See You at the Station

It’s been eighteen days since the last episode of getting lost, that is if you don’t count losing your car in parking garages or missing an exit due to traffic, neither of which count in my book.  After more than one occasion of wandering for over an hour through the parking ramps and in once case between two different garages before finding my car I’ve learned to be very careful when leaving a parking garage. I take note of the floor and row, any color clues, the names of the intersecting streets when I exit, and I learned the hard way that it’s not worth the effort to remember the make or model of the cars parked next to you.

I’m leery of the facilities that require you to bring your ticket with and pay before you pick up your car.  What happens to people who are unable to find their vehicle and exit the garage before the allotted time has expired?  Nonetheless they are a necessary evil and sometimes the only option if you’re running late for the train and the street level parking lot is full.

One of the many changes in my life since moving to the East Coast from the Midwest is that in addition to Google Directions and MapQuest I also have the Pennsylvania and New Jersey train schedules pinned to my bookmark toolbar and I think about travel in terms of train stops and not rest stops.  The mass transit systems that connect cities along the coast make it easy to meet a friend for lunch or dinner without having to fight traffic or worry about getting lost.

When I learned that a colleague from Nebraska is now working in Edison, New Jersey a few times a month I immediately checked the train schedules and suggested we meet for lunch.  We set the date and time and confirmed the meeting spot not once, but twice.

My train arrived promptly at 11:48 am and I weaved my way through the commuters to the parking lot.  The only cars that were waiting for passengers were a line of taxi cabs and a rusted red four door.  Thankful that it was sunny and warm I sat on a picnic bench and tried to relax to the heavy sound of rap pounding the air from one of the houses along the track.

At 11:56 am my email alert dinged and I checked my iPad.

“In silver car outside door,” he wrote.

I glanced at the lot, “I don’t see you.”

“Call me,” he replied.

Forty minutes, eight emails, and three phone calls later we figured out where we had gone wrong and were on our way to lunch (who knew there was more than one train station in Edison, NJ).  We Yelped for restaurants based on our location and decided on a place with Indian cuisine; it had a four star rating and was purported to be “delicious.”  We found it nestled in next to a nail salon and the sign outside supported it’s delicious review.  The décor consisted of a few chairs, a counter, and an empty bench.

We were greeted by the man behind the counter, “Take out only.”

In spite of our laughter and efforts to find the restaurant recommended on our way out the door it seemed that it would remain a mystery.   Instead we opted for Italian cuisine and agreed that if it didn’t work out the bowling alley located a few doors down would be the backup plan.  I’m not sure what was more odd, the authentic and elegant décor behind the door at the end of the strip mall, the beautiful presentation of food, or the snippets of the blue tooth conversation from the table next to us.

“You do that, I swear I’ll kill ya.  Nah really, I’m just kidding.”

On that note, we made our exit and I soon was homeward bound courtesy of New Jersey Transit. Safely at the train station, I retraced my steps to the carefully noted intersection only to find the door to the stairwell was locked.

I took a deep breath and followed the signs to the pay station behind the pink column, found my way to the stairwell and located my car in more time than it should have taken but without the assistance of parking lot security so I’m calling it a victory and the counter for days without getting lost will flip to nineteen.

A Moment of Magic

Before I moved to the east coast I thought that people taking the train into “the city” to have dinner with friends was something that only happened in the movies.  Little did I know that there would come a day when the girl who was born in North Dakota, grew up in the Midwest, and had dreamt of one day being an actress would become a woman who thought nothing of catching the train and enjoying an evening of laughter and conversation.

I’ll never forget the first time I took the train.  I got to the station a good hour ahead of time and stood shivering on the platform while my heart raced and I hoped that I was in the right place. I wondered why the platform was nearly empty and why the few people that were milling about were so relaxed, reading papers and books, plugged into iPhones, iPods, and iPads, and not a single one of them was watching the sign above the track that displayed the arrival of the train and its destination.  Didn’t they know that it’s important to be nervous and constantly watch the sign in case there was a last minute change?

I was slightly less anxious on the return trip, although being startled awake to a deep voice shouting “Hilfe Mir!” accompanied by a loud and insistent pounding from inside the restroom door convinced me that the locks must be overly complicated and an experience that I should avoid.

How things have changed; now I arrive along with everyone else, five minutes before the departure time, I listen to my iPod while I write on my iPad (yes I know I could listen to my iPad, but I have yet to sync my library), and I barely notice my surroundings on the train or in the station.

Last Friday I was treated to a complimentary makeover and I looked fabulous when I boarded the 4:55 pm train into Philadelphia.  The hour flew by as I caught up on emails, read posts from a few of my favorite blogs, texted with Dan to confirm where we were meeting, and did some writing of my own.  I opted to follow the few people who were hiking up the stairs rather than joining the crowd of people that were jam packed on the escalator.

Although I’ve become comfortable traveling by train, I still have a moment of panic when I reach the top of the steps and need to figure out where to go and whether or not I’m in the right meeting place.  The hectic pace and lack of human connection as people pass each other without making eye contact always makes it worse. I looked around but didn’t see Dan.  I stopped and realized that even though he wasn’t there yet, I didn’t feel flustered and there was something different about the station.  I thought I heard music and I felt a sense of calm and quiet.  I was puzzled because there’s not even Musak let alone music piped in over the speakers in the waiting area.

I felt a pull in my heart and I walked toward the source of the beauty, I had to see where it was coming from.  The lump in my throat grew when I spotted the two young musicians not only playing but moving in perfect harmony and they drew bow over strings in an unspoken unison.  I put a few dollars in the violin case and took a seat on one of the benches. 

As the haunting melody filled the air the people in the station were still, everyone was just listening.  A group of strangers tied together in a moment of community through music.  The song concluded and the room erupted with applause and my eyes with tears.  We weren’t people waiting for a train or for a friend to meet us, we were unexpected guests at an impromptu concert in the middle of the Market East Train Station.