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The dark autobahn flew by as I tried to keep my eyes from the glowing speedometer. I didn’t know how to translate the climbing kilometers per hour into my own frame of reference, but seeing 200 on a speedometer still made my knuckles white with fear. Suddenly a loud crackle broke through my attempts at some deep breathing. The voice that came through the walkie-talkie started singing: “is this real life or is this fantasy?”. Laughter rippled on both sides of the walkie-talkie. Lines from Queen’s epic were traded back and forth, then Spanish curse words, a Whitney Huston ballad and presumptuous questions about bananas.

Later, after our long journey ended and we had been well fed in traditional Austrian style, we retired to the “hobby room”. Dark and lit with miss-matched lights that gave the wooded room an orange glow the “hobby room” was filled with a  wild assortment of knick-knacks that one could only assume were gifts from previous lodgers. A stuffed ferret glared down at us as we readied ourselves for the favored hobby of the evening—drinking.

Our beverage choices were as diverse as our travels. The bonny lass from Ireland brought a Danish drink from her colleagues, the Londoner, though sick and coughing floors above in her bed, donated the inevitable gin. There was German Riesling, Austrian Märzen, and the sea-worthy Sailor Jerry.

First, it was a game of dice that dictated the drinking pace, but soon a game of Kings was the choice. Two is for you, and you and you. Three is for me. I said just me! The ever-changing rules and the exact quantities imbibed that evening remain locked in the secret vault of friendship. To reveal the exact magical combination of personal histories and shared moments that made the veil of propriety drop would amount to treason.

A full and accurate account of events wouldn’t reveal the truth anyway. I cannot pinpoint the exact moment our rag-tag group went from being colleagues, acquaintances and strangers to a unified group of friends who littered each conversation with inside jokes.

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Was it that moment when the walkie-talkies switched from functional to funny during our nighttime drive to our snowy destination? Or perhaps it was the copious amounts of alcohol shared around a massive table in a dimly lit basement room. I cannot say. All I know is that with each passing moment, loneliness began to melt, like snow off ski boots placed by a heater.

On the journey home, as the dark kilometers of the autobahn again flew by my window, I barely noticed the speed. I was continually distracted by the waterfalls of laughter each look or word prompted among newly formed friends.

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