Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Steered Wrong in Radom

I knew this was going to happen.  I promised that I'd have a post up today, and there are no internet cafes around.   At least no one here knows of one.  I’ve been walking around the center of town showing around my journal in which I’ve written “wi-fi” (here in Poland they pronounce it “wee-fee”).  So far I’ve received non-stop shakes of the head, which I take to mean either they don’t know what “wi-fi” means, or there’s no wi-fi.

A little while I ago I ducked into a small store called “Komputeroniks,” or something like that, and inquired about the wi-fi situation in the city center.  I figure they might know since they’re in the business, selling computer accessories, flash drives, mice and whatnot.  The man working told me that he doesn’t know of an internet café, or a place that has wireless connection, but he offered to let me hang out in the store and use his wi-fi connection. 

He obviously doesn’t know my process.  There’s so much involved in writing a blog post.  In my case typically it involves sitting for hours in a cafe, drinking coffee, writing and re-writing, and every now and again laughing out loud at my own cleverness.  There’s also the ever so time-consuming selection of pictures to include in the post.  I looked around the store and saw there would be no place for me to sit apart from the small desk where customers are being served; and in fact the entire store itself is about 10 feet by 5 feet.  I thanked the man, begged off his offer, and noted the closing time—6:00 p.m.—just in case.

I continued walking to the end of the street, scanning storefront windows for the words “wi-fi” or, as is sometimes the case, “Hot Spot,” but nothing.  So I devised an alternate plan.  I’m now around the corner at the Dallmayr Café, having a cappuccino, and writing this post.  As soon as I’m finished, I’ll go back to Komputeroniks and ask to borrow the wi-fi to upload this to my blog quickly.  Sorry, I can’t do pictures, because that takes some time.  But I promise, tomorrow when I get to Warsaw, I’ll upload the post that was intended for today, entitled, “On the Soviet Side of the Tracks,” and it will have lots of photos.

Meanwhile, since I have a few minutes, I’ll tell you what’s behind the title of this post.

So, all over the world, I get fairly good directions from strangers, and usually it works out really well.  Even when we don’t speak the same language, we make do with a lot of gesturing.  In this way I’ve learned that a dip followed by a quick rise of the hand means go underground to cross the street—a nice tip to avoid getting run down in the street.  Usually, when I stay in proper hostels in big cities, I get directions from them, with varying levels of precision of course, but I always make my way.

Before my arrival here in Radom I emailed the hostel—which clearly is not a typical backpacker place—and got the following line of directions:  “From the train station take bus No. 7 goes to 4 stops.”  I took that to mean, take bus no. 7 and go four stops.

I arrived in the Radom train station this afternoon and found a bus stop with a bunch of numbers listed on the sign, including the number “7.”  In a few minutes, bus number 7 rolled up.  I got on and, as is my habit, showed the driver the name of the street where my hostel is located, in this case, Limanowskiego Street.  The bus driver shook his head “no” and said something in Polish.  Clearly I didn’t understand, so a man in the front row repeated it—again in Polish—like maybe they thought I was slow or something.  Finally, a third person, this time a young woman, said, “This is not right bus,” and motioned for me to get off.

So I did.  Now I was in a pickle, because I had no map, save for a rudimentary one scribbled in my journal, and which unfortunately did not include the location of the train station in relation to the map, rendering the entire scribbling of no use.  I spotted a hotel across the street and decided to inquire at the reception there.  I do this a lot, and not only do I usually find an English-speaking concierge who gives good directions, but often I’ll score a free map of the city.  In this case, the man behind the counter did not speak English.  He did, however, go upstairs to find someone who could.

A few minutes later, a young girl appeared, and I told her that I was looking to go to Limanowskiego, which the hostel told me was four stops on bus number 7.  I also explained that I had gotten kicked off bus number 7 moments ago for being on the wrong bus.  She kindly walked me outside to a nearby bus stop, read some information on the sign, and then advised me to go on bus number 14. 

I appreciated her help, but was hesitant to get on a completely different-numbered bus in an unfamiliar city.  I looked at what she was looking at, and noticed that Limanowskiego Street was listed as stops for both bus 7 and bus 14.  For number 7, it was precisely the fourth stop, just like the hostel said.  I now gathered where I had gone at the train station; since that bus 7 was going in the other direction, it was indeed the wrong one.  But now I was set and on the right path.

I learned from a woman standing at the bus stop—again through pointing and gesturing—that I needed to first purchase a bus ticket at a kiosk across the street back near the train station; the ticket is then validated once on board.  I bought two, just in case; each ticket costing 2.10 zloty, or about .75 cents.  Finally the right bus number 7 rolled up.

This is where things went wrong.  There was a man standing by the bus driver—I don’t know if it was the bus driver's friend, or whether he worked on the bus, or what—but I showed him my address and he nodded his head yes, as if to say, yes, we’re going your way.  Then this nosy, old Polish woman sitting in the front row got involved.  I don’t know, but I gather she asked him where I was going, and he told her some place on Limanowskiego.  She started speaking very fast in Polish, and kept repeating Limanowskiego, Limanowskiego to others on the bus, leaving me with the impression that perhaps this was not the right bus.  But how could it not be?  The sign on the bus stop said Limanowskiego was the fourth stop from where I got on, which is the exact information I got from the hostel.

Now I was nervous, so I showed her the address in my journal, which said, “ul. Limanowskiego 36/40."  She nodded her head and demanded I have a seat next to her.  For the next few stops, this woman did not stop talking, and every now and again, she would say Limanowskiego, so it seemed she was talking about me.  Now she had two other people involved, including another old woman standing next to me.

The bus approached the fourth stop, and I could see from the nearby address that this was where I needed to get off.  But the woman would not let me go.  She literally tugged my backpack down toward her, preventing me from exiting the bus.  I did not understand what was happening, and now everyone in the vicinity was chattering excitedly in Polish as to what I should do.  I was told to wait for four more stops.  As we passed the bus stop, I could see the numbers going up – 44, 46, 50 – leaving mine, 36/40, behind.  But at this point there was nothing I could do but trust all of these people who were vehemently telling me to wait for four more stops.

The bus turned off Limanowskiego street and stopped three more times before returning to it.  On the fourth stop, the group signaled for me to get out.  The second old woman, who was getting off at the same stop, insisted that I follow her through a complex of cement-block buildings, but I could see this was not right, as the numbers on the street were now in the high 70s.  I kept telling her, “No, this is not right.”  Finally, I pulled out my journal and showed her the number 40.  She then opened her purse, brought out her glasses, looked at the number, and gave me a look that said, “Oh shit; sorry.”  She drew a figure “80” on the page with her finger, meaning, we thought you meant “80.”

To be fair, the “36” in “36/40” could have been mistaken as “86,” but in any event, now I was really annoyed.   I knew I should have trusted my gut instinct.  And because I didn’t want to insult an old Polish woman, I was now out a bus ticket.  I turned and walked in the other direction to find a bus stop with a bus number 7.  I should mention here that it was freezing outside—about 20 degrees.  Of course the nearby bus stop had no service for number 7, but it did have a number 14.  I remembered that 14 makes a few stops along Limanowskiego, and I figured it was my best option.

I pulled my other, unused bus ticket from my pocket, and just as I was about to board, the wind took it away.  I watched it as it blew underneath the bus, so I couldn’t even run after it.  I looked around and didn’t see any place where I could possibly purchase another ticket, so I boarded anyway, with only an already-validated ticket.   Now I’m a criminal because of that dumb lady, I thought.  But I figure everyone was complicit in causing me to overshoot my stop—including the bus driver himself—and so, being the skilled lawyer that I am (or so I've been told), I was prepared to make my case if called upon to do so.  Plus, I had another defense, which is that, in some places, bus tickets are good for one hour from the time of validation, and how am I supposed to know what the law is anyway when everything is written Polish?  Who knows, perhaps “ignorance of the law" is a valid excuse in Poland.

No one came around to check to my ticket, and after a few stops, bus number 14 deposited me exactly where I wanted to get off in the first place, which happened to be directly across the street from my hostel.  Now, I don’t have time to tie this up in a nice bow, or come up with a moral of the story, because it’s coming up on 5:35 p.m. and I have to fix typos before I go around the corner for the dispatch.   Maybe this:  if you ever find yourself in Radom, Poland, watch out for aggressive, old Polish women on bus number 7, especially if they’re not wearing their glasses.

More tomorrow.