A train blasts its horn and charges through the station without pause. Moments later, another train of sorts—two engines connected back to back—leisures its way in. A man outside the lead engine leans against the headlights, basking in the honeyed sunshine slanting through a cloudless sky. He wears a thin jacket and a black knit cap that leaves his ears exposed. His left hand in his pocket, his right hand is raised in a greeting to the passengers waiting on the platform. His happiness is contagious: I lift my hand to shield my eyes against the sun and hope that I, too, am blessed by a wave and a smile from this stranger.
Our train arrives and we embark. A young man gets on at the next stop. He carries a black backpack; a computer bag, also black; and a plastic cake carrier—empty. He puts everything on the overhead shelf and sits with his back towards me. Later, another man gets on the train; he carries an open house sign for a local real estate company. The sun slants in through dirty windows. Houses shoulder closer to one another before giving way to row homes which eventually give way to apartment buildings. A sudden patch of tree whirrs past outside, darkening the train momentarily.
The conductor comes through the car, taking money, punching tickets and slipping stubs into the backs of seats. At another station a man smokes and talks on his cell phone. Behind him are ads for underwear and reminders to vote in yesterday’s election. Down an embankment, I see a pile of used tires. Further on, I see a couple of raised beds in an empty lot. A man sits on a park bench, hands on knees, staring into space. Apartment buildings are replaced by factories, no longer used. They grow ivy along their brick backs; their windows are all broken out. I see self-storage facilities and bright graffiti painted on underpasses. I see a long car blanket covering a limousine. A single car is parked at the far end of the massive parking lot of the Jesus is Lord Church.
Another train passes us, momentarily slicing off my view from the outside world and I return my attention to the inside of the train. Eyes refuse eyes. Eyes stare at tiny screens or books or straight ahead. Eyes are closed. Heads nod to music pumped into ears. People scratch in notebooks or work crossword puzzles or fold newspapers into tiny rectangles and read. The young man with the cake carrier stands and takes his things from the overhead shelf. He removes his jacket, folds it carefully and puts it in his backpack, exchanging it for a chef’s shirt, which he slips over his head just before getting off the train.
We reach our stop. We tour the museum. We head for lunch.
“Nine dollars and seven cents,” the cashier tells the man in line before me.He gives her a ten dollar bill and removes seven cents from the leave-a-penny jar. The cashier looks at me; raises her eyebrows; laughs a little before taking the pennies and handing him a dollar.
The train is late; the platform is full of silence. People check watches; check schedules; people sit on hard red benches to exchange work shoes for athletics.
We find our seats. We busy ourselves. The train stops suddenly in a tunnel. The conductor opens the door, peers outside. A mechanic jogs through the car. People look up from their electronics; meet each other’s eyes for a moment.
The train begins moving again. A girl examines her hair for split ends, occasionally pulling out a hair and throwing it to the floor. At the next station, the eyes of the person in an insurance advertisement have been scratched away. She smiles and stares with unseeing eyes as we pass by. A spindly tree pushes its way up through a crack in a concrete parking lot. Factories disappear. Apartments disappear. Row homes disappear. Houses relax their shoulders and settle upon larger plots of land with pretty green lawns.
A man stands and walks to the front of the train. He leans against a silver pole and lifts his plastic bag of takeout to his nose. He sniffs deeply. He catches me watching him. I smile to indicate I mean no harm. He returns the smile and steps of the train before inhaling once again the scent of his dinner.Finally, I am blessed with the smile of a stranger
We come to our stop. A shiny penny beckons from the floor. Squints reaches for it. I tell him to leave it alone.We disembark. We wipe the city from our feet. We head to our homes.
Labels: City, Trains, Traveling