From Memphis to New Orleans, on the way down, I had watched the sunset paint the sky, as if from the brush tips of trees, out my sleeping car window. When it was dark, I moved to the lounge car to follow, from larger windows, the moon stamp his face on the Big Easy. But on the way back north, although it was the middle of a bright sunny afternoon, memories and impressions and feelings clouded my mind so that I could barely appreciate my outward surroundings.
Then I met Aidan. It was time once again for community dining in the dining car and this time I was paired with a pregnant mom and her 2 year old son. I couldn’t ignore Aidan even if I’d wanted to. Within 5 minutes, he was under the table, on the table, on my side of the table, making eyes at the 4 year old at the neighboring table, then back under the table again. Sugar packets and creamers had no defense against Aidan’s fists. Like Tarzan, I wrenched the little blondies from baby Godzilla. As she re-set him on his seat, his mom told me the reason for their trip: to attend her dad’s unexpected funeral. The doctor had told her to stay as still and calm as possible to keep the baby safe. Yeah, right. By the time our meals came, mom had already used up the dinner calories she would never be able to consume with Aidan on the move. To be his mom required Shiva arms as well as Tarzan strength.
“Will he ever stop?”
“Nope. I have one, too. Now, he climbs trees as well as walls. Good luck.”
The waitress boxed up their dinners so that while Aidan scaled the roomette, mom might be able to eat in relative peace.
I left New Orleans with a light jacket on and by Chicago, I was back in mittens, hat and scarf. Snow held up my connection to Milwaukee where my husband would meet me and take me the rest of the way home. In Gate E of Chicago’s Union Station, eager passengers sighed at the DELAYED flashing on our departure screen. We got in touch with our rides on the other end and made alternative arrangements. Others of us ate. My bench mate read nytimes.com. When our neighbor asked him to watch her bag while she went to the bathroom, he stopped reading and stared at the bag the entire time. Would she have asked at an airport?
I appreciate the lower security risks of train travel, but there are drawbacks, too, like perpetual tardiness. I’ve learned to cushion my commute times with conservative ETAs. Or, when my patience is up, I fume inwardly, like a good Scandinavian Midwesterner. How I marvel at passengers who complain out loud and proudly, like my fellow traveler from Chicago’s Southside. We all learned her itinerary over the course of her conversations with those around her and with relatives whom she asked for rides to Milwaukee.
“It’d be a helluva lot cheaper and faster just to pay your young ass to come pick me up and take me over there! Hell, what’d I pay for but a ride to where I’m goin’ and they can’t even get me there when they say. Shoot. I want my money back.”
By the time our departure sign read 11:30, our complaining customer was trading chips for water bottles with her seat mates and comparing notes on trips to Rhode Island. I guess it can pay to live more publicly.