Meeting Mr. Train Station

“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.

A Tale of Two Stations

A little over a year ago I took a step out of my comfort zone and attended my first writer’s group meeting. I drove into Philly in a state of panic, nearly backed out, and ended up having a great experience. My next trip involved a lesson in how to use my smart phone for directions and I learned about the advantages of paying attention to cross streets and setting the navigation on walking not driving.

The adventure in getting lost in the city led to some great pictures and a desire to try taking the train instead of my car. My work husband explained that there was a train station so close to the location of the meeting that it would be impossible, even for me, to get lost.

Over the next several months I mastered the round trip by checking and re-checking the train schedule and coordinates no less than a dozen times for both legs of the trip. Yesterday I decided to abandon my routine of paranoid planning and second guessing in favor of the feeling of confidence based on the fact that my last several trips into the city had been so routine they bordered on boring.

I caught the 11 am train out of Yardley and without hesitation replied, “Market Street East, round trip” when asked my destination. I listened to Cold Play and smiled as I wrote in my journal and patted myself on the back for figuring out the train schedule and my new found confidence. I was even more delighted to write about giving an accurate answer regarding which train station was closest to the Walnut Street theatre along with a recommendation of a restaurant for lunch.

We stopped at the Suburban Street station and I began to have doubts, but put them aside and stayed on the train. I told myself I was in the right place and if not, I couldn’t possibly be far off. The tunnel under the convention center was my first clue that something had gone wrong. I took a deep breath, used Google maps on my iPad to get my bearings, and tried to ignore the fact that I was walking in a sauna. Twenty minutes later I saw the sign for Shops at Liberty place and for the Suburban Street Station.

I duly noted the lesson and after walking back to Market East when the meeting was over I’m sure that I won’t ever forget which station I want again. I checked the boards and made my way to the platform with seven minutes to spare.

I sat back and congratulated myself for figuring things out without having a meltdown, slipped my return trip ticket into the slot on the back of the seat, and looked out the window.

I saw gravel and graffiti instead of trees, “Oh crap, this doesn’t look familiar…” I thought. I don’t think I said it out loud but I can’t be entirely certain.

I tried to rationalize, “The train only goes north and south…how lost can I be? The woman collecting tickets didn’t say anything…so I must be on the right train…”

She called off the names of one unfamiliar stop after another and nothing outside of my window looked right.

I have Septa bookmarked as a favorite and for the first time I noticed that there is a Trenton Line and a West Trenton Line. It didn’t take me long to figure out where I had gone wrong and I was headed toward Trenton through Bristol and Levittown not Langhorne and Yardley.

I ran through some options in my mind. I could take the train back to Philly and start over, I could walk fifteen miles in my flip flops, figure out a cab, and last but not least I could cry. Then it dawned on me, Heather lives in Bristol and Donna lives in Levittown.

I sent a text to each of them, “Hi are you home by chance?”

While I waited and hoped for my phone to vibrate I started the search for cab companies in Levittown.

Hooray!

A reply from Heather, “hey! yes but about to be picked up to go to Sam’s w/m’dad. what’s up?”

“I took the Trenton line instead of west Trenton and I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to get to the Yardley station. I was hoping if I got off at Bristol you might be able to give me a ride.”

“ooh! where are you now?” she asked.

I tried to remember the name of the last stop, “Trying to catch the name of the next stop, I’m getting close I think.”

She responded instantly, “sure—I’ll tell dad I’ll meet him there. no worries! what’s your arrival time?”

“I think it’s the next stop.”

She texted, “It goes Bristol, croydon, eddington, cornwells heights…”

“We’re at Croydon now,” I texted back.

“Ok on my way!”

A few minutes later she rescued me from the heat and the wrong station. I don’t know if I’ve ever been happier to see her. In addition to getting a ride to Yardley, we had a chance to catch up a little and she brought me some new reading material.

In some ways things haven’t changed much during the last year, I obviously haven’t lost my knack for getting lost and turning it into a story. I may still get lost, but there’s a huge difference in how I handle it. I laugh instead of cry and I reach out to friends instead of panic.

Two wrong stations in one day might just be a record for me, although I’m not sure it tops winding up in the wrong state.