Closely Watched Trains

This story was told to me by my wife. She and our daughter were visiting family in Prague. They had finished their visit and went to the main train station off of Wenceslas Square to take a train, the famous Vindobona, to Vienna. As an experienced traveler, she had bought both tickets and first class seat reservations, knowing that the second class cars tended to be crowded and boisterous. The first class car also had cleaner restrooms and was also usually closer to the dining car. The trip was five hours. So, the availability of food and drink was important.
At the train station, the platform number had not been posted on the departure board. Hundreds of people were milling about waiting to be directed to the appropriate platform. As the departure time approached, the platform was announced, and like a mass of lemmings, the passengers streamed toward the stairs. Knowing the first class car was always on one end of the train, she asked an attendant which end of the train had the wagon and in which direction the train would travel. This is important because the train was a long one. If you are at wrong end, it’s quite a hike to the other end. They were directed to the appropriate end of the platform and the train pulled in–backwards! This meant they had to walk the entire length to find the car. Except it wasn’t there. Each car has a number and the first class wagon– there was only one–had a different number from the one of their seat reservation. They asked again and were told their car was now a second class car. My wife was livid, but decided the problem could not be solved from the platform and they took their seats. Appealing to the conductor before the train departed did no good whatsoever because the poor woman had a lot of details to cope with and could not concentrate on seating issues at that moment.
When she returned to take the tickets, she was more responsive. My wife explained the situation. The conductor offered them two seats in business class and they took them. As they walked to the first class car to take their seats, my wife asked the conductor where the dining car was. “There is no dining car today,” she replied. When my wife registered her shock–and my daughter her disappointment since she hadn’t had any food that day–the conductor remarked, “That’s how it goes sometimes. Yesterday, we had no train at all.”
is it any wonder that the Czechs consider Kafka’s writings to be realism.

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