Monday, December 11, 2006

Max's Monday Mission

A. had called me while I was in Paris, so I knew what I would have to do after work today. Sure enough, there was an email waiting for me this morning informing me that she had not been able to solve her problem in Kraków, and she would indeed need me to step in.

A. is a professor of sociology at the university in Kraków. She teaches Polish students in Polish and foreign students in English. For reasons unknown to me, she was planning on showing a Czech film to foreign students in a class tomorrow. On Friday, A. had discovered that her dvd of the film with subtitles in English was missing. She had another copy of the film, but it had only Polish subtitles. She searched high and low, calling every dvd place in Kraków, and even some in Warsaw, trying to locate a copy of the film with English subtitles. No one had it.

A. saw two options. The first was to watch the film with Polish subtitles and take it upon herself to provide simultaneous interpretation into English. The second was to have a dvd with English subtitles purchased in Prague and sent to her. The only friend in Prague A. felt she could ask to do such a thing was Max. As providing simultaneous interpretation would be difficult and exhausting, A. much preferred the second option.

As a result of our phone conversation on Friday, A. knew that I would not get back to Prague until very late on Sunday night, and I would only be able to do something on Monday. She formulated a plan, and sent it to me on a self-destructing tape – actually, in an e-mail. My mission, should I choose to accept it, was to purchase a dvd, take it to the overnight train that goes from Prague to Kraków, and entrust it to a conductor. A. would meet the train in Kraków, give the conductor some money for his trouble, and collect the dvd.

My first thought was that this was going to be a goddamn pain in the ass. My second thought was that I needed to look at it differently and treat it as an important mission that would actually be fun. I chose the second perspective.

I checked the train timetable on the internet at work. The train was departing Praha hlavní nádráží at 20.55, which gave me plenty of time. I talked to Kuba about my mission, to get a Czech opinion as to whether a conductor would accept the package. He said, “Well, 20 years ago for sure, but I don’t know about now. Take some booze for the conductor.” I spoke to Jono about it over email, and he suggested that perhaps if a conductor wouldn’t take it, a traveller would. All good advice.

Upon leaving work just after 18.00, I went straight to Bontonland, where I knew they would have the dvd I needed. They did. I made my purchase and then went to a supermarket where I bought a half-litre bottle of Becherovka. Then I went to Jáma to wait until it was time to go to the station.

I texted A. to inform her of my progress to that point. I took out the envelope I had brought with me, and wrote her name, the station, and her phone number on it. I drank a small beer, read my book, and talked to some people I knew. Then it was time to go for the only part of my mission that could possibly go awry. I made my way to the station.

I watched the departure board until the platform number came up. The train was not yet there, so I had to wait a few more minutes. The train pulled in at about 20.35, so I had loads of time before it would be leaving. I located a sleeping car that was going only to Kraków rather than on to Warsaw. There were two conductors standing outside. I didn’t know if what I was going to ask was kosher, so I would have preferred only one conductor, but I didn’t have a choice so I went for it.

I turned to the younger of the two conductors and told him that I had a request. I explained that I had a small package for a friend in Kraków and that she would be at the station and that it was just a dvd, as opposed to anything dodgy. I took the dvd out of the unsealed envelope to show him. His only question was if she would be giving him some money at the other end. I said that yes, she would give him some money. I also informed him that it was very important because she needed it for a class tomorrow. He agreed to take the package. I showed him that A.’s phone number was on the envelope just in case. He said, “In case she oversleeps?” I said that she would not, that she would certainly be at the station. He reminded me that the train would be getting into Kraków głowny at 5.47. I assured him that A. would be there.

And then I said that there was something else and took the bottle of Becherovka out of my bag. He asked if that was also for her, and I said that no, it was a gift for him to thank him for his trouble. He said that he couldn’t accept it. I said, well, please take it anyway. If you don’t want it, my friend will be happy to have it. I hoped by saying that that he would take it for himself. He then accepted the bottle, so I will find out tomorrow whether or not he eventually passed it on to A. I confirmed the number of his wagon with him and got his name.

The conductor took the package inside the train, I texted A. to give her the crucial information, and I left to go home, proud of a job well done.

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