THE SOU’WESTER

A cold spitting rain blew in from the East, spraying frozen spindrift left by Winters’ stubborn departure.  It is early April and under a numb grey overcast, the saturated stand with neither zippers nor scarfs dry, exhausted in wait. Four relentless Nor’Easters had just possessed four long weeks of their March and yet still, a frozen rain spewed down upon them.  

Boarding time arrives for train #177, The Sou’wester. 

It was unusually crowded in the dimly lit rail cars punctuated by musty odors and those finding seats, find them frustratingly damp.  I am mid car to the left, sitting on a found newspaper.  The seat beside me is empty as are the four across the aisle.  

Out the window, the sky has lightened allowing the sun to momentarily release a shaft of golden soft yellow across the tracks.   Down the aisle come a family of five led by the mother, then two young girls, a tall boy and a broad shouldered father.  The glowing shaft of sunlight follows them as the train slowly moves forward.  Both boy and father have removed their hats while the mother directs the girls into the empty seats across from me in a cheerfully efficient way.   They all wear traditional plain Amish clothes, head to toe.  Additionally, they all wear smiles of the most genuine nature.   

The boy has sat next to me, after politely asking if he could.  He has a pale complexion and beaming blue eyes.  A teenager, no more than sixteen or seventeen.  In thanking me for the seat, he extends his hand formally to shake.  I am instantly caught off guard by the vise grip that envelops my knuckles.   His hands are stone dry and his forearms are thicker than most calves.  His boyish voice and radiant smile however, disarm any recoil.   

A woman walks down the aisle and he leaps to his feet in offer of his seat.   She looks about, smiles and moves on.   The father is older, I guess late sixties but he too is built like an ox.   He sits quietly reading.  The young girls sit reading as well.   There are no smart phones, no tablets, no soda and cookies.  The boy looks about in marvel, I offer my window seat and he smiles, declining in an appreciative accented English.  Between pages,his father will speak and they converse in another language.  The boys inflection is high pitched and punctuated with laughter leaving the others smiling in the passing scenery.   

At the third stop, a major city, the boy has four times offered his seat to others.  As the train carves through the granite and steel canyons of the city, he stares intently towards another world.   

Conversely, at that very same moment, I am imagining life in the fields of Lancaster Pennsylvania – driving the horses in the noon day sun to plow some sixty acres, walking to school, no TV and one phone, on the kitchen wall.   The simple, contented life.   

It is now my stop.   With preparation, I extend my hand and do my best to conceal a grimace as he stands and receives it.  I ask what language he was speaking and he informs a mix of Dutch and German.   As I return his smile, I turn down to the father and mother looking up in admiration and tell them what they already know: ‘you have a  very polite and a fine young man here – well done indeed sir, ma’am.’

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TALE OF THE TIDE . . .

Tide

I had just closed the cabin door with a chosen deference to those already asleep, though I wanted to slam it.

The crew – my life blood, tether and pulse, had given all out and beyond in effort . . and sadly, it was not enough.

The squalls came first and the sky appeared to look down upon us in disdain before the storm was unleashed.

Eight long hours of horrific anguish, one soul overboard and now in the calm, drifting with only one mast – a despondent, sullen crew.

We were by the stars, some 200 miles off course . . .being pulled by an insidious ocean TIDE not found on any chart.

 

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Around The Bend

 

     British bloke sitting across from me, good sense of humor (my initial impressions at sit down – accent and all) has been on his laptop with his headphones the entire one and three quarters of an hour we have been crawling along here.   His two brown empty Dogfish IPA bottles, finished with intent in the first eight minutes, sit now on our shared table like apathetic trash or worse. . . ignored kids.

He has just looked up, as from a dream: ‘where was I and where are we ? New Haven ?’

I smile: “no … not even close”

‘Running a bit slow are we?’

I smile and nod.

‘Oh right, damn,’ (he says looking left out the window as we sit stationary near a wooded marsh by a distant field – clearly exasperated) ‘it’s that stupid one track thing where we’re made to wait for the train coming the other way – just bloody stupid if you ask me’

“…the other way at 121 mph…”  I remind.  

It is now I who am looking to the right out the window, the days happenings having just found me along these barren tracks . . .

“combined speed of close to  242 mph . . . each approaching the other with a screaming speed around the bend . . .just ahead.”

. . . it is quiet now and one can almost hear the birds chirp in the branches, just beyond our windows . . .

“Bloody hell (I exclaim) I bet we can make it !!”

Before me, a wide eyed and a slowly nervous . . .’ugh?’ . . .….is suddenly propelled into contagious laughter…and a momentary kinship has been found.

 

                                 

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THE JUMP

    We stand abreast in a cramped tiny steel three by eight foot box at 11,000 feet carving through dark cumulonimbus clouds high above the vast enemy territory below.   We are separated in suspension by two 90 foot rail cars, each populated with seventy-two empty seats . . .
 

The noise is deafening.  Our boots vibrate atop the corrugated metal and the wind is both ferocious in its pitch as it is all immediately cold encompassing.

     I scream through my mouth guard, while instinctively securing the shovel strapped to my chest, at the three before me . . . huddled; nervous but acutely focused on their task.

“‘ALL RIGHT HERE WE GO… T- MINUS 30, LIGHT IS AMBER, WE JUMP ON GREEN…FREE FALL 180 SECONDS . .WIND: 095 AT 33. .. NO ONE OPENS UNTILL 400’AGL ……GOT IT . . . GOT IT ?!?”
 

The sound is so loud as the Northeast regional hurdles through the country side at well north of 132 mph, that I briefly suspect the engineer may have dozed off and they before me . . . . have heard nothing.
 

Now they momentarily stare to one another, looking up from their smart phones . . . and the slight pimple faced high school kid nods towards my direction, as the doors open and the train slides into the station.

 

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Continue reading “THE JUMP”

Yellow Tie

       Taking an earlier train to a near city in order to catch a bus home from there, thus saving two hours from an already long day, to see the family. 

      It is a short rail trip, so I sit in the cafe car, sipping water.
     In walks a tall fit bald man in a dark suit, blue shirt and a bright yellow tie.   He ushers his companion into the middle booth (yellow tie facing me and a grey haired gentleman, facing away, in a tweed coat that covers his slightly slouched shoulders).  

     Yellow tie is energetic, his eyes seem to pulsate and bulge as he speaks.  His diction smoothly punctuates all the background noise in such an articulate fashion of rapidly captivating fluency, that I am immediately intrigued.   

     The content of his delivery, however, immediately reveals a practiced and orchestrated approach, that feigns all interest.  

     He has a pad before him and is jotting down notes mid sentence, as the elder man positions his coat and subconsciously offers up information.  

    The questions are however, personal and of finances and policies.    
We are in the small confines of a cafe car and the elder gentleman realizes a bit too late, that he has already said too much.   

     He is visibly uncomfortable and looks to his left and right but the train is rattling down the tracks and folks seems distracted, so yellow tie pushes on:

‘How much did you say your wife’s trust was last valued at ?… We at Pinnacle my fine sir, as I’ve already mentioned, certainly think our Dolphin strategy will beat the any Index this quarter, the next and beyond.   You mentioned a life policy, what exactly is that worth?. . .yes the whole life policy.’ 

     With each uninterrupted second and reluctant reply, yellow tie gains in speed and inflection.  

     Across from me on the other side of the aisle, a middle age woman has caught my eye and is equally aghast as I, to what we are hearing and she silently pleads to me to intervene.  

             I wait. . . .

    The elder man has, in my momentary distraction, sat back more straight (as if pushed by sturdy feet beneath the table) and his neck angle is now aligned with his suddenly thrust back shoulders.  

     He stands, interrupting yellow tie and excuses himself toward the lavatory.  

      It is silent now in the cafe car as the great locomotive accelerates Westward towards a fading light that November has already surrendered, plowing through discarded dry leaves left by the passing deciduous.    

     Yellow tie eye’s have narrowed, as if in deep calculating thought and diverts my stationary stare left, right and quickly again.  

     In his copious note taking, his phone has apparently died and  without it, he is as naked as the trees outside.  He surely also feels the stare from the woman to his right and I surmise, correctly realizes that we see his overtly awkward approach to solicit an elders savings in such a public setting as utterly repugnant and quite unsavory. 

      He nervously checks his left wrist and there, he finds no timepiece. 

     The elder gentleman now walks back my way, chin up against the momentum of the train, with new found purpose in his step.  

     Our eyes meet and there is brief connection.   
 
     He reaches the cafe table and glances not once towards yellow tie.  He picks up his coat and briefcase and only then turns to address the seated man to his left with the surprised expression:   ‘Young man, I have just spoken with my man, Andrin, in Zurich and your Dolphin can go swim with all the other sharks in whatever Pinnacle pond your wading in! My affairs, furthermore, certainly will not be aired here, like dirty linen in the wind.   I am changing seats.
Good day.’    

 

 

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Travel

               I’ve been to Disney, know the urgency involved in getting a double stroller through thickets of people, whose path mirrors that of a distracted goat herd, to the next ride before a line you know will, can build…
Your best effort markets a practiced enthusiasm to a stroller that you rightly suspect, sees right through it :   ‘Daddy seems so rushed, uptight and not really enjoying this wonderful place..’

I have also boarded a jetliner after three final calls.  Our shouldered carry on bags bumping the heads of impatient seated flyers as we struggle down the aisle to find space in bins, we know to be full…

The feeling is both remote in frequency and location yet distinctively similar and humbly reminds me, how I might be a poor traveler.  

Tonight, I have boarded the train early and having found my usual seat vicinity, witness in the third person, the above just described.  

A young couple, he looks 27 and she no more then 16 finds the empty front seats of the car … the notated ones with the extra leg room.  
Others file in behind them and he is rushed, a bit agitated but resolved in his choice of seats.  

At first, I thought them to be brother and sister given the young age but the way she starts directing orders and protesting that these seats are labeled and not suitable, quickly suggests that they just might be a married couple. 

He says: ‘who cares, so what?‘   She wears glasses, a ponytail and holds a notebook:
no, ok whatever…just get the bags up there…no, over there and be gentle with my lobster bag . . .’

I smirk, louder than intended and she immediately looks my way holding the stare, in an awkward suspended way.    Now, I have not been in trouble in a library in a very long time, but that feeling quickly came back too. 

He huffs the bags up, throws an exasperated shiver with his hands and drops heavily into his seat. . .momentarily frustrates with the recline button and finally lets out an audible sigh. 

Hun, sugar honey, really? … you know that I want to sit by the window and besides, you need to be on the aisle in case I need my lobster bag.’

   
To which I laugh aloud, turning to stare out my window and see not in return, the glare.

 

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Joneses

A crescent moon briefly illuminates the slow moving clouds of an exhausted Nor’Easter and in the present shadows, steam rises from cracks unseen beneath the tracks.     

It is quiet, long past rush hour, few populate this damp platform and those who do, shuffle and half shiver in wait.   Through the mist, the last train of the evening finally emerges, backing slowly … a surreal image conjured from perhaps any city in the world: Milan, Düsseldorf, Istanbul, Paris.   

I stand now at shoulder with an elderly gentleman whose enthusiastic approach disguised his pronounced limp. He gazes past me at the approaching machinery with patient anticipation and a somewhat mysterious admiration.   

A woman and perhaps her niece nudge past us and the cordoned rope with their rolling suitcases.   The gentleman’s eyes divert now and slowly follow . . .he shakes his head softly and whispers: ‘let them do their thing, let them brakes cool … ain’t more than a dozen on this platform and she can accommodate close to two hundred – ain’t no rush…’

A tired looking engineer saddles his backpack and approaches . . . only to have his gait halted as he looks out our way:
 ‘Joneses, that you?!?’

A bear hug fitting for an avalanche survivor, my companion on the platform is now suddenly twenty something years younger, asking questions about so and so: (‘Mike, Todd, Butch … whose running the yard now, etc…’)

To his ears:  ‘long gone…I am twenty-five years..last of the crew…how’s that leg holding up? I had just started when it happened … if you don’t mind my asking?’

‘Leg’s fine, mind you none.  Why I was’n a damn fool back then days.  We’d run in    front of them switches, I think #5 or 7 was the trickiest … ‘member training that young conductor, umm forget her name now, but we were out there by them switches after a shift – you know how we did back then – crossing the yard to the shack for a drink, all did it…..train come along out’a nowhere…’ 

(I have not moved and they seem to welcome that I am staring in to listen) 

‘ I don’t see nothing, switch five I think it was, mess my leg up real good…end of the line that was for me and these here rails…’

his voice slipping off just a notch…

‘…she slipped on past and was just fine, all that mattered then.  I sure miss it though….’

I have gently moved away now and hear not the parting words, I know to be genuine, from a brotherhood I’ll never experience and find my seat by a window.   

 

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