I'll often awake with a start and think, "Where the hell am I?" Christ, I could be anywhere. I might be in a tent in Fargo or on a kind stranger's couch in London or in bunk in a hostel in Rome. This time I was on the floor of the train station in Calcutta. People were crowding around and past me, occasionally someone in a hurry would simply step over me. I sat up and looked around. My back was killing me. I glanced at my watch. "Jesus God," I mumbled, "how the crap did I get here?"
I tried to rub the sleep out of my eyes and clear my foggy brain. Slowly it all came back to me. I'd spent the last week in a small hotel deep in the bowels of what we in the USA would call a slum, but here in Calcutta, is just another working class neighborhood.
I'd been waiting for a package to arrive from my daughter, Maren, back in Bellingham, Washington State. FedEx had done a royal job of screwing up the whole deal, and now I was forgoing a much anticipated ride across India to take the train instead and get to New Dehli in a hurry to try to undo the mess FedEx had created. The package had my asthma medicine in it and I couldn't get far without it.
After a couple of days of back and forth, I'd cut a deal with FedEx to let me travel the 1,500 kilometers to New Dehli to pick up the box in person. "There's no way we're going to ship that package to Calcutta," FedEx had told both Maren and me, "if you want it come and get it."
By then, I was too beat to argue, so with FedEx's assurance that they'd hold my package for me, I spent the day getting train tickets and arranging for shipment of my bike and all my gear. Knowing how fouled up things can get, I arrived at the station extra early only to be told I'd have to ride back across the Ganga River to the Fergie Palace to get my ticket. It took another couple of hours to book my bike and equipment as baggage. With all arrangements made and no place to sit, I'd finally settled down on the floor against a column to get some rest. "I'll just close my eyes for a couple of seconds," I thought.
That had been more than 20 minutes ago. Now I got up and walked around a bit. All the chairs in the station were taken, people were clustered in little camps on the floor all around the huge barn-like structure, their baggage piled up in mounds.
I decided to send an E-mail to Maren to let her know I was okay, but as soon as I switched on my phone, there was a call from her. "Dad, did you get my E-mail?" She sounded grim.
"What's wrong?" I stuttered.
"I got a message from FedEx. They've delivered your package to the hotel in Calcutta."
I was dumbstruck. "Dad," Maren said, "are you there?"
"Cornbread hell," I said, "are you sure?"
"That's what they're telling me."
I looked at my watch again. My train would be pulling out in a couple of hours. Would I have time to get back to the hotel, pick up the box and get back to the station? Maybe I could just call and have the manager send it to me in a cab. But this is India, things operate on a different kind of logic here. It might arrive, and it might not. A hundred different plans of action raced through my brain. Whatever I was going to do I'd have to do it fast. "Okay, Honey," I said, "I'll let you know."
It's said that he who hesitates is lost. But it's also common knowledge that haste makes waste. Then again, my Dad used to say, "If you want something done right, do it yourself." I decided to go with Dad and jumped in a cab. The fifty minute ride to the hotel through the gathering Calcutta rush-hour traffic kept me on tenterhooks. When we finally arrived, I told the cab to wait and dashed into the hotel. The manager greeted me with a huge grin and my FedEx box.
I gave the cabby an extra 100 Rupees not to spare the horses, and man, did that cat drive. At the station, I jumped out of the car while it was still rolling and hoofed it over to Track 9. I needn't have rushed. I made it with time to spare.
God, I'm good.