Chugga, chugga, chugga, chugga, chugga, chugga, chugga, chugga. I love trains.
In fact, trains have been an intimate part of my life since even before I was born. In fact, my sister, Denver, is named after the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad Company because my dad's dad was an engineer. My dad made sure that we always spotted trains. We would lift up our fingers and feet crossing over railroad crossings and we would go for family dinners at the 1970's popular prime rib restaurant Victoria Station, that had kids menus that were excellent because they had punch-out folding paper trains. They had the cattle car and the box car and the engine and then the coveted caboose that was really hard to get. My dad would spread out across the family room floor and he would lay these sheets of plywood so that he could painstakingly put together these "N Gauge" electric train car sets and he would check, at length, the circuitry and the connections and we could control the switch to help the inbound and outbound trains at different crossings, under careful supervision.
When daddy died, we buried him at the National Arlington cemetery in Riverside, California, and to go from the burial service to the funeral service, we crossed a bunch of tracks, and the car that my sisters and I were in, we got stopped on the north side of Riverside at the Union Pacific railroad crossing by a train. And so we sat quietly and waited for the engine to come by, chugga chugga chugga chugga chugga chugga chugga chugga chugga. And there it went. And we watched these cable cars passing and all of a sudden there were two or three cars from the now-dissolved, faded on the side of the cars, "Denver and Rio Grande." And we figured it was daddy giving us a nod on his way out. And ever since then, I've connected trains as kind of a posthumous message from my dad, getting me through life moments.
And in fact, when I moved after getting my bachelor's degree, I moved across the country to the Big Apple by way of the continental rails. And I chugga, chugga, chugga'd and swayed and rattled across up the rocky mountains, and plowing through cornfields and trying not to miss the forest for the trees. When I got to, uh, just before Chicago, the heat had buckled the tracks so that the train had to, an unexpected stop. Well, I got a free layover in Chicago, courtesy of Amtrak. They gave us a per diem that paid for hotel, meals, and museum entries. And they gave me a voucher for future train travel. Not bad, my daddy made sure I saw the Windy City in style.
After I'd been in New York for a little while, my bestie,Glenn, an absolutely fabulous hairdresser with whom I got into fabulous trouble with, he and I decided to spend and plan a trip to Niagara Falls on my travel voucher. So we organized to stay at a B&B, this was before Airbnb's existed, on the Canadian side.
So we took the nine-hour Amtrak ride up to, through from New York City all the way up through New York state. And we nibbled and we giggled and we napped and he read silently while I colored in my mandala coloring book. Yes, in the '90s, I was ahead of the adult coloring book curve. We had a great time and the train stopped in Niagara Falls, New York, and so we got off and carried our luggage across the Niagara Falls Rainbow Bridge. We showed our passports and we paid our $1 entry fee and we enjoyed a weekend in Niagara Falls. We rented bicycles. The weekend was tremendous! I remember riding our bikes all the way to the Niagara Butterfly Conservatory and we walked through, surrounded by colored wings and enchanted flowers, and we rode past the Niagara Whirlpool and watched these adventure-seekers strapped into jet boats, trapped in the Eddy on purpose. Couldn't figure out why they would do that.
We stood next to the Niagara Gorge rapids and stood in dwarfed awe by the class five rapids' hydraulic power at arm's length from us. We stood under an 180-foot Bridal Falls, falling all around us and felt our serotonin levels rising. And every picture in my album is us with our arms over our heads and our faces bursting with euphoria because, when water bursts and creates negative ions, the Leonard ion, it changes your serotonins naturally, and so you just are happy to be in Niagara Falls. We weren't romantically connected, but we walked hand in hand at night along the brink of Horseshoe Falls, watching the colors on the waterfalls. And it was impossible not to feel connected to Mother Nature, and each other, and that particular moment in time. Our weekend came to an end, and we had to leave again by train. But this time, the train left from the Canadian side.
So we went to the train station early because we had learned on a nine-hour train ride it's a good idea to get a seat that has a couchette and that is near the dining car. So we got there early and we found our seat. And then we sat down and I realized I had left my coloring book on the inbound train. So I thought, okay, well I'll go see if there's a Lost-and- Found inside the train depot. So I left Glen at the seat and I went to the conductor and I asked him if I could go inside of the train depot and all he did was look at his watch and point to the door at the back of the train. So I walked down the narrow steps and I went into the train depot and I got the box office attendant and I asked him, to discover that one, he was a temp because the regular guy was sick that day, and two he didn't know if they had a lost and found, and three he didn't know where that would be if they did, and four, what did I lose? What kind of coloring book? And where did I leave it? And did I really think people would have turned that in?
He left the window and I thought, "This is taking a long time." And I looked out the window and thought, "Where is the train that I left outside?" So I ran toward the train platform and every time I passed through another door, I found myself in this abandoned warehouse, which by now felt like a ghost town, and it was a freight warehouse that had been converted and I could not get out of this train station! And so I finally, finally burst through I-don't-know-what door and I get to a wide cement platform to find that my fears have been realized and the train has left the station, and it's vast and there are tracks going for miles. And so I step onto the gravel and I look southbound and I see,at a vanishing point down the tracks, a spot that is my train and on it, my luggage, my friend, my swivel phone, and my passport and I have no other thought. I have no other option.
So I started running, and I ran and I ran down that track and I ran down that track thinking "I have no other option," but I have a red scrunchie, it's the nineties, on my wrist and I start waving my hand over my head, yelling, "Stop the train!" And I can't see because this one-point perspective on a track makes you not know how far something is. So I see this dot and I keep running and finally I start seeing that that dot is changing. It's getting a little bigger and I see a white line outside and I think, "Hold the train!" as I'm running and somehow, thank goodness I'm wearing sneakers, because I'm landing sure-footedly either on ballast or on wood plank cross ties or am I levitating? Because maybe I'm just soaring toward this dot that is finally becoming an outline of a caboose and I'm running and I see that the white line is now a shirted man leaning out so I'm waving, "Hold the train!" And I get there and I round the end and I'm completely out of breath, and I get to the back of the train where the handrail is, and a conductor is looking at me from the train steps, not the one who gave me permission to go to the depot, the traitor.
This one looks at me and he looks down, completely perturbed, and he says, "People wait for trains, trains, don't wait for people," and begrudgingly he stepped slightly to the side. So that I could make my way up the narrow steps and walk through the final train car and straighten my blouse and gather my composure to see that Glen is walking toward me from the other side of the second-to-last car, and we meet each other at the vestibule at the same time and we look through the glass and we open our doors at the same time, and he looks at me and I look at him, and just like I'm a six-year-old kid who just leaked dad's ink pen all over the brand new couch, he says, "Come on." And he turns around and starts walking, and I walked in silence behind him until we got to our couchette. And I sat, and he sat, and we sat in silence until we found our laughter again. And we could compare our stories contemporaneously of what had happened in that panic between the two of us. And we laughed, and we got back to New York.
My daddy had made sure I got home. He had given me wings to fly. And now, my two little girls lift up their fingers and feet when they cross the railroad tracks and they say, "Hi, Grandpa George," whenever a train is passing beside us or stopping us to help us to slow down because life is too fast. And I know I can smile because he's out there whistling and engineering my safekeeping
Chugga chugga chugga chugga chugga chugga chugga chugga chugga. Thank you.