LA Phil Blog

"Talk to the Train Manager"

"Talk to the Train Manager"

Leticia Oaks StrongI'm not one to wander far from the group or participate in high adventure, so when I found myself stranded at the Brussels train station by myself with no credit card and very little cash, I wasn't sure what the outcome would be. I was on my way back to Paris from visiting my sister, who lives near Mons, Belgium. I had had a lovely time visiting with my nieces and nephews the previous day, and I had to get back to Paris in time for the 8:00 concert that night. My sister and her husband had arranged for my trip and with ticket in hand I waved goodbye at the Mons train station. Everything was great until I got to Brussels.

I always like to make sure I'm doing the right thing, so I stopped in at the information desk to make sure I was going to be getting on the right train. I was then informed that I had missed my train to Paris and my ticket was non-exchangeable and I'd have to buy another ticket. There wasn't much sympathy from the woman behind the counter as I explained that I had read the ticket wrong (apparently) and I had no credit card and not enough money. (At this point all I could think of was those commercials: "Never leave home without it!") She said I would have to talk to the train manager.

Being from the States, my knowledge of trains is next to nothing. Who was this train manager? I wandered up to the platform knowing that I needed information. Of course I would get back to Paris; I just needed to know what my options were. I talked to an official at the platform and told him my dilemma. "No credit card?" Okay, I know it was a bit silly, but I was so worried about it getting stolen that I left it behind in my hotel safe. I'd heard too many stories. Funny thing is I had my passport on me because I needed it to get into the NATO base, SHAPE, where my sister took me shopping. Shopping — that's where my money went. Could I bribe someone with the chocolate and Advent calendars that I had bought for my kids? I didn't even try; no one seemed to be in a good mood.

I found the train manager for the next train to Paris. He was nice enough to allow me to get on the train if I could arrange for someone to meet the train in Paris with some way of paying for my ticket. Fair enough. I always like to play by the rules. Problem was I didn't have time to call and arrange that before that train left. At least I knew there was a way.

I had over an hour until the next train, so now to find a telephone. I could see no way to put coins into the telephone — they would only accept credit cards! I wasn't ready to admit defeat, so I asked at the information desk for a call center where I could phone and then pay at a desk.

On every tour we are given a tour book. Anything we need to know is in that little book. I thumbed through those pages knowing that our personnel manager, Jeff Neville, had a European cell phone. He was my lifeline. Sure enough, he answered, and I begged him to help me out of my predicament. It's always nice to hear a calm voice when you are frantic inside, and just hearing his voice gave me hope. He would go to my hotel room, get my credit card, and meet me at the Paris station at the appointed time.

Now all I had to do was wait and talk to the train manager for the next Paris train. My heart was pounding as I tried to explain the situation to him. He waved me off, saying something about my needing to buy another ticket. The train was about to leave. What should I do? I'm not one to defy authority; I do what I'm told. I turned to the platform manager who had been trying to help me talk to the train manager. "Just get on the train. You will be in Paris and then you can work it out." Being one to obey, I thought it best to take his advice, though I felt a bit unsettled. What was the train manager going to do to me when he saw me on the train?

I had about half an hour to find out. He was not pleased, although he didn't yell at me. I assured him that I had arranged for someone to meet the train with my credit card, and then I would pay the extra fare. He told me to stay on the train when we got to Paris, and then he would talk with me.

During the rest of the trip (about an hour) I talked to the man across from me. He was, of course, wondering what my problem was. As I learned about this Parisian, he also learned about me as a member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I also told him about my family back home and showed him a picture of my five young children.

When the train manager returned near the end of the journey, he informed me that I would need to pay the fare plus a fine for getting on the train without a paid ticket. This would come out to about 130 Euros ($200). Did I have 10 Euros as a reservation for the ticket I was going to buy in Paris? There I was, fumbling for any money at all in my bag. I couldn't even find the five Euros I knew that I had!

The Parisian man next to me began talking to the train manager in French. He must have told him about my being in the orchestra as he made motions that I play the viola. At one point my new friend asked me to show the picture of my children to the train manager. He looked at it and shortly thereafter said, "Okay. It's okay." Then he left. I didn't know what he meant, so when I found my five Euros, I went to his office and offered it as a down payment. He refused to take it. When the train stopped in Paris I obediently stayed until I saw him again, and he waved me off the train, saying, "It's okay." He kind of smiled (finally!) as he waved goodbye.

Jeff Neville was there at the station with my wallet, and I was so happy to see him! The cab ride back to the hotel was uneventful; when it came time to pay the fare I handed Jeff my remaining five Euros and felt rich because I had that plastic card in my wallet.