Monday, November 28, 2011

Old friends, meaningful travel and trolls – Part 2

by Steve Brock on November 28, 2011

Last time we saw how you can pick up where you left off with old friends – especially ones with whom you’ve traveled – even after years of not seeing each other. And when you do so, certain stories always come back to you that define the moment like a secret code or handshake.

Such was the case when my friend Mark recently called me and we reminded each other of our time in Vienna together, eating way too much strudel and drinking far too much liquid and how we discovered…the troll.

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How can a city like Vienna, Austria with an opera house this beautiful have trolls living under its streets?

As we’re using the urinal in this underground restroom in Vienna, this voice bellows out from our left. We turn and standing there – as if out of nowhere – is this very large troll.

OK, maybe she’s not a troll. Maybe. Others might describe her as a very large woman who could have been 40 or 70, sort of a babushka with biceps bigger than my waste, and she’s telling us in German that we have to pay if we want to use the toilets.

We’re in no position to argue. In fact, the position we’re in is trying to turn our backs to her as she’s by our side demanding payment at a moment when we can’t exactly reach into our wallets. We’re more than a little embarrassed to have a strange woman – and I use the term loosely – haranguing us for pocket change at this awkward time.

As we finish, she informs us that we don’t have to pay to use the urinal, just the toilets. But we don’t need to use the toilets we explain. She nods but lets us know that if we did, we’d have to pay. Hmmm. Got it. We figure it’s troll logic or something.

As we’re washing our hands, wondering if that will cost us as well, we turn back to where she was…and she’s gone. Almost as if she had a secret door to a secret place, like a troll lair or something.

Think about it: living under a bridge (well, a road), coming out and terrifying poor passersby and demanding money: troll. Clearly troll.

So when Mark calls me last month, we get maybe 15 minutes into the conversation before the subject of Viennese trolls comes up.

If anyone else were to ask me about that experience, I’d explain how I see this woman so differently now, having a huge sense of compassion for someone who has to hang out in the men’s restroom and exact change from desperate-to-go males. And thus, even if I can see her now as a real human being, when I talk to Mark, we revert back to our shared script in which case this poor woman is relegated to the role of troll.

Tales like this one shape our experience, past and present, and define the overall story of our friendship. Whether it is trolls in Vienna with Mark or coincidences in Taiwan or Boston with Bruce, these are the narratives that guide us, connect us and add meaning to our respective lives even after many years apart.

Such moments remind me that there is always more beneath the surface that we don’t see, whether that is in relationships…or in Viennese restrooms.

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