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  • Writer's pictureDiann Schindler, Ph.D.

The First Time is Always a Challenge: A morning in the life.

After scheduling a much-needed dentist appointment at the Joaquim Chaves Saúde - Clínica de Carcavelos, I access my trusty Rome2Rio app to have detailed travel directions from my flat to the dentist's office. I prefer to become familiar with my journey and plan every moment, a habit that served me well during my 30-year career in higher education.

It’s a simple journey. No transfers. Walk, train, walk.

I know the route to the Monte Estoril Train Station is 10-12 minutes because I’ve managed it many times to reach promenade on the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, the terminal overlooks the promenade and the tracks run along the Ocean for meters and meters of breathtaking views. When I’ve traveled to Lisbon, I’m glued to the window.

Rome2Rio shows after I reach in Carcavelos, I have another fifteen-minute stretch to the Clinica.

My appointment is at 11:30 am. I decide what point to catch the train to arrive on time, factoring in the following variables: the twelve-minute jaunt from my apartment to the Monte Estoril Train Station, time to buy a ticket from the clerk behind the counter, the eleven-minute ride to Carcavelos, and the fifteen-minute hike to the Clinica. Thirty-eight minutes in total.

The line to Carcavelos departs every 20 minutes. Catching the 10:20 would arrive on time, but I will take the earlier train for extra measure.

The next morning, I am out the door by 10:10. The air is warm with a lovely, cool breeze. Halfway down the hill, I approach the area where the pavement narrows, allowing hardly enough space for just one person at a time. Quickly, walking slows to a crawl as the pavement crowds with teenagers, adults, and adults with small children all heading toward me, going up as I go down. Cars coming from behind on this narrow winding one-way street speed past, blowing my hair and kicking up dust and grit into my eyes.

No one moves off the pavement, seemingly oblivious to the little old lady–me, that is - directly in front of them. As a result, it is I who must move into the street and risk severe injury… or worse. I ready myself, poised to jump out of harm’s way at any second.

In Portugal, it has been my experience, pedestrians are king only when on a crosswalk. Here, there are no crosswalks.

I stress. Truth is, even though I’ve factored in more time, and tell myself to relax, my need to be prompt, formerly an outstanding quality and now an obvious character flaw, rags on me. I will be late. Well, later than I choose to be. Later than I planned.

I’m annoyed. It takes all my effort to avoid becoming the Ugly American and spewing anger at these at these inconsiderate people.

Beads of perspiration pop out on my forehead and under my mask. My nose runs. Sweat drenches my back and sweater. My heart rate increases. I am not happy.

Eventually, the crowd dissipates. All is clear. I trek alone. My heart rate returns to normal. I breathe easier. I even chuckle out loud. So silly to panic.

I descend the stairs to the tunnel, and an additional set of stairs, and turn left toward the station. Before I enter, I stop, burrow into my bag for my residency card and money. I realize I forgot my change purse on the kitchen table. Dammit.

Breathe, Diann.

The fee is 2.50 euros. No problem, a 5-euro bill will suffice. You’re good.

I continue a few more yards, enter, and notice a sign at the only counter. Of course, it is in Portuguese, but I get it: the counter is closed. I peer around the sign, looking for help. The office is completely vacant.

I hear the train. No way I can make it.

You’ve missed the 10:30.

Outside on the platform, I spot a machine. Unfortunately, the severely cracked screen, the sun, and moisture damage obscure any ability to read directions or chose a route.

I need help, but no one is in sight.

I recall a coffee shop next to this station. Help will be there. I rush back through the station and down to the coffee shop.

It’s closed.

I search up and down the street for the next few minutes.

Where the hell is everybody?

Suddenly, a young woman appears, running toward the office. She ducks inside. I am quick on her heels and follow her outside to the tracks. She purchases a ticket with disgusting ease. Clearly she knows this machine by heart, vision or no vision.

Descuple. Nao falo Portuguese. Ingles, por favor?” I say.

Nao.” She shakes her head.

“Carcavelos?” I hold out a five euro bill, mangled and wet from my sweaty palm.

She stares at me and asks, “Credeeet carda?”

The train sounds in the near distance.

Nao.” I don’t have time to dig for my cards. I shake my money at her, adding the best possible pleading facial expression I can muster under my mask.

Exhaling loudly, she digs in her pocket, pulls out change, puts it in the machine. A ticket spits out. She hands it to me, steps away, and scans her ticket on another machine. She motions for me to do the same.

I try. It doesn’t work. I scan again. Nada.

The train arrives and the doors open. Three people exit.

She grabs my ticket. She scans it. It beeps. I growl to myself. Why can't you do this? She shoves it into my hand and climbs aboard.

I’m right behind her. She turns around and helps me board as the doors swiftly close, brushing against my sweater.

What would I have done without her? I thank her profusely. “Obrigada, Obrigada.”

I want to insist she take my money, but she’s gone, vanished.

I exhale, sit and check my iWatch: 10:30.

Gradually, I am aware of my inner voice: You can always hire a Bolt taxi, darling. You are so hard on yourself.

I make it in plenty of time for the appointment and make mental notes.

1. Don't forget your change purse.

2. Leave earlier than early.

3. You can always get a taxi.

4. Breathe....

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