Wednesday, October 31, 2007

ostbanhof, vienna. track 4

So im in a train station in Vienna and I stumble upon this weird travel induced ritual that I had never seen before. It’s a left luggage auction. This event must happen at traveling hubs all over the world but im shocked to run across it cuz id never thought about what happens to lost baggage that isn’t claimed. Apparently, they set up a table in front of the luggage room, with a bunch of chairs facing it, and a station worker takes out each bag or package abandoned by its owner and auctions it off, contents and all. The auctioneer describe each piece on the auction block—what its made of, if it has a tear or a burn hole—surface things only, nothing about what’s inside. Then he starts the bidding. At least, I think that’s how it goes, I have only an uber-basic knowledge of German. But from what I can gather, this is what one does on a lazy Saturday morning to get rid of things no one seems to want. Cuz all the people bidding are really chill about the whole process, not even looking like they have any stake in acquiring these pieces of luggage. But I dunno, Im feeling an underlying intensity to it all that doesn’t just come from the anticipation and competition of an auction. See, everyone looks bored, but no one leaves, cuz this is so the opposite of boring. Cuz this is a secret auction—no one actually knows what they are getting inside any of these bags. I mean, here is a ton of stuff on sale here that people felt was worthy of taking with them from one place to another. Who knows what you could find in any one of these mysterious pieces of luggage? Right now, no one knows what or whose it is, where it came from, or where it was headed, but think of what you could learn when you opened one up!

As I watch people bid on this treasure trove, I notice that even after they have paid for their little jewel they don’t even peek inside it. This apparent lack of interest seems absurd to me cuz im hooked on the thrill of the chase. The only reason to bid on something, in my mind, would be to dissect it and glean from its contents something about its owner. Maybe even figure out what happened them or why they didn’t retrieve their stuff. I almost raise my hand to bid on the next duffle bag but I only have maybe 5 euro to last me till I get to Prague after dinnertime. Besides I already have a backpack.

But what would it be like to arrive at a train station with no luggage, buy one of these bags and just head out on a trip with only what was inside it? Is there toothpaste? Underwear? If so, is it clean? Would the clothes fit? Maybe there are only cans of beans, and if so, did someone remember to pack a can opener? Who packs like that anyway? And while im at it, who leaves what they packed at a train station, never to return? I would be at a complete loss without the pack at my feet. I spent a week before I left, packing and repacking it, carefully weighing the usefulness of each object versus the space it took up, not to mention its heaviness. I pared down to only the essentials for this month-long trip thru Europe. So much so, that even backpackers at hostels ask me how long I plan on traveling with so little stuff. But does the stuff in this pack represent who I am? Would someone get accurate information about me from what they would find here? A couple shirts and a skirt id never wear at home, too many handiwipes and a film canister full of hair goop. That’s not me, is it? My all-purpose soap, my pen and travel journal. That makes a bit more sense. But then, is there any combination of things i own that would really give someone sense of who I am? Id like to think im a bit more complex than that. And Im sure the original owners of all this baggage, these careless people im imagining, would feel the same way. But its from these odds and ends that we end up constructing the stories of our lives, and these are the things that stick around to be picked up by someone else and pondered after we have left this world behind.

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