Vocabulary Lessons

The road entering the main square in Darmstadt is paved with red cobblestones. Streetcar tracks run down its center, shops line its edges, and a bus stop sprawls along the left sidewalk. Normally, I cycle slowly here, dodging pedestrians and traffic, and cut sharply across the streetcar tracks where a construction zone forces traffic into the left lane.

Yesterday, there were no buses and no people stumbling about like winos on an early-morning bender. I flew past the bus stop and swerved left to avoid the construction zone. I was going too fast to turn sharply and before I could think, "Shit," both tires slotted into the streetcar tracks.

Leaning crazily to the left and desperate to right myself, I failed to see a rail entering from the right. It pinched my front tire to a halt and I slammed to the ground. I landed hard on my left hip, my head skipped across the cobblestones, and I heard one of the lenses from my glasses skitter off into the distance.

Somewhat dazed, my first thought was to find my lens before a bus or streetcar ran over it. I groped blindly around, happy to be in Germany, where I could expect help momentarily, rather than in the US, where I would be either part of the side-show or a potential mugging victim. Sure enough, a couple of middle-aged women edged toward me.

"Sind Sie verletzt?" (Are you injured?)

"Ich hab' meine Linse verloren." (I have lost my camera lens. Alternatively: I have lost my lentil. Your choice.)

"Ah -- Brillenglas." (Terrific. I'm laying on the wet pavement, the wind knocked out of me, embarrassed and in pain, and they're improving my vocabulary.)


"Hier gibt's." (Here it is.)

"Oh, danke schoen." (I stop worrying about waving streetcars and buses to a halt.)

"Ist alles in Ordnung?" (Is everything OK?)

"Ja, nur ein bisschen Weh." (Yes. Just a little pain.)

I staggered to my feet, dazed from lack of oxygen, and stumbled to the sidewalk. If there was anything I didn't want, it was for some well-meaning citizen to whip out their cell phone, call an ambulance, and subject me to fourteen types of German bureaucracy I haven't yet experienced.

My hip was killing me but my glasses were OK and my trusty, 15-year-old Bell helmet seemed to have saved me from a severe concussion, or at least a premature ear removal. I sat down, popped my lens back into its frame, and caught my breath, then low-tailed it to my office before anybody else tried to help.

The rest of the day was a Whitman's Sampler of pain. It started out mild and diffuse, then crept around my buttocks until even my right cheek -- which, as far as I know, never hit anything -- had stiffened up. My left hip swelled and the pain, sharper now, honed in on the head of the femur as well as a point above and to the rear of it. Blunt trauma is no fun.

Sitting was OK, standing less so, walking unpleasant, and getting out of a chair agony. All day long, my officemate looked strangely at me and inquired, once again, if I really didn't want to visit the doctor. Having been banged up often enough and reasonably certain that nothing was broken or torn, I declined, then made more funny groaning noises.

Fortunately, Karin had driven to work and I wasn't forced to ride home; getting out of the passenger seat was hard enough. Once in our apartment, I surrendered myself to the miracle of Ibuprofen. And amazingly enough, all that's left today is a smattering of pain, just enough to remind me how to behave around streetcar tracks.