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Holiday Travelin’ Blues

Penn Station was a zoo, as it always is pre-Thanksgiving, but I was looking forward to what I thought would be a peaceful, zone-out, clickety-clack, two-and-a-half hour train ride to Old Saybrook.

Sadly, the “quiet car” was full, bursting with silent people. In the rest of the train, large families trolled for seats, people squawked into cell phones, electronic devices leaked game noise, and food smells wafted. . Thanks to my aggressive behavior (shadowing a big guy who bulldozed his way through the crowd), I secured one of the few remaining seats in a decidedly un-quiet car.

I glanced at the lady next to me and, in that mini-assessment you do with strangers, I thought, she’s older, a grandmother, dyed hair, nice coat. It took me a few minutes to realize that she could easily have summed me up the same way.

The lady pulled out her cell phone–no, it was not a smart one–and made a call.

“Well, we were supposed to be on the 172 out of New York (pronounced ‘Noo Yawk’) at 3 but they bumped us to the 46 at 4. It’s all right, all trains go to the same destination. (Listening pause.) Yeah, but it’s okay, they all go to the same destination. Did you get the turkey?”

I deduced from what followed that it was her daughter on the other end, because the lady was so relaxed about dissing her chosen cooking method.

“What? You’re gonna brine (‘broin’) the bird? Aw, don’t do that, Shelley, it adds salt (‘sow-ult’).”

She came back to the top of her conversation loop: “Should be there by 7. Woulda been earlier (‘uhr-leeyah’) on the 172, but they all go to the same destination. Don’t broin it, hon.”

She hung up and dialed again. “Hi Pearl. Yeah, they bumped us from the 172…Shell wants to broin the bird. I told her (‘huh’), no, too much sow-ult…they all go to the same destination, thank Gawd.”

A young man approached us. “Ma’am, is your husband seated in the car ahead?”

He was addressing the other lady, not me. “Yes,” she said, cautiously. The young man had not washed his jeans or face lately, and he smelled like an avid drinker.

“I’m sitting next to him, if you’d like to switch seats,” he said, as intensely as if he were notifying the lady of a lottery win.Mrs. Nice Coat gratefully made the switch, leaving me seated with Mr. Dirty Jeans, who snapped open his laptop and a thermos containing something with a  high alcohol content. He played a video of modern dancers in a frenzied performance, and he moved with them, as much as one can in an Amtrak seat.  He danced with his hands and upper body, feet tapping and stomping. He’d stop for a thermos break often, then he’d beat his tray rhythmically, muttering “I love you, Leonard Bernstein.”

The activity in the seat next to me was distracting, but that was not the reason I missed my stop. The conductor neglected to tell us where we were when we paused in Old Saybrook. When questioned later, he said, “Oh, our loud speaker doesn’t work too well. Usually I walk through the cars and tell people what stop is next.”

“But you didn’t chose to do that today?” I asked, channeling Cruella DeVille.

“Nope,” he said, cheerfully oblivious to my deadly tone.

So, I (and other pissed off Old Saybrook wanna-goes) disembarked at New London, a stop well down the tracks from our desired one.

Yeah, the trains all go to the same destination, except when they don’t.

Reward for this dubious train ride? The delight on the faces of my ninety-something parents when I finally showed up and regaled them with the (slightly exaggerated) story of my travels, and one fabulous (un-broined) turkey.


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