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Race to the Station: Part One

by Tara

A cold draft blows through the open door of the travel agency, causing a slightly kooky receptionist behind the counter to shiver in her fur coat. I sit on a chilly plastic chair, hands shoved beneath my thighs, eyes affixed to the clock on the opposite wall, watching while its fat hands keep the time—they read 4:45 PM.

I'm still staring at the clock when the receptionist strikes up a conversation about her acne. At least, that's what I think she's talking about in her shrill voice. I'm not really paying attention. "I get mask on face, but… spot spot spot spot, everywhere!" she whines. My gaze leaves the clock, and I watch as she jabs the air around each pimple on her face with her pointer finger, so we're sure to understand her plight.

As we shake our heads and smile, mumbling reassuring noises about her complexion, I am beginning to get antsy. Our bus leaves at 6PM, and a guide was supposed to be here at 4:30 to lead us to the station. Our plan to have an escort was conceived to avoid an unpleasant panic at the last possible moment. One like discovering the van intended to bring us to the station doesn't have room for us.

When the clock shows 4:55, we interrupt the receptionist's constant chatter (this time, about her new fur coat) to ask about our guide. She makes a few phone calls and assures us that he is on the way. "Don't worry! You have plenty of time! They are almost here!", she says. We breathe deeply, eyebrows raised dubiously, not quite believing her.

My thoughts turn to other scenarios we've encountered like this one; I am reminded of this, and this, and this. I feel heavy with a pessimistic attitude, sure that there there was some miscommunication. They aren't coming.

Just to be prepared, Tyler grabs our GPS and brings up the map of Hanoi on its small screen. Even though we've already asked repeatedly where the bus station is, the woman has insisted that it would be impossible for us to locate, and that someone would definitely be coming soon to lead us there.

This time, Tyler politely demands that she tell him the name of the station. He punches in a flurry of buttons, until he finds it. Then, he has her confirm that it is the right location. Satisfied, he sits down next to me, and we begin to talk about contingency plans with a growing sense of urgency.

It is 5 PM. The station is eight kilometers away. Our guide is already half an hour late, and if we want to make it with any time to spare, we need to leave soon, if not right now. This is dumb. We know where the station is. If we wait much longer, this is going to be a fiasco. Five more minutes, we say, if they're not here in five minutes, we'll just leave.

When the clock ticks past 5:10, we look at each other and nod, then stand up to head for the door. "We're just going to go, or we'll be late," we tell the lady. Her face adopts an exaggerated look of horror, and she begins shaking her head emphatically, waving her arms, trying to prevent us from leaving.

"Oh NO!" she pleads, launching into an unintelligible explanation of why we are to be escorted by official bus station personnel only. We can't really understand what she's saying—either we won't be able to find the bus, or the bus won't be able to find us, or something else entirely. She insists we should stay, and assures us that he will be here any moment.

We reluctantly agree to wait a little longer, shaking our heads in disbelief at the lady's insistence and clear lack of understanding about time and traffic and how long it will take us to bike anywhere. She smiles and attempts to reassure us by saying that she will give us our money back if we miss the bus. Tyler dryly informs her that we don't want our money back, we want to get to the bus on time.

We return to our seats, now waiting with a French girl carrying an enormous backpack, who is also headed to the station.

It is 5:30 when our escort finally arrives. It's a guy on a tiny scooter. The French girl is shaking her head, eyes bugged out, words of disbelief at her lips that never quite get uttered. How in the hell are we all going to get there? As if in response to our unasked question, the driver grabs the girl's backpack, stuffs it between his legs, and motions for her to hop on the back.

She hesitates, looks at us as if pleading for help, and climbs on. We're supposed to follow them. A fiery rage is building inside me. WHERE WERE YOU AN HOUR AGO?!?!? This is precisely what we wanted to avoid!

Feeling the same sense of desperation I perceived in the French girl, I rush up to her, and ask her to keep an eye on us. Make the guy stop if you can't see us, okay? I've hardly finished my sentence when her driver guns it, blasting off into traffic before we even have our helmets on.