Stationed

At just barely to seven I sprinted into the train station to find that the next train leaving was at 10:15 and, like the good Lewis that I am, the first thing I did was burst into tears.

No, wait… I’m the only Lewis who does that.

I really don’t cry much, but when I do it is always in public. And this was very public I was standing amidst swarms of people lining up for some sporting event–I’m guessing the Bruins or Celtics. Maybe some sports fan can help me out here? In LA I would simply look for what fan memorabilia they were wearing, but this is Boston, people wear Red Sox gear regardless.

This is the point at which I called my parents. My mother picked up. What she said went something like, “Oh, Emily! Oh, what’s the matter? Oh, Tim!!” And then I was talking to my father. (By his account, I put my mother in a tizzy. The next time I called he only let me talk to her after I promised I wasn’t going to cry.)

Laura had given me specific instructions: “If you get back to the train
station before 9:00, you can call my parents.” I would be lucky if I
made it there by 11:00. Or unlucky, since I would be outside in below freezing temperatures with no one coming to get me. My dad pointed out that they couldn’t really help from there and I said I was just calling for emotional support.

What does one do at a train station for three hours?

I think I bought some french fries and a coffee with my credit card. (Not exactly the best combination. But I figure, as far as cheering up goes sugar is the best thing, but salt is the next best and caffeine comes somewhere in the lineup after good hugs, laughter and toys that can be bought in quarter machines.)

I sat with my back against a pillar and put my glasses on for disguise. My bright red coat might have been more of a giveaway if anyone had come looking, but no one did. I look smarter with my glasses on, anyway. I investigated the sporting event. I played with my camera…and proved myself wrong about the glasses thing.

See? I am totally unrecognizable.

I found a tall rotating chair and span myself roundandroundandround.  I wrote in my notebook. I watched people.

There was man making his way through the crowds. Grimy, middle-aged, ill-dressed. Speaking to one person then another. Asking each for something, and each in turn refused. I drew the obvious conclusion, hunkered down, and tried not to make eye contact. Look little. Look poor. That, at least, should be easy. Uhhh, hide the fries.

“‘Scuse me, you have any change?”

“I need it for the train,” was my reflex reaction.

He wasn’t two seconds gone before the guilt struck. “Give to everyone who asks you.” Geez, that has to be the easiest commandment ever, and I still can’t manage it. I pulled out my money and counted it. I had exactly the $5.75 for the train fare. But I still had my two-dollar Sweaty Tooth admission. That dream was long gone, now. Sure, the ticket master preferred exact change, but he’d get over it–it’s amazing what an innocent smile can do. Palming two of my quarters, I abandoned my fries and ran after the man. (I held my Sweaty Tooth dollars in the other hand, because I had a sneaking suspicion he really wanted money, not just change. Of course I was wrong.)

“Excuse me, sir,” I said, catching up. “Have you gotten the change you needed, yet?”
“Not yet.”
“Do you just need it for the pay phone?”
“Yeah.”
“Would fifty cents do?” handing it to him.
“Great. Thanks!” he headed off towards the wall of phones.

Wow. Fifty cents, I thought. He must have asked thirty people before me.

If I’d have asked I would have gotten it the first try–I’ve done it before, I’ve had people collect pools to give me what I needed, I’ve had men stand up and say, “Hey anyone have some change to help this young lady?” I’ve had managers override registers.

Why?

Because of that innocent smile? Because I don’t look like I’m collecting cash to spend on liquor? Because they jump to the same conclusions I did. Because we qualify our kindness, just like our love.

I missed Sweaty Tooth but I got home eventually. I took an earlier train to a station only twice as far away and my roommate and my flatmate, who’d come back early from a weekend with her family, together figured out how to get there. So I only spent a quarter hour standing in the cold darkness and I had quite a story to regale them with on the way home. And when we got back I went straight to bed and forgot that I still had homework to do.

7 thoughts on “Stationed

  1. Excellent story.  It is impressive how meaningful a couple of quarters can be to someone.Neat glasses.  The artsy look becomes you.Hope you get to see “Sweaty Tooth” at some point.

  2. I like the glasses, too, but am miffed I can’t say something original.The missing-the-train story makes me sad, because I’m just the person to be anguished in such cases.I’m glad someone could come for you earlier than you hoped. Things generally work out better than we think in that despairing instant…Then again, it takes a lot to beat my imagination in times of duress.

  3. You know, I somehow don’t remember you telling us about the man who needed change. Is this just another instance of me promptly forgetting everything I’m told?And the trains… this is why you look up the schedule beforehand, because, yes, there’s this odd, several-hour gap between a reasonable-houred train and the really late one. I ran into that after Thanksgiving…

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