That lever does what?

by Brian Clements

The summer after I graduated from college, I backpacked around Europe for eight weeks on a Eurail pass and $800, so I ended up sleeping a lot on overnight trains. On one such train, on one such night, I fell asleep in my cabin for a while and woke up in one of those where-the-hell-am-I-and-while-you’re-at-it-who-the-hell-am-I dazes and felt like nothing in the world was more urgent than getting the hell out of the cabin. But there was no light in the cabin, no light in the hallway outside the cabin, no light switch to be found, and the handle to the door was jammed. The only light in the cabin was the moonglow reflected through the windows off the bypassing Alps.

Feeling around for a light switch, I found a lever above the door, which I assumed to be a release to open the door. I glanced at the only other guy in the cabin with me, who gave me a very Italian shrug and grimace, which I took as permission to pull the lever. So I did.

The train came to an immediate, screeching halt – I had pulled the emergency brake. In seconds, multiple train conductors with guns (!) were racing up and down the aisle, chattering in Italian and French to everyone in the car. When they came by our cabin, my traveling companion announced with the sangfroid of a seasoned UN negotiator that I was the culprit they sought. The conductor looked me over, apparently resisting the urge to spit in my face, and walked away muttering “[Effing] Americans.”

Brian ClementsGot a crazy travel story? Write it in about 400 words and send it to [email protected]. If you’d rather tell your story, send a brief synopsis along with your name and phone number to the same address. Either way, your story should be true. Also, be sure to include your full name and town.


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