We woke up bright and early Saturday morning for our trip to Kilkenny. Bill ordered a cab for 9:00am after we were told it would take at least an hour to walk to the train station from our hotel. The cab driver arrived right on time.
While we were in the taxi, I found myself listening to the talk show on the radio. My ears pricked up when I heard the female commentator refer to the United States as the “United Hates of America”. She said she didn’t see America that way, but other people did.
“The United ‘Hates’ of America, huh?” I responded. “Wow.”
The cab driver chuckled and, naturally, that opened up yet another conversation about politics. He gave us his impressions of our elections and we explained to him that Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump were not the only candidates. They were simply the only ones most people heard much about, especially outside of the country. Bill then explained that we live in Germany, so we’re somewhat removed from a lot of the political maelstrom that has been going on for over a year now.
We arrived at the train station a bit early, so after Bill bought us a couple of tickets, we went into a bar for a round of beer. Yes, it was 9:30am, but I decided I wanted a beer. We were turned away from the “outdoor” area of the bar, but inside, there were several old guys congregated. They were all sipping Guinness, so we joined them and enjoyed the 80s music playing on the stereo.
While we were sitting there in the bar, Bill told me about the funny sign at the ticket counter that read something to the effect of “Antisocial behavior will not be tolerated! You will be caught and prosecuted!” Little did I know, our social skills would be tested on our ride to Kilkenny.
At 10:15am, we got on our train. It was pretty packed with people. We were at a four top table, so we were later joined by a funky looking lady who was very intent on reading a tabloid. We thought we would have a nice sedate ride to Kilkenny and we did… until we stopped at Kildare.
The train stopped and a bunch of people got on… and most of them were of the youngster set. I heard lots of high pitched chattering as laughter as we were suddenly joined by a group of about twenty or thirty kids. I didn’t count them; I only noticed as they made their way down the train, looking for spare seats together. They looked like they were on the brink of adolescence– maybe ten or eleven years old.
“Urchins…” I muttered.
One kid got on the train with a backpack and a large foam rubber mat. It was rather wide and he seemed oblivious as it smacked a few passengers he tried to pass. A motherly looking group leader advised the lad to unhook the mat and carry it in front of him. It seemed to take a couple of minutes before he finally got it and carried the thing in a less offensive way.
A few minutes later, the boy with the foam mat was back, along with a couple of his friends and a group leader. The group leader very apologetically seated the boys at the four top table opposite the aisle from Bill and me. A young man was already sitting by the window, blissfully tuned out of the action because he had ear buds planted firmly in his ears.
The overhead baggage area over the boys’ seats was full, so after prompting from yours truly, Bill very helpfully offered to put the foam mat over our seats. This kindness opened up yet another hilarious exchange with the Irish. You see, these boys were not the type to be quiet and shy. I don’t actually know the boys’ names, but I’ll give them nicknames for the sake of this story.
“Where are you from?” asked the foam mat bearer– I’ll call him Seamus for simplicity’s sake.
“America.” Bill said.
“America!” another boy exclaimed– I’ll call him Lefty due to his broken hand in a cast. “What the hell are you doing in Ireland?”
“We’re here on vacation.” Bill said.
“You can’t be here on vacation!” another kid I’ll call Ray said. “Nobody vacations here! Ireland is awful!”
Naturally, this unabashed comment made everyone in the vicinity crack up with laughter.
One of the boys pulled out a plastic bottle of some kind of juice. The three of them then commenced flipping the bottle, trying to get it to land right side up. I am told this is a game that is “all the rage” among youngsters these days, but it was the first time I’d ever seen it. I eyed the bottle nervously, fearing that it would either break or the top would come off, making a big mess. At one point, the bottle landed upright and the kid I call Ray started yelling “Drink! Drink! Drink!” like he was at a frat party. My eyes widened in surprise, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been.
“So do you like Ireland?” Ray asked during a lull in the gameplay.
“Oh yes!” Bill said.
“How many states have you been to?” Lefty asked, moving on to the fact that we were Americans and apparently totally foreign to them.
“48.” Bill said. “I have not been to Alaska and North Dakota.”
“48 states!” the boys exclaimed. “Wow!” They were extremely impressed that Bill had seen so many states. When another from their group sat nearby, they eagerly told their friend about Bill’s U.S. travels.
“What state are you from?” one of the kids asked.
Bill told them he was from Texas. I told them I’m from Virginia. The kids continued peppering Bill with questions. Eventually, they asked which country he’d been to that was furthest away. For some reason, Bill said “Iraq”, although he has since been to a few African countries that are even further away from where we’ve ever lived.
Recognizing that Bill had been in the Army, the kids moved on to subject of the war. “Did you know anyone that died?” one of the kids asked.
“Yes.” Bill said. Thankfully, they moved on from that line of questioning… only to start talking about politics!
“Hey! Do you think of Canada as your ‘goody two shoes neighbor to the north’?” Seamus asked, just in time for one of the roving group adults to hear him. I gasped in surprise just as one of the group moms came over and grabbed Seamus for a talking to. While she was chewing out Seamus, she shot Lefty what appeared to be a ‘death ray’.
“I’m so sorry,” the group mom apologized as she returned Seamus to his seat.
“Really, it’s not a problem.” I said as I laughed. These kids were cracking me up and making the time go much faster. I probably shouldn’t have encouraged them, but I have to admit to being similarly obnoxious… especially when I was their age.
“Oh no.” Lefty said suddenly. “Here comes Dermott.”
Dermott was apparently the head leader of this group and he gave the impression of brooking no nonsense. He was heading down the aisle toward the boys.
“He wears a Titanium vest!” Ray shouted. “And if you don’t get on with him, he’ll send the IRA after you!”
“Oh my God…” I muttered to Bill, who was having a hard time containing his laughter.
“What does D.C. stand for?” Lefty asked.
“District of Columbia.” I responded.
“Isn’t Colombia a country in Africa?” one kid asked.
“No, that’s a country in South America.” Bill said.
“Isn’t it a city in Ohio?” Lefty asked.
“No, you’re thinking of Columbus.” I said. “But good on you for being close, because a lot of people wouldn’t be.”
“We have to walk three miles to our campsite.” Lefty said.
“You’ll be alright if your rucksack is 20% of your body weight.” Bill offered.
“It’s too far.” the boys said as they flipped the bottle again.
“Hey! Why don’t you have a go?” Lefty asked Bill as they passed him the bottle. I shot Bill a warning look as he wisely gave the bottle back to the kids.
Finally, another stop came and a bunch of people got off the train. One of the moms came back to our little group of comedians and told them to come with her to another part of the train. They had found seats together. The boys all groaned and got up to leave. Seamus, who appeared to be the leader of the hooligans, came back because he’d forgotten his bottle. Before he left, he said goodbye to Bill and me and gave us both a bro fist.
I have to admit, next to the train ride we took in Luxembourg with a bunch of nuns and a woman wearing Depends and a rubber phallus on her nose, that was one of the more entertaining train rides we’ve ever experienced. It’s also not the first time Bill has become a de facto babysitter on a train. For some reason, he attracts people in need. Fortunately, he is great with kids and as kind and gentle as a man can be. More on that in part five!