My tram trip (Moje jízda tramvají) by Šimek and Grossman
For an unrelated project, I attempted to translate a 1976 short story by the Czech comedy duo Miloslav Šimek and Jiří Grossman. Naturally a lot gets lost in translation (which, I admit, could be improved), but what remains is hopefully still funny, so I decided to share it here to present a piece of Czech culture. Enjoy!
My Tram Trip (Moje jízda tramvají) A short story by Miloslav Šimek and Jiří Grossman
Ever since I directly witnessed as the motorman of the tram no 15 that was plummeting downhill found out that the brakes would not work even when he told them off, then ran off to the carriage to consult his colleague about what to do next, only to come and inform us in the mezzanine of a block of flats—where we ended up in the meantime—that the tram goes no further and that we should get off and not impede the traffic as he was about to turn around for a journey back, I do my best to avoid commuting by a tram.
However, last week my cousin Jóna (pronounce /’joːnʌ/) from the countryside came for a visit. That delighted us all, particularly when he took out two ducks and a large lump of butter from his pannier. But my delight waned after lunch when he expressed his desire to travel around Prague on a tram with me.
‘We’d better go on foot,’ I said emphatically, ‘that way we won’t miss any of the historic sights.’
‘I’d like to take a tram,’ said Jóna. ‘I’ve never been on one before.’
‘You haven’t missed anything,’ I reasoned with him. ‘Have you ever ridden on an agitated cow?’
‘I have,’ he admitted.
‘Well, there you have it. It’s the same, but less crowded.’
Jóna glared at me skeptically, then leaned towards my Dad and told him quietly: ‘Uncle, I would like to take a tram.’ He then reached into his pannier and took out a pot full of lard.
Dad exclaimed: ‘Jóna wants to take a tram, so you shall take a tram with him! He is our guest.’ Then turning towards Mum: ‘Make me some Uncle Fred with lard, I feel a bit peckish.’
I did not have a choice but to accept my fate. Jóna and I went to the city. I tried once again to dissuade him from getting on the tram. I even offered to carry him instead, but he was adamant. I was beginning to hate him.
‘You asked for it, bumpkin,’ I thought and took him towards the tram stop. A considerable number of people were already standing at the stop, and we were often falling off the platform onto the road. It must be said that the cars avoided us skillfully. Although one old man was pulled by a passenger car for about fifteen metres—but he let go eventually, so everything worked out well.
Overhearing other people talking, I understood that not a single tram has come in the last eighty minutes.
‘Scoundrels!’ shouted a man, who was apparently in a hurry. ‘Even reindeer sleigh in Chukotka must have a more regular timetable than this.’
A certain plump woman with a wart on her nose approached him, waved her Commission of Population Control credentials and asked him not to incite outrage.
‘What outrage, you wretched woman?’ the man snapped at her, but his words were drowned out by the sound of the oncoming tram.
The motorman was pressing the lever for half an hour, then got up and opened the door manually. The people started pouring in, and with such force that others were falling out through the back door.
‘This is what I call the circle of life,’ some man exclaimed, ‘If only Darwin were alive to see it.’
The tram conductor rose up from behind the till and punched a hole in people's left ear to keep track of whom she already sold a ticket to.
A man standing next to the door, who whimpered incessantly, demanded a discounted half-priced fare.
‘Half-priced fare? You must be at least forty years old,’ said the conductor, puzzled.
‘Yes, I am forty, but my arm and my leg are outside, caught in the tram door.’
Upon hearing those words, the motorman opened the door and pushed the man out with a railway point rod, voicing his dissatisfaction with people impeding traffic.
We finally moved. Jóna seemed terrified. He whispered to me that he wanted to get off. ‘You’ve got what you wanted,’ I answered sternly and smashed my head through the window after the tram jolted suddenly. The conductor informed us that the pantograph dislodged, and sold us new tickets when we resumed the interrupted journey.
The motorman deemed that we were unruly and bestrewed us with sand. The fat Jóna burst into tears. I did not feel the least sorry for him, far from it. I told him mockingly: ‘Enjoy the beauty of Prague, you dimwit. It’ll get even worse.’ And it did.
An old lady pointed at us and squealed: ‘Hooligans! They wouldn’t even let an old person sit down!’
I gently pointed out, that the whole time I was standing on just one leg, and it was not even my own.
‘Yes, standing, but if they were sitting, they still wouldn’t give up their seats, I know this sort very well!’ continued the old lady and hit Jóna with her umbrella.
‘Madam, don’t beat the boy,’ a refined man came to our defence, ‘it will scar him for life.’
‘They must’ve beaten you daily then,’ barked the old lady in response.
A fight broke out. Passengers, alarmed, moved to the other side of the tram. The tram tilted and drove on two wheels for a while.
‘Stabilize! Keep the balance!’ instructed the motorman and engaged the reverse gear. This prompted the passengers to move, and the tram landed back on all four wheels.
‘I need to get off,’ a young woman demanded.
‘The stop’s cancelled. The tram doesn’t stop until the terminal station,’ resonated the motorman’s alto.
‘We ought to rotate, we are tired as well and also want to sit down!’ insisted a short old man and looked around at the people who were sitting.
‘Yeah, that’s right, we also want to sit down!’ the calls could be heard from all directions. The standing passengers lunged at those sitting, who naturally defended their seats.
‘That is the circle of life,’ reminded the philosophe. But people were no longer in the mood for philosophy, so they trampled him.
‘I don’t know about you,’ said a little three-year-old boy, ‘but I really need to wee-wee.’
‘You have to wait until we get to the terminal station.’ the mother ordered him desperately.
We finally reached our destination. The people tumbled out from the tram and sagged into the gutters alongside the railway track, exhausted. A grey-haired old man knelt facing eastwards, and thanked Moscow that he survived the trip.
Thank you so much for posting this!!
Note: The line ‘Maminko, namaž mi chleba sádlem, nějak mi vyhládlo.’ sounds so perfect, yet it is very difficult to translate. The literal translation would be: ‘Mum, spread some lard on bread for me, I have got somewhat hungry.’ That does not do justice to how amusing it sounds, so I tried using the Cockney rhyming slang, hence the uncle Fred (bread), but it still grates.