Saturday evening I was heading north on the Silver Star, a passenger train crammed with a mishmash of adventurous souls traveling over the Mother’s Day Weekend. It was surprising to me how crowded the train was. I assumed that half the passengers were suffering from aviophobia, while the rest were either eager train enthusiasts visiting the Tampa station to celebrate their 100-year anniversary, (which I totally enjoyed) or those whose budgets couldn’t handle the price of airfare. For me it was a combination of two: plus the thrill of being lost in a tangle of strangers, experiencing a certain freedom reserved only for the anonymous.
The train car rattled over the tracks, beating out a rickety rhythm, rocking me to sleep, next to my hushed seatmate, who just that afternoon was still a complete stranger to me—a face with no story, just an extra in my life-movie. But after being sequestered together to a space no larger than a coat closet for fifteen hours, a sort of forced intimacy occurred, bonding this writer to a retired New York City cop with a prickly persona and a heart the size of humanity.
I’m a people watcher; I get my cues and clues watching how people speak to, and about, one another. My defenses rise like steely porcupine needles when I see things that I don’t like: negativity, prejudice, hatefulness, pettiness; all these traits cause me to withdraw into my silent shell—protecting all my soft spots.
Warren was easy for me to read. Initially I could tell that, like myself, he had already withdrawn into his shell; although due to sheer necessity his vulnerable neck and head were poking out, looking around for his seat. His voice was set to “gruff” warning others not to screw with him, stashing his fleshy heart, warm with blood and kindness, safely away within his own shell.
Perhaps it was fate that had decided that Warren and I should meet, although I did kind of initiate things. At first he was behind me looking a bit confused over the seat numbers, but then I invited him to sit beside me, figuring he looked harmless enough. It’s a crapshoot on the train, and the last thing I wanted was to be seated next to Mr. Stinky or Mrs. Crabapple.
We sat politely side by side, both of us taking turns sharing our stories. Two chatterboxes who also happened to be good listeners, creating a give and take as rewarding as an exchange between a kid and an ice cream truck on a blistering August afternoon.
The more we chatted the more I liked him. He spoke with a disarming honesty about himself, and the lessons and rewards he had gleaned from life’s experiences. He expressed immense gratitude for his family—his incredible wife who loved and understood him, and a treasured daughter, smart and beautiful, as he stated, “his best contribution to society.”
We decided to have dinner in the dining car. I guess on trains space is pretty limited because we found ourselves sitting across from an austere looking couple, straight-laced diners, possessing a no-nonsense air about them—Mr. & Mrs. Behave Yourself. Of course at this point Warren and I had sped beyond common niceties and splashed headlong into puddles of silliness. We were like a couple of slap stick comedians sitting at a properly set table, stuffing our nervous giggles beneath our linen napkins, desperately searching for our adult faces—and our table manners.
Watching Warren adjust himself to this couple was like watching the destruction of the Hoover Dam—first the cracks (wine was involved in this stage) then the leaks (humor) and then the flood. No filter “be yourself and screw them” Warren was in full form, and I, being a proper lady, followed his lead until Mr. & Mrs. Behave Yourself morphed into Mr. & Mrs. Life Can Be Fun, and the four of us sat laughing and talking until the waiter poured our drinks into “to go” cups, and shooed us out of the dining car for closing.
We said goodbye to our new friends, who now sported “yes” faces for the entire world to admire, and then we found our seats.
We sat and talked about how alike we were and how much pleasure we found in cracking up Mr. & Mrs. Behave Yourself. We theorized that fate had accidentally thrown the two of us together, causing a rift in the time continuum, thus allowing us to see beyond the cosmic curtain for a brief moment. We saw that we were secret agents from the other side, strategically placed on earth as crust busters for those who take themselves, and life, way too seriously. We had the same life-tasks and the two of us together were—well, pretty efficient, but perhaps a bit much for one small train.
Eventually we nodded off, our heads silently bobbing in sync with the bumps, as we passed the dimly lit hubs of sleepy unknown towns, their soft yellow lights glowing on yesterdays fashions, mom and pop eateries, and neighborhood thrift stores.
My reasons for traveling north were as varied as my thoughts, a little business—a bit of pleasure, but mostly because I felt an unction drawing me northward. I had to go and find out what life had to say to me.
I had never met Warren before, but by the time my trip was over I felt we had become sure friends, and that our meeting was a sort of divine appointment, the repercussions of which will ripple to the corners of the world touching unknown hearts—forever.
It’s an exciting thing to follow your heart—opening yourself up to an innumerable amount of unknown possibilities, and betting on yourself to find what it is that you need. This trip has provided for me a sparkling opportunity, thus wiping my slate clean in order to write something fresh—creating for myself a new chapter as a woman, author—and friend to Warren.
I’ll keep you posted on my discoveries as I walk, with eyes wide open, into the vivid blue of each Tarheel day. Life is good. Tough. But good.