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How a Train Broke my Soul and Made me Cry

January 17, 2012

One of my favorite quotes is from G.K. Chesterton and goes like this: “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.”

I used to quote that sucker to myself all the time. It was my mantra. My life quote. The annoying thing I’d say so I could prove I knew who G.K. Chesterton was. Get lost on my way to a new town? Adventure! Not sure how to prepare a recipe when half the ingredients are nowhere to be found? Adventure! Trying to impress someone? Adventure!

My how I was naïve until this weekend. That was before I took a train ride. A train ride that would only be called an inconvenience by people in polite society. Other parts of society would use different words to describe it, and I know this because I was stuck on a train with these people for four hours.

For several months my boyfriend Ben and I have talked about taking a short trip on a train. We’ve never ridden a “real” train, and the romance of the railways was calling us. So for Ben’s Christmas gift I bought us round-trip tickets to Greensboro, a town 90 minutes away, where we would stay with some friends. We’d start with a short trip, and go from there if we had fun and the romance of the rail proved to be more than just the imaginings of Christian romance novelists and Hitchcock movies.

Excited like two middle schoolers going on a field trip, we boarded the train at 4:50 p.m. on Friday, and expected to be at our destination by 6:27 p.m. At about 6:15 the train began to slow down, and came to a complete stop 5 miles away from Greensboro.

Fine! Alright! That’s cool. I’m sure we’re just stopping to wait our turn at the train station. No big deal. It’s like what G.K. Chesterton, said…[insert pretentious quote].

Then the voice of doom, ready to crush our dreams came over the intercom. In a voice filled with static, he told us that there had been an “incident of trespassing” with a different train and we’d be waiting on the tracks until it was cleared up.

Oh me. Oh my. Oh me and my naivete. As someone who grew up across the road from a train track, I knew what this could mean. But optimism won out and I told myself it would be quick and “incident of trespassing” couldn’t possibly mean “someone was hit.” It probably meant they found a hobo riding the train’s caboose. They’d throw him off along with his sack and we’d be on our way! Adventure!

Three and a half hours later I knew the truth. Three and a half hours later we were pulling up to the station—our spirits broken and our fists ready to fly at the next person who asked if they could get off the train to smoke their precious cigarette.

I had looked at the local news online (free wi-fi) and found that “incident of trespassing” was Amtrak’s way of saying “someone was hit.”

At this point, we’re finally off the train and already beginning to see this as a story we’d laugh about later. No big deal, except our poor friend had been waiting the entire time to pick us up and sitting in the parking lot listening to Slipknot to pass the time.

We were returning home the next day and I was determined to embody the spirit of adventure. Although it felt like we had just gotten to Greensboro, we were boarding the train and on our way home. We sat down, got settled, and that’s when it happened.

The crackle.

The voice.

The announcement.

Another train had hit a pedestrian and we’d be waiting at the station for at least two hours while they investigated and cleared up the situation.

Less than 24 hours later, the same thing happened. I couldn’t do it. I looked at Ben, our stunned faces…were…well, stunned…and I told him I couldn’t do it. This was no longer an adventure, it’s just an inconvenience. A really long inconvenience. So we got off the train, called our friends, and left.

But not all was lost. I did learn a few things during our train travel.

1. A love of Uggs is a catching disease. On our first train, there was a large group of families going to a cheer competition. Every woman in the group under the age of 45 was wearing Uggs. It’s like some sort of fashion-blindness had infected the whole group, making them unable to comprehend just how ridiculous and out of proportion their feet looked. YES. I said it. Uggs are ugly and look like they were created based on a dare.

2. People are very serious about smoking. The train stopped in the middle of the woods and it was middle-of-the-winter dark outside. This did not keep the smokers on the train (of which there were many) from calling the train employee a horrible and mean individual for not letting them off the train to smoke their precious cancer sticks.

3. Trains are the low maintenance way to travel. Not a single person asked for our ID when we got on the train or when we handed in our ticket. We also had our bags on the floor in front of us and not a word was said about them not being above our heads. No seatbelts, no rules about sitting down as we were stopping, basically no rules at all. This and the behavior of our fellow passengers, leads me to believe that we would have spiraled into behavior that is usually only found on reality TV if we’d been left on the train much longer.

When we got off the train, we were able to stay an extra night with our friends, and then my [super amazing and generous] parents came to pick us up. In case we were a jinx, we didn’t want to risk another train death if we tried taking a train. So we got a full refund and will be taking cars and airplanes from now. Because planes are nothing if not punctual and full of rays of sunshine.

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