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Greetings from the Frankfurt/Amsterdam train

It’s really hot in Europe right now. Normally it’s cool and pleasant this time of year, but not this time of this year. By the time we got to Vienna, we were sweating, because while all our hotels were unique and charming, none had air conditioning. We would open the windows at night and let in fresh European air, but it was not enough. Lynn hit upon a solution—buy a cheap fan. She went to a small appliance shop right next to the hotel and bought a small fan for 15 euros (some assembly required). She brought the fan back to the hotel and proceeded to put it together. The only tool required was a screw driver. Guess what we had failed to bring with us. Not a problem—Lynn had her trusty nail file.

The fan components included a base, a body, a three blade propeller, and a safety screen to cover the propeller. Lynn got everything assembled and turned it on. The safety screen promptly fell off. Lynn turned the fan off and tried again. No amount of persuasion would keep the safety screen attached, so we just left it off. The fan still moved the air, but when I moved around the room at night, I had to be very careful not to get anything important caught in the fan.

The fan went with us from Vienna to Budapest, to Passau, to Frankfurt, and to Amsterdam. In Passau, the fan developed a new trick. On a completely random basis the fan would suddenly make a very loud sound somewhat reminiscent of a large tropical bird. It sounded something like AAWKKKSRAAWET. I don’t know if the sound is spelled correctly, but it was something like that. The fan would sound off every 15 to 25 minutes. What with the heat, it made the nights seem like tropical paradise.

The heat was problematic for another reason. We had packed a few clothes into 2 small suitcases that would comfortably fit into all overhead bins on both trains and planes. This meant that we had to wear an outfit multiple days between launderings. The heat had an impact on the number of acceptable days one could wear an outfit. I devised a somewhat ingenious test for determining just when you should launder your clothes—not particularly high tech but somewhat scientific. The required parts are a AA-battery, a flashlight bulb, some tape and a small copper wire. (Lynn travels with a sundry assortment of miscellany. Just not a screwdriver.) Wrap about 4 turns of copper wire around the flashlight bulb and tape the wire-wrapped bulb to the positive post of the battery (the little nipply end). Then run the wire down the side of the battery, being careful not to contact the negative end of the battery (the flat end). The wire should be the same length as the battery and should terminate about ¼ to ½ inches from the bottom of the battery itself. Now the scientific test. Place the apparatus on the clothing you want to test so that the negative post and the end of the copper wire both come in contact with the clothing. If the bulb lights up, that means your clothing is actually conducting electricity and it’s time to launder. You must remember that relatively clean clothes will not actually conduct electricity, except for the outfits of some currently popular heavy metal rock groups.

I’m writing this column on the train going from Frankfurt to Amsterdam. The train is an ICE Train, which means Inter City Express. According to the cool graphic on the announcement board, we are traveling at a rate of 300 kilometers per hour. That is the fastest I have ever traveled on land, with the possible exception of riding with certain young Texas males wearing ball caps backwards and driving pick up trucks. An interesting side note—we spent 3 days in Frankfurt and didn’t see a single pick up truck. That’s the absolute truth.

There is a very attractive young woman sitting across the aisle and 2 seats in front of me. She is facing me and seems to be staring at me. I smile at her and she sort of smiles back. I suddenly realize this woman is a spy. You may think I’m being paranoid, but I’m not. From long experience I’ve learned to recognize spies. I read my first spy novel in 1954 or 1955. It was the 1st James Bond story, Dr. No. Since then I have devoured spy stories. Sometimes I’ll read 3 or 4 a week and I’ve been doing this for nearly 50 years so I know something about spying. I know what motivates spies—they’re mostly in it for the sex. I’m sure the woman across the aisle is a spy and has probably mistaken me for a contact. After reading so many spy novels, I have somewhat taken on the appearance of a spy. When Lynn leaves to visit the WC (pronounced “vay-say”), the young woman walks over to my seat and says in a guttural accent typical of the eastern European speakers, “You have a large green booger on your shirt.” I am sure this is some kind of recognition code, but of course I don’t know the response. I feel sure the color is significant, so I try a color response. “The sun sets red in the west,” I say. “Of course it does, but what does that have to do with your disgusting booger?” says the spy lady.

I still think I was right about the spy lady, because she moved to another car, probably still looking for her contact. Just then Lynn came back, looked at me and said, “You have a big green booger on your shirt.” I would never have suspected Lynn of being in the spy business, but you never can tell.