Anti-LockFreiburg, Spring 2012
The moment Michael started to turn onto the exit ramp, I knew we were carrying too much speed.
I was traveling via airport shuttle back to Freiburg in the evening after a weeklong trip to Rome, Florence, and Venice for Pentecost break. I was exhausted, had not eaten anything substantial since that morning in Venice, and my clothes were greasy with sweat, grime and a few wine stains. It was a Sunday, and being such, the schedule for the busses running between Freiburg’s main train station and the Basel airport was sparse. I landed at 6:30 and the next bus was scheduled to come at 8. The rain was cold and I was huddled on a bench in a rain jacket chewing on a Snickers when I met Michael, a driver for the same bus service, who was about to make his last trip back to Freiburg for the evening. He was driving a smaller van – the kind chartered by small groups – and invited anyone at the bus stop to join him, our roundtrip tickets would still be valid. We all cheered and piled in. I rode shotgun.
The rain stopped shortly after we departed and the thick cloud-cover was the color of slate over the lush green countryside as we flew at 160 km/h through France and then across the German border. Some of the passengers were visiting southwest Germany for the first time and Michael told us about the history and culture of the area and the centuries of shifting borders with France, the agriculture practices in the Kaiserstuhl region, and things to see and do in the inner city. He was far more knowledgeable than any average bus driver and while sitting in the front, I told him about my travels in Italy, my studies at IES, and my plans for the summer when I go home. “You speak very good German,” he told me. “Most Americans don’t bother learning it, do they?” I thanked him and settled lower into my seat, feeling myself grow content. I was going back to where I had friends and an established day-to-day schedule – not bouncing from hostel to hostel as I’d done since the Friday before. I’d be home in Freiburg soon.
Michael asked where we’d like to be dropped off. The consensus was the train station and he nodded, closely passing more cars before turning onto the exit ramp. Michael entered the ramp at about 150 km/h and I felt the back end of the van spin out and to the left. My breath altered to an extended exhale and time mysteriously slowed.
This past winter while I was teaching skiing and waiting for this adventure in Germany to start, I was driving home in the early evening on a frozen road somewhere in southern Vermont when my car made the same kind of fishtailing motion. The way out is to take your foot off the accelerator and to brake first, then steer in the direction of the skid. If your car has an anti lock brake system, that makes everything easier. In that same instance, time slowed as it does in any kind of dramatic moment. This time on the Autobahn near Freiburg was the same and I found myself thinking about the motion and texture of the time and space I occupy. As the cliche goes, it feels like I got here yesterday and this proves Einstein right; time is relative. It’s odd to think that three months passes in the blink of an eye while three seconds in a spinning out of control van feels like a week.
So time’s moved, or rather I’ve moved through it. And while it is distressing the think that in just two more weeks I’ll be on a plane hurteling across the Atlantic, it is, after all, only part of The Process. Time doesn’t move like some wounded animal that stumbles about in the dark, slowly bleeding to death and scared. It’s more like the sunsets I watch from my balcony; graceful and beautiful to behold; always vague in hindsight; sometimes missed or ignored.
This is what I was thinking about while the tires screamed and the trees rotated past the windshield in a blur.
We spun twice and stopped on the side of the highway in the grass, facing perpendicular to the pavement. I finally inhaled again.
“I’m so very sorry,” Michael said. “Most of the time I usually drive a Volkswagen.”
“That’s alright,” I said. “I’m ok. Let’s go on.”
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