I’d made a promise to let the trip determine itself, and to simply walk onto the first train to pull up to the platform. This happened to be the local bound for
I’d been spending the night as a straight tourist at the gay bars in
This time the trip was done at rush hour, awake and sober, which was good, since I needed all my strength to ignore the briefcase wedged into my buttocks and the foreheads rubbed into my armpits. At each stop we would all heave and gasp as a few more passengers seeped out; a belt loosening itself, one hole at a time. After an hour or so the car had emptied down to myself, a few locals, and two Canadians loaded with shopping bags filled with personal electronics. The motherboard apartment blocks faded away and the stretches between stops turned pitch black; a full, rich country darkness that felt weird and primal. This was the way nighttime is supposed to look, but live in
I usually only crack into my book once I’ve finished reading every train advertisement around me, so once I’d gotten over the fact that the night sky outside was a real, full on dark, I turned my attention to all the lovely little advertisements around me. Out here it seemed like half the things were ploys to get you to leave Gunma and come to the big city, where there were a lot more things to buy. Special Weekend Pack train deals, a holiday sale at the Tobu department store, a Monet exhibit at the
Two stops before the end of the line I interrupted the Canadian couple. Graham and Amy were English teachers at a small English language school in a scrawny little city twenty minutes past
Maybe they felt their home needed a little more zest, so they told me that “Gunma has the most English teachers of any prefecture in
They’d only been here five months, but did they know a cheap place I could spend the night in
And then suddenly it was ten at night and the end of the line, the Canadians leaving me smiles and their great bubbly shopping bags, and I had a city to explore.
In my home country, all fifty
After living the
They weren’t the only ones. Moving into a cluster of brick paved streets with twee little shops and bars, I saw two guys who had jacked up their muscle car a few feet off the street, customizing the shocks in front of a Starbucks that was just closing for the night. What few people I saw trickling around the city walked with loping strides, while I was still trying get my legs to unlearn the clenched shuffle that reduces your surface area to an absolute minimum, shaving valuable seconds off your commuting time. The streets were shorn of people, just the occasional little gaggle of skateboarders or Monday night boozers walking in great weaving arcs, as if to savor every extra inch of sidewalk.
In one of the iconic movies of my childhood, the muppets Kermit, Gonzo and Fozzie plop into
“How cheap?” “Free.” “Well, that narrows the fjord a bit (for the longest time I thought all Brits talked like this). Let’s see… there’s riverbanks, bus terminals, The Happiness Hotel…” Choosing the third option, Kermit and the gang arrive at The Happiness Hotel and are greeted by hordes of ragtag muppet guests in a full on song and dance number complete with gypsy choruses, drum solos, and tap dancing rats.
I received a much colder reception at
So, shooed out of Hotel Happiness, I thought back to muppets and chose the first option.
The river was just a few minutes walk from the station, and a park with rugby fields and trees lined the west side. I said hello to a woman out walking her terrier on the rugby field and nearly scared her witless: a lanky white ghost with a backpack slipping in and out of the darkness. I reached a copse of trees and brush, laying out a mat and a sleeping bag. A steady stream of midnight trucks glowed from across the river, their low highway rumble echoing across the water and mingling the groans of frogs.
…and was awoken at three in the morning by voices. It was the woman, back with her terrier and police! Vigilantes! Zombies! Or… English speaking Zombies?
“…always fireworks, going off all the time, they just you know these…”
And it faded off as quickly as it came, my heart thumping away with them.
Graham and Amy had been right. Gunma was crawling with English teachers.