John Bull Locomotive, 1831
Smithsonian Museum of American History
Chapter 1: We are delayed in leaving the station, the lights and air conditioning just went off, the babies are crying and fussing at top voice, and my lunch is hidden away in one of the pockets in my duffel bag stashed over my head.
The lights come back on after about ten minutes of everyone's breath and heat filling up every available space in our crowded coach car.
And now - We lurch forward! We are off. The babies screech on.
Chapter 2: We are positively barreling along. Not only do we have a very sweet conductor who can't be more than a sophomore in high school, but also an AC fix-it-up chappy who might be just out of high school. He came along with a paper towel and wiped dripping water from the malfunctioning AC off the luggage racks, and he reseated a chattery couple who were upset by dripping water from the leaking air conditioner. Luckily, it is not leaking any more. I suspect we have an apprentice engineer - we jerk into stations and even do little forward and backward dances before coming to an abrupt halt.
The toddler howler is amazing. She just belts it out at a continuous pace - loud AAAAAHHHs followed by sobs, with repeats. Everyone smiles and we are all actually in very pleasant moods. Outside the car it is over 100 degrees, so we consider ourselves quite lucky. It is freezing in our car.
The lady a few seats behind me is on the phone for a long time describing a very recent breakup with someone she now says she hates. She has something to say about the Russians (her accent is not Russian), talks a bit about how she is a high powered analyst, and all the time makes out on the phone with whomever she is talking with, eager for August to come when she will see him again, and talking about a gift she left for him – pink, because he is a gentle man - and much more my straining ears couldn't make out even though she was talking with no holds barred.
This trip is a bit reminiscent of a previous trip to Minnesota, where somewhere around Wisconsin Dells some guy got down on his knees in the darkened aisle and proposed to my seatmate. She turned him down.
We have crossed the Big Water. Next stop is, I believe, Philly.
Chapter 3: My new backseat mate is talking on the phone about assorted surgeries she has had and after enough time passed I learned that she is talking about joint replacement. She moves on to people she knows who died young. One died on the operating table on her thirties. Now it appears a relative has just died - she is returning from the funeral and a lot of detail follows - yikes! She hangs up and trades death stories with her across-the-aisle mate amidst great hearty guffaws of laughter. Now one of them is getting off and the one of the joint surgery conversation is looking out onto the platform at the people meeting the train and asks– “Is that your husband? The old man in glasses?”
The howling toddler got off in Philly as did the nice young man beside me. I expect a new influx in NYC. When I walked up to the snack car I noticed many seats cleverly disguised to make it seem as if the occupants had a seatmate who just happened to have stepped out for a minute, but the coats, bags, knees and feet actually belong to the single occupants of the double seats, protecting them from having to double up. I marvel at their audacity; they try to look preoccupied and innocent.
Chapter 4: As we approach New York City most of the coach prepares to get off. They crane at the windows to see New York, exclaiming in many different languages. We swoop down under the Hudson, and arrive in New York a half hour late, but because of the built-in time allowance in the schedule, we leave on time. I am always happy when we leave Penn Station and emerge into daylight from the tunnels down among the sewers filled with swamp rats and giant alligators that have been flushed down NYC toilets as babies.* The New York skyline is lovely; the buildings appear windowless and shadowy, in flat grays, because of the poor air quality and haze. Not many people are travelling with us now, and the rest of the trip is non-eventful. Two young boys talk and play quietly a few seats back, adults play with their computers, read books, or snooze off, and we all arrive at our destinations with a cheerful conductor – we are on time and happy to be home.
|Louisianna alligator; photo Deb Lohmeyer|