Thursday, June 24, 2021

Life & Style

Mr. Toad’s Wild Tram Ride

One nice thing I’ve realized about the shoreline is that you can get most anywhere easily. What I mean is, if you’re wheelchair-bound, you can get around. Parts of Europe, on the other hand, are not quite as wheelchair friendly. I can’t think of a better way to explain this than by telling the tale of Mr. Toad’s Wild Tram Ride.

My sister-in-law, Annie, was a dancer and never had an injury even though she was in a professional company for years. Then she succumbed to a broken ankle just by stepping off a stoop. You never know, do ya?

So, when we’re on a trip in central Europe, her ankle is still healing from surgery and she needs a wheelchair. In Prague, she names the wheelchair “Bob.” After all, something that needs to work this hard deserves a name. Prague has a lot of cobblestones. A lot of cobblestones!

One night our tour group takes a tram to dinner. There’s some confusion as to which car would be easiest for Annie to get on given her compromised limb. She finally enters a car and makes her way carefully toward the seating area while I lift Bob-the-wheelchair in.

Suddenly there’s a whistle blast that could startle the dead. I’m shaken to my core. Then I realize that I’m not moving because I’m shaking, I’m shaking because I’m moving! The tram is speeding along the track before Annie and I are seated. Bob-the-wheelchair is moving, too. He’s like a bucking bronco in my hands, careening this way and that as the tram skids around corners, leaning into every turn. There’s the open gaping maw of the door behind me and I do my best to keep myself from falling out of it. At about this time I become aware that my shoes have no tread. Good to know.

I look over as two strangers grab Annie’s arms and pull her up a ledge into the seating area. There’s a man with an accordion up there and he’s playing a jolly central European folk tune. A soundtrack to our struggles. How nice!

I finally get Bob wrangled onto his side. His wheels roll nicely, but his brakes don’t really work. “Stay!” I command and jump onto the bench next to Annie.

“We’re alive!” Annie says.

Someone is handing out shots. Yes, please! The shot is a traditional drink that I don’t catch the name of, but that’s okay. It tastes like cold meds and comfort. It covers the insides of my throat and stomach with fuzzy-blanket warmth. Na Zdravi! as they say in Prague.

All is good. Well, until something catches my eye. It’s Bob. Poor old Bob is sliding along the tram floor toward the gigantic door hole like he’s skidding down a cliff face.

“Hold my shot glass!” I cry and jump to the rescue.

I grab Bob just before he’s about to make a lemming leap out into the great wide open. The tram is moving, I’m trying to fold Bob up so he’s more manageable, and the accordionist is playing “My Way.”

What? Is this real life or farce? I feel like I’m live-acting a silent movie reel.

I finally get Bob up to the seating area and hold on tight. “Another shot?” I ask, weakly. I am supplied.

The accordionist plays on, attacking the keys of his squeezebox with a passion as fiery as that shot of hooch. The rich, reedy sound fills our ears like water from the Vltava River.

We soon make it to our destination and because we didn’t end up dead, Annie and I laugh about it all. The tram stops and the tour guide informs us that we now have just a short trek to go. Soon we’ll be enjoying Pilsner, cheeses, and wiener schnitzel. Dobrou chu!

I grab up Bob, Annie exits the tram without incident, and we’re ready to set off. It’s then that we see what lies ahead. Cobblestones. Miles and miles of them it seems. Oh, and is that a hill? A really steep hill? Why yes, it is!

Not to worry, though. I’m jet-fueled with central European liquor. I push like an ox at a country fair and get Annie via Bob to the cobblestone summit. This is the best workout ever! By the time we reach the beer hall I have buns of steel and calves of iron. I could kick harder than a mule and jump over a building. Okay, not really. Maybe after one more shot of that stuff that tastes like Nyquil.

Juliana Gribbins is a writer who believes that absurdity is the spice of life. Her book Date Expectations is winner of the 2017 Independent Press Awards, Humor Category and winner of the 2016 IPPY silver medal for humor. Write to her at Read more of her columns at


Juliana Gribbins is the Columnist for Zip06. Email Juliana at .

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