must be getting good at looking pathetic. I was sitting at a very old variety store in Exeter, New Hampshire waiting for the “Downeaster” to arrive to take me into Boston. You see this was the first time I had ever been on a train.
I mean a real train. I have been on subways but never on a train. A train to me was something out of “The Orient Express” where spies and trade merchants came and left without anyone wanting to know why they were there or where they were going. A train to me was filled with people carting chickens or geese to market. In other words, I was a bit scared.
I guess I should explain how I got here. In my real life as a teacher I am asked to go to various places to meet with various people about various topics that I am supposed to be an expert in. On this particular occasion I was asked to go to Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island in New York for a biotechnology seminar series. Normally I would take a plane but on this particular trip I was asked by my colleagues to take the train.
In other words, I was the guinea pig to see if this means of transportation was feasible. So there I sat, sipping on one of the best cups of coffee I have had in a long time, listening to a friendly waitress explain to me how and where to board on the train to take me to North Station in Boston. I, of course, waited at the wrong part of the station but a young lady of, I assume, ten helped me out and I made it on the train.
The train was very comfortable and quite empty. I don’t know whether or not it was because of the early hour, or that people have yet to discover this seemingly easy way to journey to Boston. Traveling, my mind started to wander to the days when this mode of transportation was the rule and not the exception. The days when businessmen in their satin fedoras used to be dropped off by their wives at the train station to take the train to where they made their money to support their families.
I thought I should have had a newspaper or a cup of coffee in order to feel the full effect. I didn’t and simply stared out the side window. Looking around the car, I noticed few businessmen reading their papers or getting ready for work.I did notice a few young couples staring out the window probably dreaming about where they would rather be. After a few minutes I started up a conversation with a young woman who told me she was a massage therapist. Actually she started up a conversation with me. I guess the pathetic look worked again.
She told me that she was also heading to New York and that we had to switch stations from North Station to South Station. Since I had no idea what that meant I was glad to have met her. When the train arrived in Boston she led me to where we could get a cab and traveled to North Station. Or was it South Station. Once again I was glad to have met her. Once in the correct station she went on her way and I went on mine. I guess this is an added advantage to traveling by train, in that one has the capacity to meet strangers even though they still remain strangers.
I then got on another train that would take me to New York City. In my heart I was hoping to again find a Good Samaritan but none was to be found. In fact, I was the only one on the car. My mind then went into overdrive because I started to imagine that my particular train was hijacked and the newspaper headlines across the country read, “Train hijacked by insane bookkeeper. One passenger held for ransom.” Of course, that one person would be me!
A few miles south of the station something else odd happened. The train broke down. The conductor told me that the engine had just stopped working. Looking out my window and watching the cars wiz by on the Massachusetts Turnpike I giggled to myself because what had happened did not surprise me. That old black star that has been following me since I was had once again reared its ugly head.
So, there I sat, watching the cars go by with their one or two passengers. A half an hour later I was still watching the cars go by. I started to wonder if they forgot about me because, as I stated before, I was the only person on this particular car if not the entire train. Maybe they did not see me and figured, what the hell, we may as well just leave the train because sooner or later something will tow it away. I continued to watch the cars go by.
I remembered hearing once that the reason Mussolini was elected head of the Fascist Government in Italy was because he got the trains to run on time. My particular predicament was simply something else I could blame on G.W.Bush. As soon as that thought came to my mind the train began to move.
Traveling south, I noticed many things that I would not ordinarily see, had I been driving in a car or flying in a plane. There were old run-down brick factories that, because of the newly-fallen snow had a kind of serenity to them. I noticed the back of people houses that were faded yet orderly. I notice a beautiful brick building with high steeples and emerald green roofs. I assume it was either a rich man’s palace or a hospital for the criminally insane.
A few more miles south I noticed that I was traveling through Framingham, Massachusetts. This gave me an odd feeling, because we passed through a crossing at which I used to curse when the train held me up from where I wanted to be. I saw many buildings that looked familiar, but most did not because I haven’t been back at this particular place for at least a quarter of a century.
I observed where my Debbie and I had our first home.
It was an apartment for people who had little money. A smile came to my face because of the fact that she is more beautiful now than she was back then. I just wished I could say the same for me. My whole trip that day was worth that feeling.The train was then held up for a second time. They told me that a freight train was delaying our progress. I didn’t care because I had time to think about some old good times.
As I was daydreaming I noticed a man breaking into a parked car. He was using one of those long flat bars and drove up in a tow-truck. I have to admit it did entertain me more than watching cars go by during the last time this particular train broke down. The car was winning because the man could not get the car to open. I kind of liked that because when I lived here I also had little money, and a fear of losing the little I did have was a major concern. The car finally lost and away it went. I, on the other hand, sat alone in my train car not moving an inch.
Once the train began moving again I noticed many things. I watched a man urinate behind a pile of lumber. At least I think he was urinating. Either that or he was practicing a golf swing. I watched a freight car wiz past that made me hope that they did an exceptional job of repairing the tracks. I observed old broken-down, green houses that at one time must of held beautiful flowers. Now the only thing it held was barely itself and the newly-fallen snow. I peered into the back windows of tenement houses not seeing anything in particular except that all of the back doors were painted different colors.
This was also the first time I heard a train whistle coming not from a great distance but from where I was sitting. This produced a weird surreal kind of impression in my mind. The farther south I traveled the more broken down the factories appeared before me. Most had their windows broken and few had cars around them.
Every now and then I would see one that looked as though something was going on inside but the one thing I did notice was that there was no one to be seen. In fact, over the past half hour I have not seen a single soul. This also gave me a bit of a euphoric feeling, for reasons I will probably never figure out.
Two large black towers then appeared in front of me with white lettering that exclaimed, to all who saw them, to recycle water. How could one not? Then a large factory appeared that took up many blocks of land. Large black letters were on the side of the building that read Wynn and Gordon. I wonder if this is where the water is recycled? The train stopped again at Worcester. Looking at the horizon I noticed a group of buildings I had once called home.
The College of the Holy Cross still had the appearance of guarding over a city that always seemed older than it was supposed to be. Thoughts flashed through my mind about opportunities lost and memories found. I remembered that it was on gray winter days like today when one wanted to study in order to become. I just wish when I was a resident there were more days like these.
I discovered that the train is an interesting means of transportation. It allows one to observe while thinking about where one is and where one might be going. I can’t say it is the fastest means of travel but I now understand that it is the most introspective way to spend one’s time when one has to leave their home.
In Springfield, more people filled the car in which I used to be the only traveler. One had a dog that looked a lot like a chicken.
The black star hath returned.
by J.G. Fabiano
Jim Fabiano is a teacher and a writer living in York, Maine, USA