It was Monday November 19 1973, and I boarded the train headed from Rome up to Florence. I saw others of my ilk, easily spotted by their backpacks and ‘freak flag’ hair boarding as well amongst a crush of people at every coach door. Some of them I recognized, but I presumed most of them had been staying at our hostel, or perhaps another one across town, and were now headed for guess where, probably Florence.
The train did not originate here in Rome, so there were apparently plenty of people already on it as all of us boarded. I started to move up the corridor of the coach, looking for a compartment with a seat for me, finding each one chocked full of people, a big family perhaps or just six, or even seven individuals filling the seats and space. It was indeed a full train, and now I was encountering people going the other way down the narrow corridor, where we could barely squeeze around each other, me with my big pack on my back making it particularly hard, our bodies touching each other as they sidled past. It was interesting that the Italians among the train riders I encountered in those narrow hallways seemed much more comfortable putting a gentle hand on my shoulder to ease by than the WASPier Northern Europeans who tried their best not to touch me at all.
I reached the front of the coach finding no compartment that wasn’t completely full and then pushed my way into the scrum at the open door of the next coach as more people there were entering the train. A conductor just outside that door was urging people toward the back of the train. I heard someone say in English all the front coaches were filled, so I turned around and started retracing my steps headed toward the back of the train.
I immediately encountered another of my cohort, big pack on her back, headed toward me. She was striking with her five asymmetric pigtails of thick curly brown hair and her bright green eyes and swarthy face, probably not even five feet tall though her big clunky black hiking boots elevated her a couple extra inches. She was tiny but her pack was not, and we both realized that neither of us could maneuver around the other and we both spontaneously laughed at our impossible situation. It was like a scene from a Marx Brothers movie.
Taking the initiative, I slid open the compartment door I was next to, which was full of people who all looked at me hoping I really wasn’t planning to try to join them. I shook my head, waved my hands and did whatever I could nonverbally to assure them that I wasn’t, just stepping in briefly to let someone by. When I turned to exit their compartment, my counterpart with her big pack was standing right outside the door facing me with those unworldly green eyes looking up at mine. She cracked a smile and spoke in a downunderish accent.
“Despite what the conductors are telling ya mate, I don’t think there’s anywhere left to sit back there”, her head inclining towards the back of the train.
I rolled my eyes and stuck out my tongue to dramatise what a hassle this was. She chuckled at my mugging, maybe taking pity on me at that point.
“Follow me mate. Our compartment’s full but we’ll find a spot for ya.”
She moved forward and I stepped out of the compartment, to the great relief of all its occupants. I thanked her and now followed behind, her pack hiding the entire top half of her body above her butt from my view. There were the sounds of steam venting, conductors shouting, and the train doors slamming closed. The train lurched forward and caught us both by surprise, she losing her balance and her big pack falling against me and causing me to almost fall backwards myself, but managing to stagger back, grab a compartment door as an anchor and keep my feet under me. She apologized profusely from somewhere in front of her pack. We pushed our way up the crowded corridors of the coaches, negotiating the little rhumba with a dozen people or so moving the other direction toward the back of the train, luckily none at this point with packs on their backs.
As we worked our way forward down the crowded corridor of a coach, her hand appeared from above her pack and gave me that forearm rotating royal wave with fingers together and palm cupped, saying, “I’m Trix by the way. I remember seeing you at the Rome hostel. A pleasure to almost make your acquaintance!”
It was a good ten minutes before we had negotiated our way forward to the front second-class coach, my backpacking cohort generally not sitting in the first-class coaches, where the tickets were more expensive and the student rail passes that many of us had did not apply. Trix’s compartment already had five other young women, each with their own version of big wild hair, and each also with a big pack now stowed in the racks above the benches and every spare corner, Trix and her load making six. That was generally the seating capacity of the compartments with me the odd seventh. Two of the women looked at me kind of suspiciously and gave Trix a questioning look to which she replied.
“Madhouse out there, nowhere to sit, always room for a fellow traveller ladies”, like she was lecturing them on etiquette. Then realizing she hadn’t asked me my name said to me, “Introduce yourself to my mates!”
Feeling on the spot, standing there in the doorway of their compartment, about to make it more than full, with the six of them looking at me expectantly, my mind of course completely blanked on anything clever to do or say. I said, “Hi, I’m Cooper”, smiled sheepishly, and then mimicked Trix’s royal wave to me back in the corridor and rolled my eyes again in honor of the crazy situation on the crowded train. It immediately occurred to me, with my theater experience and all, that it was a pretty lame entrance, but it at least somehow signaled that though I was male I did not intend to be a bull in their all female China shop. Trix chuckled at my homage to her previous gesture and a couple of the other young women chuckled as well. I felt them all relax a bit, at least begrudging that they were going to squeeze me in somehow.
In the tight quarters Trix and I managed to unshoulder our packs. With a theatrical hand gesture, Trix graciously offered me the remaining seat on the bench that would have been for her, but I refused and said I was happy to sit on the compartment floor. That of course was easier said than done given that two of their packs were already leaning against the window between the benches. My awkward attempt to find a spot for my pack and myself triggered them all to get up and begin a bustle of rearranging packs on the overhead racks and floor, none of them flinching to muscularly hoist their loads as necessary showing both strength and agency. After several not quite working arrangements of all their stuff, they finally managed to secure three of their packs in each of the overhead luggage racks. Mine lay on the floor below the window with me sitting on it looking at all of them, them smiling with satisfaction at their finally effective reconfiguration of all their “kits”.
Trix surveyed the arrangement and nodded her head with a look of satisfaction.
“Bloody hell, we did it!”
I loved it when women swore. That touch of crudeness I figured, indicating that they were comfortable enough to be ‘unladylike’ and more real. This diminutive green eyed alien masquerading as a human being had already captured my imagination. She sat in her seat and everyone kind of looked my way again.
As it had worked with Jen and Sarah, I again tried my mom’s conversational icebreaker tactic. I recalled my mom dragging me along to some political cocktail party with her, her entering the kitchen filled with women she did not know but who obviously knew each other.
“So how do you all know each other?” I made the point of looking briefly at each one of them as I spoke.
As it had proved when delivered by my mom, and by me to Jen and Sarah, my query was equally effective in breaking the ice, starting a flurry of back and forth between them. Trix, short for Beatrix, had met her travel partner Evelyn at college, both “Kiwis” from New Zealand. They had met Amelia and Rosie at the Rome youth hostel. The two were childhood friends from Cairns Australia. When the four of them boarded the train in Rome when I did, they had fortunately stumbled upon this compartment where Hannah and Emily were sitting, two other Aussies, also college friends, who had been riding the train up from Naples. They were all obviously a couple years older than me, but not so much so that I did not feel like a peer, but maybe younger enough that I was less threatening as a male type.
After their telling of the web of connections between them it was obviously my turn. One of them referred to me as “Coopster”, having heard the nickname Jen had given me in the main room of the Rome hostel, and they all laughed as I blushed, but was certainly not unhappy at having some sort of notice and even notoriety with these female types among my cohort. I introduced myself to the group with my story of getting in on best friends Lane and Angie’s plan to see Europe after high school graduation, then ironically Lane dropping out before leaving and then Angie doing the same after arriving in England, from there setting out on my own.
To this turn in my tale, Trix, obviously the de facto alpha of the group, commented, “Courageous indeed, but only a bloke”, and the other five nodded and vocalized in affirmation. Only a male type could realistically and safely travel on his own in Europe.
To Trix’s comment I told them the story of Miranda, and how she had told me that she left New Zealand on her own, crossed Australia, then Indonesia, up the Malaysian peninsula then across Burma and China to Vladivostok where she had taken the Trans Siberian Railway across the Soviet Union to Western Europe, where I had met her in Germany. They were all duly amazed and impressed. I included her story of the guy who gave her a ride hitchhiking across Germany that kept putting his hand on her thigh and telling her he was going to wine and dine her at a fancy restaurant.
“Par for the course unfortunately”, Trix chimed in. The others in the compartment seconded her statement with a grunt or shake of the head.
I chose not to tell them what an obtuse character Miranda was, including her cultural insensitivity. Her courage and confidence was a tale that should be told untarnished by sordid details that might make one think less of her. And I also did not share our last encounter where she hit on me. It was part not wanting to puff up my own sexual attractiveness, but mostly intuiting that my listeners might think less of me for spurning her affections, a lonely traveler brave enough given the circumstances to reach out for intimate connection. It was not how I wanted to play it with this all female room.
My tales kindled their stories of interesting people they had met in their travels. And as they all became more comfortable with each other, then came stories of guys hitting on them at various points in their journeys, a few welcome but most not. Wanting to be more one of them and not just a better behaved member of the offending sex, I decided to overcome my shyness and tell my kindred story. Rather than the tale of one of their sex, Miranda, hitting on me, I told the story of my travel partner Steve asking if he could sleep with me and me saying no.
They all listened, but when I finished the story there was an awkward silence, not a chorus of affirming utterances they had supported each other with. Trix was sharp to pick up on the uncomfortable dynamic and chimed in with a question for me.
“So did you know your mate was… you know… a poof when you met him?”
I had not heard that slang term for a homosexual man before but I immediately figured out that was what it must mean. I shook my head.
“He was a cool guy”, I said, feeling defensive, but also that he deserved to be defended. “He was a good travel partner and I was feeling pretty lonely and homesick when I met him. I didn’t want to sleep with him so I said no, but it was no big deal!” I of course did not tell them I came kind of close to saying yes.
Trix took in my words and how I was defending my partner and was thoughtful. The others glanced at her like she was the judge deciding the case.
“So you continued to travel with him after that?” she asked.
“Sure”, I said confidently, actually surprised at my confidence. I was feeling safe space among these women, with no guys around. Further buoyed by seeing her wild green eyes soften a bit I continued. “We got that sorted out and we were fine together after that. We parted company the day before I got to Rome.”
It was Trix’s travel partner Evelyn that chimed in with the verdict of sorts. “You stood by your mate. Good for you!” Amelia and Hannah chimed in with a supportive “Yeah”. Each of their travel partners nodded as well. Everyone in the compartment understood the importance of their relationship with their partner.
Trix looked at Evelyn and started to nod. “Ev you’re right, as always.” Then she turned those alien eyes on me, softer and friendlier but still with an underlying fierceness and charisma which just riveted me. “Well played mate!”
Sitting on my backpack on the floor of the compartment with the six of them on the benches on either side of me, I felt their support and good energy, that I had now been indoctrinated into their group, Trix making it ‘official’.
It felt good to have finally shared that thing with Steve with someone else. The whole incident had weighed fairly heavily on my mind, given that I was a virgin and so my own sexual orientation had not yet been established by deed, and given that I had had the precocious proclivity to get naked with my male peers when I was eight and nine years old. I was happy to play the heterosexual young man who had said no, but kindhearted enough not to abandon his travel partner.
And as the train crossed the Italian countryside along the west side of the peninsula’s mountainous spine, we were bonding and continued to share all our stories as peers, fellow travelers, children of the universe, whatever the hell we all were. Trix pulled out a loaf of ciabatta bread from her pack, which was the signal to everyone else to pull out whatever food they had in their kits. There was no need to even speak to it, we all knew the bounty was to be shared. We passed around and tore off hunks from the several loaves of bread that those among us had squirrelled away, enjoying unstated that we were truly ‘breaking bread’ together. There were big wedges of hard cheese and cylinders of cold meat, me also contributing a tin of wonderfully oily and salty sardines.
“I got something to wash this lot down”, Rosie noted, pulling a big clear plastic jug of red liquid out of her pack. “It says ‘Rosé’ but it was cheaper than Pepsi so I can’t vouch for it.” Evelyn followed more carefully guiding a glass bottle of chianti out of hers. It was quickly decided that we’d start with the cheap rosé (Neal Diamond’s ‘poor man’s lady’), if for no other reason than it had a plastic screw top rather than a cork. Yeah all our Swiss Army knives had a corkscrew, but it did not always work very well on a stubborn cork.
The screw top crackled as Rosie torqued it open. She stared at the mouth of the open bottle for a moment before looking at all of us. “Does everyone have a cup?”
“Ugh”, groaned Trix, “My cup is somewhere buried in my kit, I’m for just passing it around and each taking a hit.” I noted that she used the drug user lingo of ‘hit’ instead of a ‘drink’ or ‘swig’ or something associated with drinking. I fantasized that if only we had had a couple joints as well we could have ascended (descended maybe) into that shared stoned space that I loved being in with others, particularly a group of all female members of my cohort like this, though realistically that might well get us arrested or at least kicked off the train. We would just have to make wine do for our social connection and lubrication ritual.
Rosie, with her wild triangle of thick curly blonde hair, looked around, saw no objections from her compartment mates, and used both hands to put the jug to her lips and take a big gulp. She immediately made a face as she did and then contorted her mouth after she swallowed in a kind of exaggerated theatrical disgust, playing to the compartment, I thought approvingly.
“Oh my god”, she said, her eyes widening, “That is SO bloody sweet!” which for wine, even among us younger drinker types who were not yet connoisseurs, was not necessarily a good thing. I of course LOVED that she had matched Trix’s swearing ante, though I was so hoping someone would up it. She hesitated for a moment, first looking like she was going to pass the jug to her travel partner Amelia to her left, then deciding she’d pass it to me instead, sitting on my pack by the outside window at her feet. There was nothing quite like a vivacious young woman passing me a jug of wine that she’d just taken a big swig from and even cursed.
I took the jug and was at first tempted to tip it to my mouth with one hand, anchored by my forefinger through the handle and its weight resting on my forearm. But then I thought better, that that was too showy, too differentiating myself as a male from the way Rosie had taken her drink. So I did it two-handed like she had. After her little show of disgust they all looked at me with anticipation. It was indeed almost sickeningly sweet, like Boones Farm but even more so. So I mugged a look of shock and everyone laughed.
I was tempted to up the swearing ante myself and say it was so ‘fucking’ sweet, since Rosie had already used ‘bloody’ and that really wasn’t a yank swear word anyway. But I thought again, not to differentiate or feature myself, I’d leave the swearing to them. But after swallowing my mouthful, I did my own theatrical bit sucking in air, pursing my lips and saying “Wow!”
I passed the jug to Emily, the biggest of the women in the compartment. Her long black thick ponytail came down to her waist and she kept it around in front of her body and absentmindedly ran her fingers along the braids. She grabbed the jug and ironically hoisted it in one hand like I had first thought to do, taking a big lusty draw of the red liquid in the clear plastic jug, nicely staining her lips. Her head shivered and she said “Whoa!” Everyone once again laughed. From her to her partner Hannah, who had a teased up mass of brown hair that looked not that different than mine. She raised the big plastic bottle to her lips and sipped it more tentatively, making a sour face and saying, “Ew!”
Trix took the jug with two fingers of her left hand and hoisted it high in the air, now showing about a quarter empty. “It’s never the quality of the beverage, it’s the quality of the company. Cheers, mates!” Using Emily’s one hand method, she drank down a good slug, probably more than any of us had, wiping her mouth off with her hand after. Her face scrunched thoughtfully. “I’ve had worse!”
She passed the jug across to Evelyn who gave the mouth a sniff.
“C’mon Ev”, Trix said with just a hint of derision, “No bouquet, just give it a good pull!”
Evelyn looked at Trix with just the faintest of a grimace as she brushed her long curly copper locks back, and what looked to me like a bunch of thoughts I couldn’t parse firing behind her big brown eyes. She continued to look at Trix as she took that good pull, maybe more than Trix had, finishing with a lick of her lips and a theatrical drawn out “Ahhh!”
Trix just nodded in response.
Evelyn finally passed the jug to Amelia, who was a bit shorter and way skinnier than her partner Rosie, but had the same thick curly blonde hair, though hers throttled into two pigtails that went more out and back than down, like oversized drumsticks on a cooked turkey. She was the one who had called me the ‘Coopster’ when we were first introducing ourselves, the resulting laugh helping break the ice.
So the first go round of the bottle completed, everyone went back to eating but also taking their next ‘pull’ in turn enthusiastically, enjoying that enhanced intimate camaraderie of sharing the bottle mouth to mouth, and the anticipated shared buzz to follow. After my third and last drink from the now diminished jug, I could feel the alcohol start to juice my brain cells as it was doing to the others. When it got back to Amelia, though probably two more ‘hits’ left in it, she was encouraged by all to drain the remains, which she dutifully did, actually burping just after, bringing her hand to her mouth mortified, but causing the rest of us to spontaneously clap. More grins, giggles, soft eyes. Little smirks from Trix as her mind pondered this or that private thought, without the situational context for me to try to intuit it.
I was totally in the moment, in heaven really, amidst female people of my cohort that I totally identified with more so than I did with most of my fellow male types. These people with breasts and vaginas, and that problematic place in the patriarchy their anatomy forced them to inhabit. But our little compartment, for a few hours on planet Earth near the end of the third quarter of the twentieth century of the common era, felt like some sort of patriarchy free zone. Scanning their eyes I just knew they were all feeling it, or their version of it, too.
Amelia cheeks flushed, already the momentary center of focus having chugged the rest of the jug, and feeling that buzz maybe a bit more so than the rest of us, called out.
“So Ev”, using Trix’s nickname now for this person she had only met an hour or so ago, and sounding like she was addressing an old friend, “You gonna… ‘pop’ that chianti?” She emphasized ‘pop’ in a lusty sexual way, at least that’s how my alcohol tickled libidinized brain interpreted it.
“Indeed”, Evelyn responded, the straw wrapped bottle now squeezed between her jean clad thighs up against her crotch as she cranked her Swiss Army knife corkscrew into its corked aperture. Then with one hand on the bottle’s neck and her thighs squeezing harder, the other hand pulled on the knife base to dislodge the cork as she groaned to focus her strength. The visual was not lost on me. At least it wasn’t a bottle of champagne about to spew forth!
With a grunt the corkscrew with just half the cork came out.
“Fucking cork”, she drawled, dragging out all the syllables, to my joy, deliciously upping the ante on the expletive tally. She put her hand over her mouth and looked at me, her eyes flaring guiltily.
“Sorry!” she said, “Pardon my French. I have more mouth than manners.”
I chuckled. Screw the manners, I thought. My eyes caught hers and then I had a flush of daring. With a big grin on my face turning to mock sternness I said, “Bad Evelyn!”
Looking right at me her eyes flared again, mischievously now, and she grinned and said, “I know, right?” It was a shared moment of intimacy between us, which was awesome.
“Fucking pottymouth”, chimed in Trix, playfully piling on. We were all fully bonded now, having broken bread, shared a bottle of cheap wine and each other’s saliva, and said ‘fuck’, several times.
Guess we had all had experience with wine corks breaking off like that and everyone kind of started to give Evelyn advice at the same time on what to do to get the rest of the cork out. Bottle still lodged between her thighs against her crotch she held up her hands to hold us all back.
“I got this people!”
She pushed the tip of the corkscrew at the remnant of the cork to try again, but instead of screwing into the thing it pushed it down into the wine.
“Ah shite”, she said with resignation, but this time I could totally tell the expletive was premeditated, she was enjoying the focus on her instead of her charismatic otherworldly partner. She peered in the mouth of the bottle to study the floating cork fragment. “It’s in one piece, shouldn’t come out. Eminently drinkable such as it is.”
She took a drink and winced. “Oh my god this one is SO sour!” Everyone either groaned or scoffed.
After passing the bottle, Evelyn launched into a tale that in fact, neither of these two were the worst wine she’d ever had. There was a New Zealand wine called ‘Purple Death’ she had once that was much worse. Listening to her sordid tale of the disgusting beverage, we all dutifully took our pulls in turn, still more like taking hits from a joint than sips from a wine glass, everybody going for the buzz. This time the stuff was shockingly tart, but it made for another fun round of shared mugging and exclamations.
As their tongues loosened and they tried to top each other’s stories, they started sharing more risque tales of encounters with guys, good and bad. What each of them liked and didn’t like in their “blokes”. While they told these sorts of stories, they would not look at me, but the others listening would glance my way, curious how I was reacting. I just kept quiet, listened with a serious look on my face, shaking my head or nodding as appropriate to show support. Amelia, who had the bustiest figure of the group, shared a harrowing story of being drunk on the dance floor at a bar dancing with her date. His best friend came up behind her and pressed his crotch against her butt and reached around and started squeezing her breasts, her date doing nothing but laughing and telling her that it wasn’t a big deal, that her “cans were irresistible”. This leading to a difficult odyssey getting back to her dorm, given that it was late and her date had driven her outside of town to this bar, and she was afraid to let him and his friend drive her home.
Some of the stories like that one often were punctuated with a supportive response from one of the listeners about “blokes”, and being “all alike”. Again they would glance my way to see my reaction. I was tempted a couple times to blurt out, “We’re not ALL alike, I would never do anything like that!”, but didn’t. Don’t know if it was just shyness or me not wanting to break the spell of being let into this all female circle. So I only continued to shake my head and gaze at the floor.
I liked all six of them, but then I don’t know that I could recall any of the female backpackers I had met on my journey who I had not taken a liking to, given my eventual fondness for even the oddest of odd birds Miranda. I particularly had a thing for Trix. She seemed very self assured, both tough cookie and sweetie, and with her coarse curly hair strangled into five random pigtails, three roughly on one side of her head and the last two on the other, and her fiery green eyes below them, she seemed like some alien race that was humanlike but of shorter stature. Not even five feet tall herself, her five companions were probably all over five six and towered over her when they stood up. Still based on her stocky physique and the way she carried and lifted her huge pack, she could probably kick the shit out of the rest of us in a fight.
Sated and a bit buzzed, rattling along now the Arno river, comfortable in this moment in each other’s company, there was a lull in the conversation. Someone finally realized that we had all stopped talking and laughed at the fact, followed by everyone else in chorus. It felt wonderful to me, to be in the company of women, letting my own gender identity melt away and merge with theirs. If there had been another guy in that compartment the dynamic would probably have been very different, and it would not have been so easy to surrender my maleness to six fellow human travelers who had their breasts and vaginas, and all that went with that, rather than a penis and all its baggage.
As the others busied themselves now with quiet sidebars with their partners, taking inventory of their kit or writing postcards or in journals, I still atop my backpack between them pulled out and unfolded my big map. It was a map of Western Europe published in Europe, and the city names were the real ones and not the anglicised versions that appeared on the maps I was more familiar with. Yeah Paris was still “Paris” but Cologne was “Koln”, Munich was “Munchen”, Rome was the more lyrical two-syllable “Roma” and Venice a four-syllable “Venezia”. Our three-syllable “Vienna” was the single syllable “Wien”. But the city we were headed to was the most transformed yet from its anglicised version. What we English speakers called “Florence” was really the much saucier sounding “Firenze”. It was interesting that in Belgium, France and Spain the actual city names were the same spellings at least as the names I was familiar with, but in Italy and Germany they generally were not. Why that was I pondered but had no good theory.
When we got to Firenze it was raining pretty hard, the big raindrops pelting the window of our compartment to alert us we needed to break out the rain gear. As the rest of us were digging our ponchos out of our packs, Trix decided at the last minute that she would switch from her sweatshirt to a heavier sweater. She had a t-shirt under it so it shouldn’t have been a big deal pulling it over her head, but in the process of negotiating her riotous pigtails that t-shirt rode up exposing her gray sports bra underneath momentarily, and a pretty good sense of the shape of her breasts underneath.
Never showing a moment of embarrassment or a loss for words she said, “Free show Coop, but all ya get mate!” She winked at me and pulled down her undershirt, put on the heavier sweater and donned her poncho with the rest of us. It was plenty, believe me.
One by one, now all looking like aliens from some cheap sci-fi movie with our colorful ponchos over what looked like huge humped backs, and doubly so Trix, who did not try to put her poncho hood over her pointy pigtails, we filed down the narrow corridor of our train coach and out the door down to the platform. Someone else from our larger backpacker cohort had already gotten directions to the youth hostel and was spreading the word among the rest of us. It was maybe fifteen or sixteen of us in all, colorful plastic poncho’d aliens, walking our way down the street along the Arno river in the old section of town, past buildings that were at least 500 years old.
As most often when I walked and was not in conversation with someone else, a song came into my mind’s jukebox from my Greek chorus somewhere deep in my subconscious, that I had probably heard a hundred times on my brother’s record player or on the radio, from my main muses the Beatles, “Got To Get You Into My Life”…
I was alone, I took a ride
I didn’t know what I would find there
Another road where maybe I could see another kind of mind there
What can I do, what can I be
When I’m with you I want to stay there
If I’m true I’ll never leave
And if I do I know the way there
As I walked I pondered who the ‘you’ was. I had certainly enjoyed being in that compartment with Trix and those other five young women. I felt safe and cared about all of them, and they seemed to feel the same way for me. We could all share things with each other that maybe we couldn’t (they or me) with other ‘blokes’ around. They accepted me as one of them, whatever that meant. I mean they were female types and I was male, so I wasn’t exactly one of them in that sense. But as had occurred to me before, I was no bull in their china shop. I did not walk into the compartment, noting as a perhaps good looking male type that they were all female and said something more stereotypical like, “Well hello ladies!” Something that called out and even accentuated that whole “vive la difference” that was so much a part of the established culture.
And as we all followed those in front of us with the directions to the youth hostel, it struck me that I had originally joined this venture to backpack through Europe because my two female friends Angie and Lane were going and I felt safe sharing it with them. Safe, though shy, to be as much myself as I could be. Safe now maybe to be the “Coopster”, as Jen had dubbed me.