He’s out there, somewhere. Righting wrongs and protecting the weak. Roaming the streets of Krakow on the side of the humble tram rider, the nightmare of the gas guzzler.
I’ve never had a hero before, being inclined to almost toxic levels of cynicism, but I found one last week.
It was a Friday evening, and I was heading to Kazimierz on the number 19 tram. I’d noticed him of course. It’s not often you see a 60-something-year-old guy dressed in full Polish mountain man regalia, including feather in leather hat.
Decades of living in cities have taught me exactly what to do about crazy people on public transport. Rule one: Don’t look directly at them, but don’t let them out of your sight either.
We pulled up at Wawel. The doors opened and fellow passengers hopped down among the line of cars idling across the tram stop, waiting on the lights. Feather hat guy rose from his seat.
Apparently calmly – I thought he was getting off – he crossed to the open door, and brought his righteous fist down repeatedly and thunderously on the roof of the small white hatchback blocking the exit.
“This is a tram stop!” he roared – tanned, leathery paw of iron visibly denting the bodywork – “Where did you buy your driving licence!?”
I think they were on the way to a wedding. All four occupants of the car started violently in their seats, and the bouquet on the lap of the beautiful brunette in the back leapt a few centimetres. How would it be to wield such power?
Hunting? We ain’t huntin’ him, he’s huntin’ us!
Of course, they pretended not to be bothered. The initial shock of a white-bearded lunatic pounding on the roof of their SEAT Leon assimilated, they affected blithe unconcern. But they will never forget that moment of shame.
Leather hat regained his seat.
Rule Two: Don’t react to the craziness. I was compelled to gaze in admiration at this warrior of the tramways, but I’ve had London Underground training. I automatically assumed the demeanour of a man entirely comfortable about sharing a carriage with blatant symptoms of mental illness.
I was alarmed, but slightly thrilled, to find myself alighting behind my new hero. Stradom – the gateway to Kazimierz.
It’s a nightmare of a junction with cars and trams rudely interjecting themselves from all directions. I had to see what Leather Hat would do in this environment, so I slowed my pace and followed.
Ul. Dietla was as a roaring mountain river to this man. To be respected, but not feared.
Not an anarchist, our hero seemed content to wait for the lights to change. Less content to overlook the minibus that rolled to a halt directly athwart the pedestrian crossing when the green man showed.
And lo, mighty was His hammering on the flank of the powder blue Mercedes Sprinter. And booming were His denigrations of the sexual orientation of minibus drivers.
I lost track of Leather Hat when he strode across the northbound lanes of Dietla, his patience for traffic laws exhausted.
I may never see him again, but I’ve sketched out the screenplay in my head. The most brilliant tram driver of his generation, the lost love of the tram depot manager’s daughter drove him into the mountain wilderness. Thirty years later – he’s back, and he’s mad (also, mad).