Somewhere in Bucharest
Train ride en route to Bulgaria
“My brother will be here at a quarter to 11:00,” I heard Anka say. “Tell him, I’ll be downstairs at 10:45 sharp,” I assured her. Anka’s brother, Adrian, had to pick up the extra key to the apartment I’d been given during my stay. In a few short hours, the 7th floor Bucharest apartment would suddenly become empty. Anka was heading to London and I was off to Bulgaria.
I took the narrow elevator downstairs with bags in tow and met Adrian curbside at precisely 10:45 as promised. He was already waiting for me in his Smart Car. “Your car shrank,” I joked; a reference to the much more spacious Jaguar he’d picked me up in just a few days before. “Yes,” he smiled.
We made our way, already in the midst of a conversation it felt like we’d started before. The exchange reminded me a bit of an old neighbor we used to have back in Oakland when I was a child. Dolores, who was in her 60s when we first moved into the neighborhood, would often call my mom, whom she adored, years after we moved just up the street. On the rare occasions I picked up she was already in the middle of a sentence whose recipient was often unclear.
Adrian clearly loved his little car, swerving seamlessly through mild mid-day traffic, before asking, “Where are we going?” Funny how the most important details often get lost, I thought. “Oh, the train station,” I confirmed.
We arrived a few minutes later and entered Bucharest du Nord built in 1901. “That’s exactly when the New York Subway started,” I chimed in. Adrian escorted me to the ticket booth like a father bidding farewell to his first child heading off to college.” We spoke on topics and about events that hovered just above small talk.
Adrian was a very affable, intelligent, and successful businessman with a background in engineering. In his late 40s, it was hard to believe he’d had a heart attack just 4 months before. “Look at this picture of me,” he said, pointing at the photo on his drivers license. “Look how much weight I’ve lost,” he beamed. “My stomach used to be all the way out to here,” he joked.
For a man that might have just had a brush with death, or at the very least a fierce wake-up call, he was in high spirits. Aside from cursing the 12 pills he was forced to ingest a day and the litany of items he could no longer eat, including Mongolian sheep, you might have thought he planned the whole thing.
He insisted we grab a coffee together since I had at least an hour and half before my train’s departure. He took me on a brief tour, which included the “Mid-town” of Bucharest and Ceausescu’s former mansion. Soon, coffee became lunch as we sat alone at a restaurant overlooking the Herastrau Lake.
We spoke a great deal about travel, the great and not-so great cities of the world, and about business, which is to say his business. I listened as he shared tales of starting out on his own and how much he’d learned from making ill-advised deals as a young and inexperienced man.
It took me some time to properly decipher what it was I felt towards Adrian. But in the end, I realized it was admiration. Like my father, he was a self-made man. And though I’d only really seen myself as an artist of sorts, maybe a politician someday, a humanitarian at best, entrepreneurship began to grow in its appeal largely because of people like him.
After lunch, he whisked me back to the train station with a few minutes to spare. I thanked him for his incredible kindness and generosity before telling him to take care of himself; words one often says in passing, but today they were uttered as genuinely as I knew how. The man had just experienced a heart attack after all, but more over, he was still young and a really good guy. “Okay, Nick. See you in New York,” he waved.
I made my way to the Second Class car of my CFR train, which in 10 hours will take me to Sofia. LEU’s will give way to LEV’s, Latin tongue to Slavic, and hopefully more adventures to share. See you in Bulgaria.
My friend, Maki, a 36-year old former classmate from college, originally from Tokyo, Japan told me this regarding life advice: “Hmm best piece of advice.. probably came from my mother. She said something along the lines of (in Japanese) ‘You are you, Maki. Which just means there's no need to compare or feel this and that about others or how they affect you.’ She's a pretty laidback person in many ways and I admire that."