Sunday, November 07, 2010

Swiss Family Todd

“Don’t do it, Amy. Please,” my wife Kara pleaded to my sister as our cog-wheel train chugged up the mountain toward the Matterhorn.

Moments ago, in the station, Amy had attempted to sit across the aisle from us in an empty seat. A Frenchman in the adjoining seat performed a couple of horizontal karate chops in the air while saying, “No, no!” to Amy, successfully defending the seat for what we assumed would be his late-arriving friend.

The doors closed and the train pulled away from the station with the friend failing to materialize. Amy turned around from her seat further up the train, a look coming over her face that anyone who knew Amy well would have understood to mean “TAKE COVER!”

Switzerland is a country famous for its chocolate, watches and Families Robinson, and the karate-chopping guy across the aisle from me seemed blissfully unaware that it was also very close to becoming known for its transit-riding, strangled Frenchmen.

Since having a baby last year, Kara and I have been unable to escape the house long enough to see a movie, a fact that has saved me from seeing at least seven Twilight sequels, and which also made the experience of taking a whirlwind tour around Switzerland last week even more surreal.

Amy’s wife, Jaime, recently took a job at the United Nations in Geneva, and the two of them moved there earlier this fall. With the job scheduled to end early in 2011, Kara and I knew that if we waited any longer, we’d forever lose the opportunity to see the birthplace of the hundred army knives I’d lost during my career as a Boy Scout. A homing beacon on those things would have been much more useful than a leather awl.

Our parents all signed up for shifts at our house to look after the toddling terror that is our son. After the same amount of planning that normally goes into a large-scale military operation, we realized that we might actually be going to Europe. One night in early October, Kara clicked the mouse a few times, looked up and said, “Okay, we’re going. I can’t believe we’re doing this.”

We only had four full days to see as much as possible, which turned out to be just enough time to ingest several months’ worth of cheese. It was also enough time to whizz through several castles and across insanely beautiful countryside, but not enough time to get used to paying five bucks for a Coke.

We headed to the Matterhorn on our final day, and on the first of several trains, a Frenchman (or a French-speaking Swiss person, really, but “a Frenchman” is more fun to say, and also to complain about later) stood before the three of us and pointed at the empty seat in our booth.

“Oui,” we said, exhausting 50% of my French vocabulary. Rather than sitting, he shook his head and said many sentences in a row. After a time, we came to realize that we were being evicted. Apparently, you could reserve seats on that train.

I stood and saw no escape. Ten angry faces peered at me from either direction, their corresponding bodies clogging the aisle.

“Babe, you need to move,” Kara said, noting that my bookbag was imprinting a zipper design on a nearby lady’s face.

I wanted to climb over the seats like Roberto Begnini receiving an Oscar, but settled for squeezing through the nonexistent space in the aisle like a gerbil, using the other 50% of my French to apologize to all the people with whom I was involuntarily grinding.

By the time we got on our final train with the karate-chopper, we just wanted some seats and a relaxing ride. Mr. Chopper benefited in part from Kara’s pleas for leniency, and also from the language barrier.

“The best I could come up with in French was, ‘This is my last day with my family, and you are a robber,’” Amy said later.

Judging from my childhood, Mr. Chopper is lucky he didn’t depart the train with his underwear pulled halfway up his back. Wedgies speak in every language.

You can go cuckoo with Mike Todd at


  1. To be 100% grammatically correct, I think the term would be "Families Robinson."

    Just sayin'

  2. Thank you, Anna! It's fixed now. Also, I'm sorry William Safire died before you had a chance to dine out with him:,3351/

  3. ha ha ha, terrific blog! So cool that you two jumped at the chance for a trip to Switzerland that I'm sure you'll always remember! And we finally have the answer about why in the world you were sitting on the floor of the train going to Zermat! Guess I'm surprised Amy didn't just sit down on top of the guy!

  4. The international language of WEDGIE! WHY didn't I think of that?? I'm going back to that train, and hoping the Chopper will (try) to ride again...

    Great post, bro.


  5. Ha, Ames, I'm kinda surprised you didn't, but I bet you could find another deserving recipient pretty easily. Thank you guys again for everything -- you rule!