Once upon a Snowy November Day in Stockholm

Our neighborhood got dressed in white earlier than usual this year. We woke up to the beautiful dance of snowflakes waltzing to join their fallen brethren upon the immaculate lands below. I felt happy, as if I knew that an amazing day was about to unfold. Maybe I read it in the snowfall. Winter’s white can hide more than just the colors below. What if snow found a way to hide time from us as well? Then perhaps voices from the future reading these words whispered loud enough for me to hear their echoes.

My wife and I rely on buses to get to work. A quick weather forecast check combined with what we saw outside yielded the natural conclusion that we should work from home today. Crina, however, was quite determined to make the trip towards central Stockholm.

She left the apartment at 8:40, hoping to catch either of the two buses that use separate routes to reach the city. I watched her from our window, a small figure wading through the snow together with our unborn 7-month old. The bus arrived in the station just seconds before she could see that part of the street. I cringed inside when I saw her trying to make a run for it only to soon realize she’ll have to wait for the next bus.

While I was initially determined to stay at home, a combination of factors led me to do the opposite. I felt like on this day I should join her in Stockholm. There was also an important project meeting scheduled for the afternoon. Besides, snowing means “wonderful weather” in my book. Better experience it fully. So, I dressed as fast as I could and went out at around 9 o’clock.

The number of people waiting in the station was not a good omen. It smelled like traffic chaos. It smelled like delays with a charming aroma of cancellations and a garnish of cursing the gray clouds that were sieving snow with relentless determination. I got on the bus anyway, knowing that at least I’ll be around friends and family sooner or later.

Challenge accepted!

Challenge accepted!

The northbound motorway was looking surprisingly well, all things considered. Turns out my wife had taken the different route, through Sickla, a neighborhood situated immediately to the south-east of Stockholm. While I was making my way into the city from the south, she reported back that her bus was stuck somewhere between Sickla and our own town of Älta. I was far luckier, managing to get all the way to the metro station with less than ten minutes of delay. From there, I had no problems reaching work, where people were busy making sense of the election results over in the USA.

One hour later, Crina was still stuck in the same bus. She was feeling quite entertained by the situation. It was hard not to, with the hypnotic dance of snowflakes promising cozy afternoons and sweet holidays. But after two hours of sitting in the same bus and advancing less than a kilometer, impatience started to gnaw its way through her armor of child-like winter enthusiasm.

Hundreds of years after the ice age, aliens start finding these snowed-in buses

Hundreds of years after the ice age, aliens start finding these snowed-in buses

Meanwhile, I enjoyed a beautiful walk outside together two friends as we went to grab lunch at around 11:30. Stockholm was slowly but surely getting snowed in. I felt a bit guilty because despite the majority’s displeasure with the weather, my enthusiasm was growing at the same pace as the streets were becoming harder to navigate. We later found out that this had been the snowiest November day in 111 years.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that my wife was stuck in the same bus when my mates and I got back at work. After almost three hours there, hunger and thirst became issues. As fate would have it, the bus had made it quite close to a major shopping center, so I advised her to bail on the attempt to reach the office and make her way to a restaurant until traffic resumes.

Traffic didn’t resume. In fact, it got worse. Even the bus line I had used to get to work during the morning got cancelled. Having spent about an hour in a restaurant, Crina made an attempt to at least get back home. After waiting for 40 minutes in a station, she eventually managed to get on another bus. The vehicle managed to travel about two centimeters in half an hour. She went back to the Sickla shopping mall.

All buses got cancelled. We were now officially stranded in Stockholm. And judging by the weather forecast, this wasn’t going to go away anytime soon, so I started planning for a way to get us home that didn’t involve rubber wheels. Suspecting my wife won’t enjoy going through this alone, I planned to go get her from Sickla using the metro and then jumping on a commuter train. The railroad seemed to cope quite well for now. It also presented an opportunity to get home by using the metro to reach a neighboring town. From there, there would be a 40 minutes’ walk to our home in Älta.

Guess why the buses got cancelled...

Guess why the buses got cancelled…

I busted out of the office at around 15:45. The metro had some delays, but nothing cataclysmic. I managed to squeeze in the first one that arrived in the station. Rarely have I seen a Swedish metro packed to such a degree, but I wasn’t taking any chances waiting for the next one. Twenty minutes later I was back at Gullmarsplan, the train station and major commuter hub where I had been during the morning. I could already feel the confusion settling in among fellow travellers, as sure as the snow was burying their hopes of getting home in time for dinner.

The commuter train between Gullmarsplan and Sickla had moderate delays, but I was lucky and there was one arriving at the platform just as I rushed down the stairs in my usual “controlled-crash” fashion. I knew we have a long way to get home, but instead of this dampening my enthusiasm, it enhanced it. Somehow, I felt it will all be fine, so I tuned my inner radio to the “romantic winter” frequency. And so, I headed into the black Nordic afternoon on board the commuter train, sliding through the snowflakes towards Sickla where Crina was waiting for me.

I double-checked with a fellow traveler that the train’s end station was as close as possible to the Sickla shopping center, also telling her about my railroad-only plan to get home. She assured me that it was the best alternative to get to Älta given the weather outside. Then, with barely two stops to go, the train driver announced something in Swedish. It didn’t sound good.

Given the poor state of my Swedish at the time, I asked another fellow traveler what the driver had said. The passenger wasn’t worried. The announcement had been about a mere 3 minutes delay ‘til departure due to another train being in the way. I didn’t trust the estimate, so I asked yet another traveler how far are we from the end station. Just a few hundred meters was the answer.

The Swede who had translated the driver’s announcement for me said he overheard that I was going to Sickla. He offered to walk together with me to the shopping mall, saying he’s headed to a train station located nearby. Just like that, we both decided to leave the train and walk the rest of the way.

We connected like two good friends that haven’t seen each other in a while. I learned he’s working in the same field as I do – information technology. It got better. He was a manager looking for work. As luck would have it, my employer was actually looking for managers at the time. He had heard about the company I worked for but still welcomed my insider information, namely that I was very happy there and working alongside some fantastic brothers and sisters.

There we were, appreciating this beautiful black & white Swedish afternoon, talking about children and life in general while snowflakes were congregating on our clothes. Only when we parted did we bother to exchange worldly details. It was as if only then we realized that we’ve just met fifteen minutes earlier.

As usual when out of the ordinary things happen, humans tend to become more social. I’m sure this adaptation has gotten our species out from more than one mess in the past. It’s even better when two people who are natural communicators meet, which I believe was the case on this day. Looking back, there was something more to it I think, a sort of compatibility that defies our current understanding of human interaction.

People transformed what would have been a beautiful but solitaire work from home day into an inspirational exploration of human nature. I love it when the beautiful aspects of society hit me like that. We have a gift of uplifting energy that shines from every single one of us, at least as long as we open up and allow the light to find other open souls to illuminate.

So, these two open guys that had traveled a short but meaningful time together said goodbye to each other. Anders went to catch his train and I dived straight for the shopping center where Crina was waiting for me.

Even though we had seen each other just seven hours prior, the adventurous day made my heart tingle more than usual when I saw her curly hair flowing down her shoulders. She was sitting at a café. I approached from her left, winter dripping off my jacket. When she looked at me, I started to shake the snow that had found refuge in every crease of my clothes, as if to say “see babe? See what I went through to come and get you? I’m your hero!” The result was as expected and I got the kiss the knight in shiny armor deserves.

After a quick pit stop, we headed back into the weather for the 20 minutes’ walk back to the commuter train that should then bring us back to Gullmarsplan. From there, the plan was to grab a metro to Skarpnäck – the closest town to our Älta. Above, the sky was taking its flock of clouds to other places. It stopped snowing about halfway to the train station.

Meanwhile in central Stockholm

Meanwhile in central Stockholm

We missed the train with about 10 seconds. It left the platform exactly as we were stepping onto it. So, we waited. And waited. And waited. There were regular announcements about “delays due to weather”. After about 15 minutes, a rail snowplow showed up. The platform had filled up with quite a few travelers. Much to our simultaneous amusement and dismay, the snowplow got snowed in just as it was leaving the station. Two guys got out and, equipped with shovels, proceeded to salvage the snowplow. For reasons I would only understand at the end of the day, I wasn’t too worried.

It took another quarter of an hour for a train to make its way into this end station at long last. By now, we had begun to feel the winter’s bite so we welcomed our way out. The crowd of weather-frustrated passengers rushed inside the warm cars, almost filling the train up.

Meanwhile, all around us on every street, cars were so badly stuck it was difficult to even estimate how fast they were moving. One centimeter a minute seemed like an optimistic assessment. I felt quite sorry for the poor brethren, even more-so for those on urgent business. My wintry fairy tale weather might have been a hell for somebody trying to reach a hospital’s emergency ward.

Back at Gullmarsplan, we went and got ourselves some nutrition from a Pressbyrån shop. Out of a sort of masochism, we checked to see if there’s any bus leaving towards Älta. There wasn’t any bus leaving towards anywhere. More than a few confused travellers were milling about the station. We descended to the rail platforms. We didn’t have to wait for too long. The metro was coping well with the weather, despite it having several stations on the surface, including this one. We boarded the train towards Skarpnäck.

Four stations later, a dude wearing sunglasses entered the car, half walking half dancing to an unheard song. He zipped up his fly while groovin’ past our seats and exited through the door behind us. I heard a “clank” from behind me. Soon after, the metro signaled that the doors are closing and prepared for departure. But it didn’t move at all. I realized that the door behind us hadn’t closed. And we were doing so well…

I got up and investigated the door. Couldn’t figure out what the dude had done to it. Another passenger revealed that the emergency brake had been pulled. Somebody went to get the driver. I stepped out and saw our prankster heading towards the end of the platform. He was completely “in the zone”, probably on some sort of stimulants.

When the driver arrived, the dude had reached the end of the platform. He was dancing and not giving a damn about anything in this world. Even though I didn’t perceive him as violent, I warned the driver to not get adventurous. A good dance routine shouldn’t be disturbed by us mere mortals.

With yet another hurdle in getting us home, I started to feel the “epic value” of this day going off the chart. We were lucky because the procedure to unblock the train was quite simple. The driver ordered us in. He then used the lever he was carrying to rotate the emergency brake knob back into its normal position. The doors closed. Five minutes later, we arrived at Skarpnäck at last.

Outside the station, a woman was giving directions to those who were standing out as “not from around this part o’town”. This was easy to determine based on the level of confusion on people’s faces upon exiting the underground. Seeing the dazzled tourist in us, of course she tried to help. She also realized our Swedish wasn’t exactly good. We told her we’re heading to Älta. She pointed us in the right direction and advised us to have water and a bit of food for the trip home. What? Did she think we can’t manage a 40 minutes’ walk? She did, but Swedes are among the most well-planned and procedure-oriented people I know. At times like this, it is of tremendous help.

As if to lend some strength to the woman’s advice, we made a mistake interpreting the GPS. We ended up in a deserted park, taking the long way around to the road towards Älta. Crina’s enthusiasm for the weather had been grinded down by the hours spent waiting in various places, but for me the adventure was in full swing.

The park was the stuff of fairy tales. We left our footsteps upon its white silence. The trees were loaded with snow. It felt like we were walking through winter’s garden. It had been waiting there for us, undisturbed for many years. There was no sign whatsoever that this place had probably been quite busy just several hours ago. We realized we ought to be careful walking there when we stepped over a tree’s fallen branch that had snapped underneath its snowy burden.

Soon enough, we rejoined the road to home. To my surprise, there were no vehicles trapped on this street, no endless queue of frustrated drivers. Actually, every few minutes or so, a car would travel in the same direction as we did. An idea started to take shape in my head: how about we hitch a ride back home? I wanted to surprise Crina with yet another save for today, but how to do it?

There was an intersection outside of Skarpnäck that we were about to reach soon. I figured that’s a good place to go for a hitchhiking attempt. As we were walking in that direction, I was constantly thinking, plotting about how I could get us home faster and with less effort. I planned to either yell our destination to passing drivers, or write it in capitals on the large screen of my aging Galaxy Note 3.

After the heavy snowfall, there came a moody mist, bringing with it the unique smell of winter. Street lighting was squeezing luminous blades through the branches of the trees, cutting shadowy planes for us to sail through. We made our way to the intersection, walking single file on the narrow path sculpted by people’s steps over winter’s flesh.

We reached the intersection where I planned to begin “operation hitchhike”. We crossed the first street. I was just about to tell Crina what the plan is when an SUV stopped in the intersection, just meters from us. The driver, who had arrived from the exact direction I was hoping to see a car from, got out and asked something in Swedish. I didn’t understand what he asked but I did understand that yes, this happened. In the exact same spot that I had been planning for the past 10 minutes to hitch a ride from, a vehicle was now stopped and the driver was asking us where we’re going. It was so unreal that it had to be real.

A minute later, we were heading home on the back seats of a warm and comfortable car. I had to make an effort to not thank the driver more than three times. Of course I told him about the coincidence of him happening to stop his car seconds before I planned to start my hitchhiking attempts. To him and his brother – who he had just picked up from the same metro station where we came from – it was just a friendly save, something humans do under threatening circumstances. I couldn’t help but admire the way Swedes pull together when anything disturbing happens. We had the same thing happen to us on another occasion during a much darker adventure two years ago when we were involved in a car crash with a moose.

Before we left the car, I asked for our saviors’ names. We spared no kind words in thanking Anders and Robert. Soon, we were walking back home, feeling peaceful and happy. I knew others were less lucky today. We got out of it with a story to tell. I still couldn’t believe how wonderful this day ended up being.

Once upon a Snowy November Day in Stockholm

Once upon a Snowy November Day in Stockholm

Later on, I lay in bed not being able to sleep. I was too focused on being thankful for the day that I lived. Recollecting various events, I realized that the man who had driven us home shared the same name as the manager I met in the train. It’s a rather common Swedish name, but I still perceived this as… interesting.

Then, I thought about the dancing brother that had pulled the emergency brake on the metro. I thought about missing the train at Sickla and all the events that had conspired to get us in Anders’ car at the end of the day, completing a journey that I will always remember as an example for letting go and floating on the river of life. Days like this make me experience feelings that are best left far beyond the constricting nature of language.

“There are no coincidences, just elements working together towards a common goal.”

– Anonymous

 

Can’t say I’m surprised that now, when adding the finishing touches on this text, mother Nature decided to give us the third snowy November day. I feel like I’ve been gifted another taste of one of those unique feelings that I don’t dare paint in words.

Disclaimer: none of the pictures in the story were taken by me.

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