A Tale from the . . .

 

Work this cool late June day was slow and I have headed over to the station early. My phone is almost dead and with twenty minutes or so to kill,   I find a plug outlet in a soon to be closed vacant food court, in an adjacent lobby by the station.  Standing by the window, waiting on the charge, I see my conductor in his usual spot outside by the corner of the station having his daily routine smoke.  On second glance however, today is quite different as besides him is a tall slender young brunette woman, also enjoying a smoke in her free flowing Summer blue dress.  It is immediately out of place to me as they stand too close.  

He has turned towards her and must have said something for she throws her head back in laughter, her right heel rising as she does so.  He stands in front of a tree, so I cannot see his face, just his back; his heavy rail bag stuffed with papers, stubs and large keys sitting on the ground and of course, the exhale of smoke.  She is to his right and I see just the left side of her tanned face from roughly a hundred feet.

It is twenty minutes to general boarding now but it is almost his pre-boarding time.  He begins to extinguish his cigarette on the ground while turning to look down at his bag. She says something and has as quick as wind through an open door, fluidly produced another two cigarettes and moves in a step closer.  Behind the tree I can just see his broad turned shoulders hesitate, check his watch and gently shrug.  She leans in now, further than necessary, for him to light hers first.

A small pit has unknowingly formed in my stomach. I have ridden daily for almost a year with this conductor and know more about him than he likely suspects.  Know that he rode freight for over thirty years down south and heard him offer frequent tales of that rugged and weathered life . . . little bits here and there – often only just as the train slowed into the station as he would calmly open the steel door manually with his large leather hands, speaking over the wind.  Stuff like slamming into a flock of birds at great speed and choking right there, in the hot dark engine car, on their feathers: ‘cause our side windows were wide open to that oppressive Georgia humidity . . .’ Heard lore that you might find only in old books, stuff like: ‘a train really only stops when it wants to stop. . .it really only does.’  I know that he did a stint in Desert Storm where it was 110 degrees before 8am . . .I know that he has only one and a half years left before his long awaited pension. Then, it’s fishing and hiking upstate everyday with his loving wife of thirty-nine years. His kids are long grown up, moved on and ‘scattered about here and there, much like these tracks, in all different directions . . ‘  He has six adorable grandchildren, and another on the way.

Now, in the half light of the station, he and this stranger continue to puff away, he a bit faster than her.  Their body language from this distance suggest modest small talk.  She has turned to touch the bark of the tree behind them and seems to ask if he knows its name.  He looks up to the branches in reply and I am only then able to read her impressed lips: . ’really . .?’ She reaches for her phone, indicates a call, to which he nods and checks his watch.  It is almost time for general boarding . . he is 10-12 minutes late.

He too now pulls out his cell, to check missed rings or texts.  Her call is quick and she has turned and gestured to him in an animated quickness.  He looks her way, somewhat distracted and listens.  She points to the right, across the canal and stretches from her ankles in an almost exercising excitement.  He listens on and too points across the water, as if in question.  He is talking now, points down to his bag and gestures to his watch.  She regains the narrative and it is then that my heart sinks as I realize this is a pitch of sorts – a party across the canal, ‘just a short distance. . . my friends waiting, fun . . .there’ll be another train’ . . .or to my worry, worse. She points to a waiting cab and then to her phone, as if to suggest: ‘an Uber’ !. . .

 

I realize now, from my watching distance, that in the next seconds he should nod, pick up his bag and join her, the title of this unfolding story shall most definitely be:

                                                       DERAILED

It is now the general boarding call and I unplug the charger and begin to pack my belongings.  When I look back, they are gone from the spot . . . and then I see him in brisk stride towards our train, heavy bag and all.   She meanwhile has moved up the street and is on her phone, staring out to the street with her hand upon her hip, as if conveying to friends or reporting in . . to whomever has answered.

Walking with a relieved smile out to the train now myself, I make a mental note to rename the title of this Tale and more importantly, to be sure I place it at the bottom, so as to preserve for long as possible, its ending:

 

                           STRONG and STEADY as the RAIL

                                       

                                                                             

                                                                             Sent  from📞 🚂…

 

 

© All rights reserved 2018

The Bottle

 

Most move with purpose and haste. Others halt briefly to steal glances at their phones, creating congested confusion. The focused however move ahead and instinctively serpentine through the crowded station like ants of a vast army – significant in numbers yet quite invisible at the same time.  The flow and ebb of a winding river, always there and forever repetitious, yet seldom noticed.

He steps from the shadows and into the current flowing out onto the platform. Outside, as the line of waiting passengers builds up before him, he nonchalantly strolls off to the left and stands alone facing the tracks with his back to a large fence.  Behind the fence is an old wooden elevated trailer/office that serves as the station master’s control room.  Within that room, the coordination of all automated track switches and communication with incoming and outgoing trains is solely centralized.  Given this singular choke point of importance, security surveillance and presence is obviously, yet discreetly, escalated in this corner of the yard.

His presence, while unnoticed by the masses sweeping before him is immediately however, picked up by a security technician in a dark room illuminated only by dim screens situated across the station and two floors below.

By the fence, in a fluid movement, he reverses his backpack and calmly pulls a quart sized glass bottle of clear liquid out with his right hand, lowering the pack to the ground with his left. The technician zooms in, toggles his headset and speaks softly…

On the platform, a canine officer turns his head left towards the fence and holds it there in the suspended seconds. Another officer appears to the right and walks slowly by and out onto the platform before speaking into his chest radio.

All of this the man by the fence observes and has half expected.

Inside the dark room, the cameras triangulated on the figure coupled with the officer’s report have determined nothing. He wears no earpiece, suggesting he is alone and facial recognition return is ‘negative’…he is an unknown.

The supervisor behind the technician twitches in uncertain pause….‘the bottle’, he whispers, ‘what is in the bottle?’   The technician sitting rod straight opines nervously:  ‘could be anything sir: an arsenic, hydrofluoric acid, gasoline or water …hard to know, but he took it out and is just holding it …’

The supervisor then speaks into his headset: ‘Riley, swing in for a closer look, have Nine sniff it out. No engagement unless instructed’.

To the technician he instructs: ‘have Team Two hold in the van but be ready.’

The canine officer slowly weaves through the crossing mass of pedestrians and approaches the fence.   The man stares to his left but in his peripheral he sees this and calmly removes his left hand from his pocket, leaving the lighter there and checks his watch.

The service dog, while still twenty feet away has taken the slack from his leash and seems to know exactly where he is going.  

It is decision time. 

‘The bottle … what are you up to..?’ the supervisor whispers to no one, straining to see what the monitor cannot reveal.   The man’s eyes now lock with the dogs at ten feet and he unscrews the cap to the bottle.  

His decision has been made.

Sixty feet away, on the street a van door slowly opens and five heavily armed men step routinely out into the sunshine…

The man raises the bottle to his lips and drinks a long swallow.

At four feet, the officer gently tugs the leash to the left and passes off to the right.

The man returns the bottle to his nap sack and moves towards a boarding train. His eyes blurred in a dizzying sting and his throat burning from the kerosene just ingested. He fights the bile down and refuses to vomit as he quickly boards an outbound as the doors close.

The supervisor removes his headset, rests his hand on the technician’s shoulder and sighs:   ‘water, just water.’

 

 

                                                                     Sent from Rail 📞 . . .

 

© All rights reserved 2018

 

Flash and Run

Another long day has just delivered me upon the same Westward bound train.   I sit to the window in mindless thought, contemplating how many times I might re-read the mundane newspaper?

Those around me have drifted off in fitful dose punctuated by lonely reluctant snores.

To my right, out the window, in the sun splashed splendor of this passing lush green land, there consumes my absent reflection. . . 

. . . It was just past dawn and while the sun had not hit my neck as yet, I knew it’s warmth was coming.

I am an optimist, so upon my third cast, I recited the morning’s offering which habitually, has always served me well.

Then, in the half light, a flash just beneath the surface illuminated a tranquil sea and the run was on!

So many years have passed since, yet I’ll never forget the sensation and fear of slipping along the jetty, that early June morning.

Imagine for a second, a silver BMW, just below the water’s surface screaming so fast and equally bothered by all the inconvenience!!  Pure muscle and Will.  

It went out first and deep.

Seemed to consider all available options while I looked, in a somewhat conceited way, for any onlookers . .. . . .  then it came back fast.

The slack to my line might have fooled me were it not for the massive torpedo, I watched before me.

He swam to the shallows of the beach and dove his nose into the bank and with a fury that was, to this day, most admirable thrashing the popper from his jaws.

                                               Time on the water.

 

                                                                                      Sent from🚂 📞 . . . 

 

© All rights reserved 2018

 

Going Home

 

A sound so loud, it can only be best described as hushed silence.

All along the platform, a collective breath has inhaled in cascading unison and like falling dominos, it is quickly quiet.

The soft cool breeze that has gently tapped each shoulder has delivered an entrance.

At the doors of the station, stand six tall Marines and in their six strong hands, holds one of ours.

They walk at a glacial pace with purpose and no one speaks; shifts or shuffles.   The entire station is silent and staring at track eight, the 177 to Washington, DC. 

A father, a few back from me, finds the hand of his young son and squeezes gently as his eyes fill with moist. 

The door to the baggage car is ceremoniously opened, officers stand erect, canines sit and there is not a hat on in the entire yard.   The coffin is raised to eye level and three carrying with their left, salute smartly before entering.

 

So Blessed we are.

 

 

                                                                  Sent from🚂 📞 . . . 

 

© All rights reserved 2018

The Unspoken Word

 

On perhaps one of the most travelled weekends of the year, I am fortunate to board early.   In the front seats of each rail car there exists extra leg room for the overflow of baggage or a wheelchair and on the right side of each, it is clearly notated:   “Seats Reserved For Passengers With Disabilities.”

I sit to the left, thinking learning and earning doesn’t apply.

Buffed out college kid quickly hefts his duffel topside to the right and plunks down in his newly found 2-acre seating arrangement, marveling at his sweet scoring maneuver!

I am slightly amused and while intrigued, tired and situated to shut my eyes.

Without so much as a doze, I am stirred by the weight of luggage on my lap, the smell of McDonalds and the view of ‘super-sized’ woman’s behind.   She is leaning in and really giving it to the pompous white kid wearing his earphones sprawled across the aisle to my right:   ‘You best get your butt out’a them seats and I ain’t gonna ask you twice ’cause I got my mama out there on that platform and she don’t walk no good and I got all these here bags…don’t you read that there sign…?   For the Disabled!!’ 

The kid has shrunk to the window at half his size and from his contorted purple expression he is mad, aghast and petrified all in the same instant.   I am suppressing my urge to laugh (should he attempt to somehow lunge at me) and he is long gone before the luggage is removed from my lap.

Pondering the unfolded excitement however, does little to quell the draw towards a little shut eye as we depart. . .

‘Hey you – fella, you – (authoritative, confident) we’re going to need that seat!’.    (once, twice and a third time)

As if from a blurred gray distant fog, I imagine not too dissimilar than that of hearing the banter of nurses and surgeons going about their business while you lay prone on the table … I slowly awaken….and my eyes rise to an inconvenienced and agitated burly Red Cap – but almost immediately, I am distracted to that closest to me.   Before me and inches from my face was the most beautiful black Labrador Retriever with understanding soft yellow eyes, a moist black nose and a patient pant.  There upon the harness on his back, held the frail hand of an elderly blind woman, who smiled in lasting frame … and in that brief moment, I think that we saw each other. 

The Red Cap, however, was having none of this and growled:  ‘let’s go buddy, what are you DEAF?!?’   (the irony of his comment lost in the moment)

I apologize, wish the woman a nice weekend, and pet the lab as I move on.   As I reach the door, she has half turned to the Red Cap and says: ‘hush, the boy couldn’t hear you’.

Then she smiles up towards my direction … before sitting down.

 

 

                                                                             Sent from🚂 📞 …

© All rights reserved 2018

Entitlement

 

I took an afternoon train, it is a short trip and sold out – so I stand.   

Conductor makes the usual public announcement over the speakers about a very busy train and asks that extra bags not utilize seats folks didn’t pay for, so others can sit down too.  He asks that the Quiet Car be just that and respected.  He asks that reserved signs not be removed and respected as well.   Additionally, seats designated only for the disabled be just that: only for the disabled.   The announcement is all very even-toned, polite and encouraging of cooperation.    

Another conductor several cars removed and near me, turns to nobody in particular and asks knowing the answer: “Did anyone hear that announcement? Hear it even remotely, one word of it?”   

His voice carries an edge of a silent answer already delivered.

A college age kid, sitting a few rows back, head down checking his phone in one hand and raising a beer to his mouth with the other, says: ‘nope, not a word of it.’    To which his buddy concurs, chuckles and looks out the window.   

The conductor adds again to no one in particular: ‘Fifteen years I’ve been doing this and every year, every year . . . it gets worse and worse.’   

The kids sense the rising tension and alter course with nods of agreement.  With this new found bond of alliance, the conductor continues with frustrated inflection: “people will sit in reserved seats and say: ‘I’ll move when someone comes and needs it.’   “No, that is NOT what reserved means!  Every year it gets worse and worse.    Every single day, I have to ask someone to move from the notated Quiet Car … unbelievable!    I just don’t understand it.”

More silent thoughtful agreeing nods from the seated two . . . perhaps guilty themselves on more than a few occasions.   

It is then that I hear my voice, most a matter of fact, punctuate the drifting silence from the corner of the car:    “Entitlement.  They feel entitled”.  

The conductor looks sharply my way and exclaims:  ‘Yes, that’s it!’ as if this word has been on the tip of his tongue all day and just now, he has found it.    

I nod and turn towards the doors as the train slow into my station stop.    

 

Sent from Rail 📞 . . .

 

 

© All rights reserved 2018

 

TIMES

Tales From The Rail

I got off the train halfway home and stepped into the sunshine of Spring’s warmth and a scent of a dissipated ocean fog, just lifted.

I was in no hurry, I had some time yet until my next appointment. On the platform towards the front, an elderly man of medium height stands in Native North American garb staring in closely at the locomotive engine, wheels and wires above. His clothing appears cotton, perhaps also made from agave or deerskin, I cannot tell other than it is authentic. I walk towards him in mindless curiosity and just then to my right, another is passing with a longer gait and widening arms of embrace. He is taller, far younger wearing a dark suit, rattlesnake boots and a raven black ponytail that rests on his broad youthful shoulders.

They embrace for a long moment.

‘Father!’
‘Son.’

‘Is good to see you Dakota, you…

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