Rentalona office. She'd call Maria and tell her to meet me at the flat.
Minutes later, only one man was sitting at the bench, along with my wheelie bag. He was playing the harmonica. I managed to spit out "gracias" instead of "shukran, " "merci, " or "danke" and dragged the wheelie to the flat. Maria showed up seconds later.
"Marie, " chided Maria gently. "You should always travel with what you are comfortable with. " Point taken.
And then, I looked at the stairs. All five flights of them. Never mind, I was in Barcelona. I love Barcelona. I heaved the broken wheelie up ahead of me. Onward and upward.