“We’re here, last stop,” he said.
I blinked my eyes open, “Where’s here?”
The man in the Septa uniform replied, “West Trenton, we’re in West Trenton Ma’am.”
“That’s not here, that’s there…I’m supposed to be in Yardley.”
The assistant conductor took one look at my giant purple suitcase, carry on duffel bag, and lap-top case and said, “Let me see what I can do for you, these bags are going to be a lot of work for you to get off and on the train. Maybe the conductor will let you just move to the front car and stay on the train while we turn around.”
No such luck, as it turned out the conductor was new and a ‘by the rules’ kind of guy, so they very nicely helped me and my bags out of the train and onto the platform. The assistant conductor let me know that they’d be back in about twenty-five minutes and there were two ways to get to the other side of the platform.
He pointed toward a staircase and said, “The ‘safe’ route is to go down the stairs, through the tunnel and back up the stairs. The other way is to wait until the freight train is gone and cross over the tracks. I suggest the safe way.”
I managed to get my bags down two flights of stairs with the help of a young woman who grabbed my duffel bag and stayed out of the way while I manhandled my suitcase down the stairs. (It seemed like a great idea to buy a suitcase that is half as tall as I am at the time I bought it. What can I say, it has wheels!)
I let myself take a breath as soon as we reached the fresh air; relieved that the tunnel wasn’t as long as some of the more frequented tunnels in the L train stations in Chicago or the subway in NYC.
One of the things I find interesting is the variety of train stations, there are no two alike. The one in Yardley is more like a bus stop and provides little shelter from the weather. Others have vending machines, restrooms, and heat. The West Trenton station is somewhere in the middle. I didn’t know what to make of the man sitting on the bench propped against a large duffel bag. He was larger than most men, his clothes were clearly tattered, and his face wasn’t completely visible under his hood.
Being a woman traveling alone, I opted for the unlit bench outside the station rather than going inside where it had to be warmer.
“Miss, it’s cold out here. You got at least 20 minutes before the next train comes. Come inside where it’s safe and warm.”
Over the course of the next twenty minutes I learned about the best place in the station to sit when it’s cold as well as when it’s hot. The free spirit who sat across from me was retired from the military and had plenty of stories to spare; including the one about the charger he built for the batteries for his Walkman.
“Yep, I built this here charger for my battries, they’re for my Walkman. Last week some crazy fool thought I was building a bomb. Why people got to be so crazy?”
I didn’t know what to do other than smile.
At 6:02 he said “Your train is here miss, now don’t you go falling back asleep. It’s only a three minute train ride to Yardley.”
He held the door open for me, the conductor and assistant conductor met me on the platform and put my bags on the train.
“You just met Mr. Train Station. He knows every train schedule, every train stop, and every nuance between here and the end of the line,” said the assistant conductor.
“Huh… Is he homeless or does he just like to ride the train?” I asked.
“We’re not sure what his story is, but he’s there every day. Some days he rides the train and some days he just stays in the station. He always has his fare, is a true gentleman, and seems happier than most of us do.”
His comments gave me some interesting food for thought.
I’ve come a long way from being so nervous I could barely stand to read a page of a book for fear of missing my stop to falling asleep, missing it, and not panicking. I’d have to say I’m glad I met Mr. Train Station, but I don’t think I’ll miss my stop again.