Tim's Turn - November 2017

1711_TIMS_TURNStranger in a Strange Land

by Tim O’Brien 

It was already 10 minutes past the time I was supposed to meet her in the lobby of our Amsterdam hotel. We had a train to catch to Bremen, Germany, and I didn’t want to miss it. I called up to her room, and she said she would be down in 10 minutes. “There’s plenty of time,” stated Hedy Weisbart, the Amusement Business (AB) saleslady on the trip with me. 

Forget it, I thought, we will miss the train, and that wasn’t an option that morning. I left, walked to the train station, got a good window seat, and within minutes we were pulling out of the station. As I looked across the track, I saw Hedy on another train, leaving in the opposite direction. Our eyes locked and she waved. I laughed, assuming she was outbound on the wrong train. Then the conductor informed me in broken English that it was I who had chosen the wrong train.

I got to Bremen seven hours, two train transfers, and a couple angina attacks later, long after everyone I was supposed to meet at the Huss Manufacturing plant had left, including Hedy who was already on to the next stop on our tour of European amusement ride manufacturers. 

This was only one of my disoriented treks across a foreign land. Andreas Andersen’s ascension to IAAPA Chairman finds me reminiscing about this and other travails I’ve had in foreign lands. During the 18 years I was with AB, I traveled to 29 different countries, including most of Europe, and—amazingly—found my way home each time. 

Another trip, I was headed to Phantasia­land in Bruhl, Germany, to meet Roland Koch and tour the park. I slept through my train stop and missed the station by about 50 miles. Luckily, I found a friendly person who spoke English who called Roland and told him I was going to make new arrangements and that I would see him the next day. Fortunately, he sent a car to pick me up that evening.  

While taking a walk one afternoon while chronicling the events at a TiLE Conference in Maastricht, Netherlands, I headed out to photograph the majestic Medieval Bridge that crosses the Meuse River and got lost within a few turns of the hotel. I finally found the river and started walking along it looking at a map trying to figure out where I was. I didn’t see the tree root, tripped, and went head first into the river. Luckily my backpack with my camera equipment fell off onto dry land as I was taking my dive. (Have you ever been swimming in the Meuse?)

In spring 1992, I was in France for the opening of Euro Disney and stayed at a little boutique hotel in the city, where I explored the area by train and subway.

Around 1 a.m. after a great dinner with friends that included some amazing French wine, I left the restaurant and headed to the subway station, which by then was, of course, locked. I walked to an adjacent taxi stand where at least 100 people were waiting and no taxis in sight. The transit workers had called a last-minute strike, abandoning me in the middle of the night with no idea where I was. It’s amazing how scary and threatening people look when you have no idea where you are. I finally was able to hail down a taxi driven by a Frenchman who seemed upset that I couldn’t speak French. I handed him the hotel card and a generous upfront tip. I got “home” around sunrise.

So now, if you ever see me in a park, you will better understand two things: Why I am usually ambling around aimlessly, and why I am carrying both a map and a GPS.

Tim O’Brien is a veteran outdoor entertainment journalist and is a longtime Funworld contributor. He has authored many books chronicling the industry’s attractions and personalities, and is the only journalist in the IAAPA Hall of Fame.