Get Out Now


I vividly remember the ants. My buddies had taken their shirts off thinking that would improve the chances of me going into shock. 11:00 at night and the four of them were propping me up on an ant-filled grassy knoll in Salzburg Austria. We had just left the Augustinerbrau, local monastery turned bier garden and were looking for the quickest way back to our hostel. In typical 22 year-old-travelling-through-Europe-after-college-graduation fashion I was not 100% sober and had run up the side of the knoll, atop which there were two sets of train tracks.


I turned toward my friend Ken and was about to throw Malcolm, our trusty Wham-O 165 gram companion, when blam-I’m flying through the air 15 feet to where Ken is, hit by a speeding locomotive. Yes, you read that right; this is not a fiction story. I was hit by a train while playing Frisbee in Austria.


I remember the orderly wheeling me around some hospital that reminded me of the many churches we had visited. “Scheisse Americana.” He kept saying over and over. X-rays and CT Scan showed nothing was broken.


I remember blood soaking through my white cotton hospital gown and stealing three extra fresh gowns after two nights in the hospital because we were going to the Festival of San Fermin and white is traditionally what one wears when one is running with the bulls.


I remember the doctor coming in the next day, putting his hand under my back and lifting me as I screamed from the action.


“You got hit by train, you should be dead.” He explained with zero sympathy.


I remember peeing in the bidet at the hospital and looking at myself in the mirror, black and blue from the base of my neck to the heel of my left foot.


I talked to many important looking people who apparently thought I was seeking some sort of lawsuit. I remember feeling guilty about the boys having a terrible couple of days at the hostel while I was living large in the hospital (thanks Austrian socialized medicine). I remember throwing out my pair of shredded and bloody khaki shorts in the train station in Salzburg before boarding a gruesome over packed train to Spain.


I’ve thought about those shorts often, what a great souvenir they would have made, a reminder of how fragile life can be and how stupid I can be. Much better than the tattoo I designed of a train running the length of the scar on my left butt cheek with me and a little Frisbee flying ass over teakettle from the impact.


Never got the tat (not really a tattoo guy), but now here I am 30 years later heading back to the scene of the crime. And not just for nostalgia’s sake, travelling halfway around the world to revisit my gnarliest memory is not the real reason for this trip.


Frank is the real reason for this trip. He being my longtime friend and ski partner who five years ago said at our boys ski weekend, “Ve really should go ski in Austria one of these years Valter.” It was one of those comments that get a little less crazy every time you say it out loud. Until this year when Frank and Jack committed by deciding on the dates, booking the flight and getting the rest of the posse on board. Everybody needs that friend in his or her lives who turns the theoretical into the real.


And we all really should get out more. I do an activity inspired by an ex-student who was obsessed with Japan (she used to wear a panda costume to school and talk her version of Japaneseish). We calculated what it would take for her to afford two weeks in Tokyo after which she got a job working at a local sushi restaurant. After saving for 8 months, she took the trip.


Students choose a place anywhere in the world then calculate airfare, lodging, food and entertainment costs for 2 weeks then how many hours they would have to work to pay for the trip. It’s simple budgeting but it also helps small town kids start thinking about how big the world is and once they open that door there’s no telling what other open doors might follow.


And affording trips as an adult is even simpler as Sonoma is an easy place to be the master of the side hustle. A second job at a winery, driving for UBER, Air B and Bing a room in your house, babysitting, housesitting, pet sitting, or a part time gig where work is not work (coaching, wine tour bus driving, writing blogs). C’mon, you have the time and you might make some new friends and you really are spending way too much time behind your screens. Get out in the real world.


But ten days in Austria is kind of excessive. If you know me or you read any of these blogs, you know I’m cheap as hell and not only cheap as hell but frugal as hell. It’s an unfortunate combination based on a career choice, which is not the most lucrative, and the reality of affording the good life in Sonoma. I’m not whining here (OK, maybe a little bit), it’s just economic reality.


Is this the common denominator why we currently have no head of the Boys and Girls Club, Chamber of Commerce, Superintendent of Schools, Community Center or Visitors Bureau? Have we become too expensive to attract quality leadership? Should we care? Another blog, another time.


So, I did the classic, can’t afford it, kid in college, I work too hard to blow it all yada yada yada until Kate decided to give me the plane ride for Christmas and I saved the rest through golfing and hanging out with strangers in wineries.


After some debate I committed as did three others plus Frank and Jack making a total of 6 of us. A week at the Hotel Flexen in Austria which looks like the set of a 007 movie. Breakfast and dinner included (heavy on the fois gras and fondue), the ski area is like 10 connected Squaw Valleys and most importantly, there is a massive amount of snow this year. Like almost too much snow, like bring a snorkel and an avalanche beacon amount of snow.


But it’s important for humans to blow out the pipes every so often. Without fly fishing (RIP Leland Ranch) and ski trips and a little bit of me time, my homeostasis suffers. I get resentful, I’m not happy, things begin to suck and soon I’m spiraling down the rabbit hole into my dark place. And oh yes, I can go dark (the dark blog is coming soon).


There’s another thing that gets me spiraling: no snow ski seasons of which this one has been the worst. The terrain at Squaw is about half open (all the intermediate and beginner runs) and I have logged a grand total of zero ski days so far. Only skiers understand what this means, when the first snow happens before Thanksgiving it is the start of good things for the season and after a year like last, you think the massive dump is the new normal.


Unfortunately, it has snowed very little since then and a year like this one slaps you in the face reminding you that Ullr is really in charge, that nature always wins, and you can’t control your mother. Sorry Donald but it’s true.


And since I booked my flight after the others, I have an extra three days before I fly out of Munich, thus I’m able to have the reunion with the scene of the train. I will find the grassy knoll, I will stand atop it and take a selfie, I will remember the ants and I will feel as alive as I ever have. Who knows, I might even find a place to get the tattoo.


Life is an adventure people, plan and live accordingly.