Journey to the Infinite Part 2

The human’s name is Nicole. Or Beau. She goes by Beau, which has never made sense to me. I know why it does to you. I don’t care. For the purposes of this story she’s Nicole, and riding with her are three animals. Stacked on top of each other in cat carriers ala Hollywood Squares in the passenger seat are two cats, Franklin and Monkey. I call Franklin Frank because he seems like more of a Frank to me, but Franklin also makes sense since both are black males often marginalized by white protagonists. Or so is my understanding. I never really got into Peanuts. While we’re on the subject of fictional characters, caged up in the back seat is our ginger-faced austrialian shepard, Finn. Like Huckleberry Finn. Or Finn from Adventure Time. Or Finn from the upcoming Star Wars Episode VIII. That’s right, we future-proofed our dog for pop-culture references. He’ll always be relevant.

 Anyways, Nicole is the head of this peanut gallery, blazing the path through the darkness inside the little prius I’ve been tailing now for what already seems like quite a spell. Now comes the part in the story where I tell you about her driving habits. To say she is aggressive is a misnomer. Nicole is a very…alert and singularly aware driver. Aware of road conditions, aware of her own bladder-to-miles ratio, and especially aware of the driving abilities of the other motorists in her immediate area, to which she is apt to provide “observations.” Those are among her best qualities while behind the wheel. Unfortunately Nicole has no concept of speed or how fast she is going relative to her boyfriend following behind in a moving truck while bobbing and weaving between other vehicles at 85 miles an hour on a tight curve at 3am. It was like chasing down a CPU-controlled Waluigi in 1st place on Mario Cart when you’re plum out of shells. That’s right, Waluigi. Princess Peach or Daisy are too obvious. She drives like Waluigi looks.

While Nicole seemed to pop a mushroom-boost every 2 or three minutes, I struggled to will the Beast into speeds above 60 mph. The thoughtful folks at U-Haul had installed a “Fuel Consumption Gauge” to monitor fuel efficiency throughout the trip. They could have easily called it “How fast your money is being eaten and shat out by this giant metal box o’ worn gears.” I could actually feel my wallet lightening up every time I pressed down on the accelerator. The helpful needle would waver between the green zone of presumably fine china tea-cup sized gas sips to the red zone of construction worker lunchbreak-sized big gulps of unleaded octanes. For the past four hours or so I was perpetually in the red.

I would see the brake lights of the Prius changing its own shades of crimson every few seconds as it was forced to slow down. I imagined I was probably the latest subject of one of Nicole’s “observations,” but there was nothing I could do. Kicking your spurs on a wooden horse get you about as far as baking it a pie. I made that up, but it sounds like something a Texan would say, doesn’t it? Pity I was just getting into that role.

Anyways I was maxing out my horsepower as I watched other cars passing us on both sides. Riding up high, I could see down into the cabs of the other cabs pretty easily. Most people looked about as dead-eyed as I was, passing mile after mile in a race of phantoms. When you drive for so long on the same road you see the same cars/drivers again and again as you pass each other. For me it became a sort of fellowship of ghouls, forever cursed to roam the highways. They soon became such familiar travelling companions I started naming them. The white acura was Whitey Folgers (he was perpetually drinking a mug full of what looked like homemade coffee). A black F-150 was Mr. Dipshits, named simply because in my experience guys who buy tricked out F-150s are dipshits. I know it’s a hasty generalization. Some guys who own tricked out F-150s are successful mexicans, and more power to them brother.

I had just passed a familiar Honda Civic (Simple Lisa was her name) when my phone began ringing. I guess phones today don’t really ring. Mine just sort of pulses a pleasing tone while vibrating in spasms. I looked down and saw Nicole’s face vibrating across the seat next to me as if she were calling me so hard and with such urgency that she was causing the phone to jump up and into my lap. I grabbed it with one hand and awkwardly answered “hello?” If it wasn’t already obvious and evidenced by the fact that I was assigning personalities to people around me, this was my first time talking to someone in hours. I was also a little leary to hear how she was doing in animal-infested roll-cage on wheels after several hours. I only had to manage myself and my imaginary phantom friends. Nicole on the other hand was clocking-in hours as both driver and animal wrangler.

 “Hey, we have to stop” she said. “Oh yeah? Gas?” “No. Frank.”

I soon found out what she meant. Pets are great.

Journey to the Infinite Part 1

It was 8:30pm on a Friday when I strapped myself into the aging, soon-to-be decommissioned U-Haul along with all of my earthly possessions. Not that I have some other-earthly possessions in a storage unit somewhere out in the astral realm. That would be a great episode of Storage Wars.

 Anyways, I remember the time because I was already running an hour late. I had to arrive at my destination by 11:00 am the next day. It was going to be tight if not impossible. Certainly improbable. I had 930 miles to cover between now and then, from Austin to Atlanta. I would only have time to stop and gas up this cantankerous old beast of a moving truck along the way. No stops for food, relief or sleep. This was the hour of ass-sweat and eye-glaze. This was my journey into the dark recesses of the South; twisting and turning along the many back roads of the brain.

I took a quick inventory of my supplies. Phone, headphones, phone charger, 8 pack of 5-hour energy drinks, 16 cans of Red Bull Zero (I’m watching my figure), a single pack of Doublemint gum, a mini-fun bag of Funyuns and a complete collection of Fran Drescher stand-up “comedy” recordings. Everything I needed to keep my blood pressure spiked and my eyes open for the next 16 hours.

I plunged the key into the ignition and summoned the beast from his slumber alongside the fire lane where I had illegally parked and loaded him up. I’m assigning the truck a male gender, because I don’t like to think about those kinds of noises coming out of a woman. He coughed and groaned before landing on the steady sound of an old, fat man breaking wind in a massage chair at Brookstone set to maximum vibrate.

I shifted down to D and felt a tremor throughout the cab as if a really important piece of the truck had just said “fuck it, I’m out.” I popped the parking brake and miraculously the truck began rolling forward. It felt more like falling forward actually, like I just opened a door a drunk man had been leaning against. But it moved. I could feel the mighty 6-mpg engine pulling me and my shit inch after inch further into the East.

As we approached the first red light, the beast whined a little before resuming its flatulent grumble while idling behind a silver prius. I remember sitting there in the cab, illuminated by the red LED filaments thinking if the prius in front of me was sentient it would feel an awful lot like it was standing in line for the bathroom with a sweaty 400 lb. man behind it doing the potty dance. Notice I did not assign the Prius a gender. Because let’s face it, Priuses (or is it Priusi or Pri-i), if any car on the road, would be gender-neutral.

Did I mention that I’m following that Prius for 930 miles? I am. Because it’s full of animals and a human that are also making the trip with me. But we’ll get into that later. The important thing is that I’m following it for the entire trip, and I’m in the truck by myself. Undulating with the engine and my foot on the precipice of release, I began to stare into the ass of the Prius, thinking that the brake lights, bumper and license plate kind of formed a rudimentary face smiling back at me. Jesus. I was already tired. That’s not good, my little silver-faced friend. The Prius only smiled back before some of the light went out of its eyes and we were on our way.

Prodigous

My dad used to be kind of a big deal in the world of chess. He doesn’t play anymore, probably because I beat him so soundly once when I was still just a little kid. At the time he just told me it was just for fun and that eating your opponents pieces wasn’t technically a legal move, but I could see it in his eyes; he was devastated.

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TSA Pre-Check

Sometime in the near future I will be going to get pre-screened by Homeland Security in order to participate in the Pre-Check program. My brother Alec has done it too and offered some helpful tips. Then we started texting things to tell the officials to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt our allegiance to this great country:

Alec: Wear pants. They like that.

Nick: Check.

Alec: Also, tell them that while your first name is Nicholai, all your friends call you Lincoln.

Nick: “My name is Lincoln Washington Roosevelt. I was born in the Blue Mountains and raised bald eagles until the age of 9, when I began working in a steel mill before eventually representing our nation in the decathlon. I melted down my gold medal to make golden bullets which I used to kill Bin Laden. I also rebuild motorcycles for orphans.”

Alec: “The Native Americans that took me in as one of their own christened me ‘Soars with Screaming Bald War Eagles.'”

Nick: “I was the person who successfully convinced Ted Turner to stop colorizing old movies. I also brokered Ross-Rachel negotiations on Friends.”

Alec: “I also led the Navy Seal team that successfully extracted Colin Farrell from future leading man roles.”

Nick: “I fashioned Clint Eastwood from an old hickory tree and animated his body by reading the Declaration of Independence aloud 1,776 times.”

Alec: You win.

Number One Everlasting

I was using the restroom, standing up while peeing, mentally reorganizing my closet full of star wars memorabilia, when it occurred to me that I had been standing there for over a minute and was still emptying my bladder. Stranger still, I felt no ease in flow, no feeling of completion drawing near. It seemed as though I had slipped inside an infinite time loop or into some seamless surreal animated gif. I stood there in my sweatsocks over the bowl, peeing in an unbroken golden arc until the end of all things. I began to think of Ode on a Grecian Urn and the two lovers locked forever in tender embrace as depicted on the Urn. I considered the majesty of it; being stuck in this peaceful, glorious moment, urinating like a common primate, celebrating the basest act of commonality among humans. Perhaps one day another being would find me like this, frozen in the fabric of space-time, like an explorer finding a caveman frozen in the ice of another age. Perhaps I would be a new Lucy for the Universe.

I looked down at my watch and to my horror realized over two minutes had passed, along with a deepening yellow bloom of color in the frothy surface in front of me. I realized time was moving forward, at least on my watch. I wasn’t in a loop, but perhaps.. a pocket of time-space that was moving slower, or faster? That thought gave way to another more insisting concern barging its way to the front of my consciousness: how long before i become dehydrated? Could I black out from excessive urination? How big was my bladder? Maybe I just had an unusually large bladder and had never really plumbed the depths of its carrying capacity before. I began to wonder if pee-length was a category in Guinness.

As minute three approached, my mind began to filter out all of the distractions of sound and what lay in front of me, the sweat beading on my brow in an attempt to focus and think clearly. I began to step outside of myself, retracing my steps through the last few hours of the day as if viewing them as an out of body experience. I could see myself standing there over the bowl from above, and at the same time, could see all of the time leading up to the fateful moment this all began. My entire life passed in front of my eyes, as my mind poured out a flood of yellow-hued images, faster and faster. I began to hear a voice in the distance. It was my own disembodied baritone.

YOU MUST END THIS. ONLY YOU HAVE THE POWER.

I snapped back to the stark reality at hand, past versions of myself coallescing into the form still standing. I looked again at my watch. Five minutes had passed. It was time to take action. I fixed my eyes on a point ahead of me; a spot on the wall where a nail once held purchase, upon which an old cartoon of a bear going to the bathroom in the woods once hung. I imagined closing the hole with my mind. I saw the hole begin to diminish, as if the drywall was healing from within. Soon I could not see the dark point at all, and silence followed. I looked down. My ordeal was over.

I stood there awhile longer, considering the bowl and the time that had passed according to my watch. I flushed and gathered myself up, taking a long deep breath. I stepped out of the bathroom and it was as if seeing the world for the first time. The world seemed to be reborn around me, as if I had indeed stepped off the earth for a short time and was returning to terra firma. To this day I cannot explain the events as I experienced them or what the cause may have been but I will tell you this, friends: ever since this nightmarish experience, I always make sure to tell someone else before I go pee, for safety.

Dating for the Awkward and Unfortunate

I felt like a high school kid talking to a venerable college senior. It was at once strange, engaging, awkward and humbling. It’s a sensation I haven’t felt in a long time, probably since I could truthfully call myself a high school student. In fact the first 5 minutes of our date was straight out of a John Hughes movie set in those fledgling years of everyone’s life where all of the possibilities in the world can be unlocked by unzipping a pair of pants or unhooking a bra strap.

I fell down the stairs within about 10 seconds of meeting her for our date. I knew what she looked like from photos, and going into it I was suspicious that she was fulfilling some kind of community service hours. The photos didn’t do justice to her eyes. When I met them with mine, I felt the gears in my head actually grind to a halt. It felt like my brain had run out of memory or was having a tough time churning through a 64-bit image with a 16-bit processor.

I exchanged a few words with her without really knowing what I was saying, and then turned to proceed down the stairs behind her. My legs locked up at the knee and I quickly discovered the ability to negotiate stairs was no longer available to me. Imagine a rusted tin-man trying in vain to put his foot out towards the next step before an inescapable fall to abject humiliation. Thankfully, at the last minute, my brain express-messaged my knee to unlock itself, narrowly averting disaster. I missed a step anyways, and clumsily fell forward to the bottom of the steps. Before looking up to meet those ferocious eyes once more, I collected myself and was thankful I was still on two feet instead of all fours.

“Don’t kill yourself.”

“Right. Thanks.”

That set the tone for the night. I ordered an americano (purely to appear cool, since I don’t drink coffee), and then smoothly walked over to the table she had claimed without realizing my fly was undone. She pointed it out and I unceremoniously zipped it back up in front of her, now coming to the conclusion that there was no more face to save. This was roughly two minutes into our date. Little did I know that the emotional peaks of embarrassment brought about in the first 120 seconds would be met again and surpassed throughout the night in an incessant string of moments gone awry. But sometimes magical things happen by mistake.

Maybe seeing me pick myself up literally and figuratively after each awkward tumble was the secret. I never knew what she was really thinking past those eyes. To be honest I found myself not caring at times. I couldn’t look away. Her eyes were commanding most of my senses. I felt like a hunter, looking directly into glowing eyes of the forest at night. I kept talking, often deflecting or redirecting her inquires in conversation back at her just to give my mind a respite and protect my insecurities. I felt like fanning myself with my napkin more than once. I thought for sure I was sweating.

We talked and talked about simple, dumb things and not so simple big, fat ideas. We laughed and drank and moved from one place to another, walking in the cold winter air like teenagers without a ride. I guess that’s when I started to feel like maybe she and I were in the same grade after all. That feeling I had of being young and stupid was fading.

By the time we got back to her car, it was gone. As we got near her door she turned and said “So..,” expecting me to to finish the thought as some kind of love-barometer reading on how it went. Unfortunately at that moment, every ounce of confidence drained out of me, down through my body and out into my shaky stance. It was the first time I’d been faced with the possibility that maybe she wouldn’t want to see me again. She had inadvertently pulled the linchpin out of the connection holding together how I thought things were going and how I wanted to end the night. My eyes widened on her smile before I shot out my hand in a panic, reaching for hers.

“A handshake?” she asked.

I paused for a moment as she gave me her hand, and then came to my senses as I thought I might never get to do this again. I pulled her close and It ended up as a half-kiss on her cheek. As soon as it was over I wanted to pull away and just walk back home. But she was still in front of me, holding on to my hand. I looked at her. She was smiling, and just as I had zipped up my fly in front of her earlier, I dropped all sense of propriety and asked for another chance.

I got it right on the second try. I was 16, making out with the prom date I had always wanted. We said our goodbyes, and I started to walk back home with a silly grin.

It was way better than high school.

Purgatory is an Amtrak station

I arrived at the train station at approximately 7:45 in the PM for a scheduled 8:22 departure. I walked through the doors and instantly felt a calm still. Despite the presence of other passengers coming and going through the door, there persisted a soft silence, as if no footfalls were being captured by the hard cement floor. The entire depot was lit with an eerie fluorescent light, and the pale blue glow made the other souls present appear ghostly and devoid of color. Then again, it was Connecticut.

I consider myself a somewhat seasoned traveler, so naturally I checked the status of the train immediately upon entering the depot. All indications from the display panel told me my train would be arriving at track 2 as scheduled. I proceeded to a kiosk and tapped my way through a few touchscreens to get my ticket, then headed down to the track to escape the unsettling glow of the depot and breathe some of the cool October air.

Standing there on the tracks I saw a few other weary people waiting for my same train while others came and went around us. Standing out there on the platform, I began to feel like a stone in a river, with other passengers from other destinations flowing around me in a stream of peacoats and parkas while I stood unmoving. I looked around at my fellow stones. College students going back to school after a weekend away, a few families and a handful of solo travelers like myself. The time was 8:20.

At 8:30, watches and phones began to peek out beneath sleeves and out from pockets as people began to wonder just how late our train was running. I saw others expressing mild annoyance, and thought myself better for being more reasonable. After all, this was Amtrak. The loveable screw-up in the family of transportation conglomerates. You know the one. That person in your family that you praise for the most modest achievements, like for example, showing up on time. I wasn’t worried.

When the LCD clocks above us flipped to 9:00, serious doubt began to set in on those of us still out on the track. Many had abandoned their posts and retreated to the warmth of the station, which now seemed like the smart thing to do. I gathered up my things and ascended the stairs back towards the quiet blue hum of the indoors, stopping just inside to look again at the display panel. It now read that my train was “Delayed: 5 mins.” I looked over at another passenger who was also trying to make sense of the information.

“Do you know how long it has been like that?” I asked.
“It just changed to that.” She replied.
“Huh.”

I shrugged the train status off, thinking the information was about as delayed as the train itself, and headed to the nearest open seat next to a large woman with a glittery bejeweled pink iphone. As I sat down she paid me no mind, continuing to talk to someone about her predicament. Through listening in, I could tell she was relaying her experience with my same train to whoever was on the other end. It was then I heard it.

“Girl, I done told you already. I don’t know when. Them Amtrak people said the bridge is out. Girl. The Bridge is out. Whatchu want me to do?”

The bridge was out. I and a few others swiveled our heads towards the woman at these words, looking to glean more knowledge from our most up to date and reliable source of information, who incidentally had pink, bejeweled 2 inch nails to match her phone which she held delicately in one hand as a soothsayer might hold a magical orb of divination. As the woman caught us all looking her way, she abruptly ended the call and shoved her phone back in her jacket without saying a word. Then she got up and walked out the door to the street, leaving a renewed lease of silence.

A few of us met each others eyes, and then reached for our smartphones. We were going to get to the bottom of this. I should say that at the start of this ordeal, there were maybe 30 passengers waiting with me. A quick look around the station made me realize that several folks who were with me on the tracks (including the Pink Troubadour) were no longer with us. As each of us in turn called Amtrak to see what the status of the train was, our numbers began to dwindle. Talking to the customer service reps was a lot like casually strolling up to a stranger on the street and asking them what they knew about advanced geothermal processing. After many ‘Ums’ and ‘Hmms’, all they could tell me was the train was running five minutes late, but it didn’t matter, I could get on any train southbound and they would honor my ticket. This was at 10pm.

As if sensing our growing desperation and the elevation of anger in the souls trapped inside, the station itself seemed to come alive as out of nowhere a booming voice filled the sterile white walls of the station. “Passengers be advised, Amtrak trains headed Southbound are delayed due to a malfunctioning bridge switch. Trains will continue as soon as the malfunction has been repaired. Expect delays.”

Thank you, faceless voice from on high, for relaying to us important and yet useless information about our travel arrangements that would have been extremely helpful hours ago.

It was now 11pm, and of the original thirty, only about 10 southbound riders now remained. Some pacing (actually more like gliding) around the station in circles, some resiliently standing in place in front of the status board, anxious for any news. Others like myself were slumped in a corner on the floor nearest an a/c outlet, trying to stave off the death of our only links to the outside world. All of us, silent. Hungry, angry, bored, tired and losing track of time. But always silent, with the exception of one individual who abruptly broke rank and loudly proclaimed “Fuck it.” as he picked up his duffel and wildly slung it over his shoulder, stomping out the door.

I spent about an hour sitting against a pillar near a young woman who was also trying to conserve precious juice. We commiserated for an hour or so, fading in and out of salient conversation until around 12 when she stood up and I thought she was going to have her own Fuck It moment. But instead she turned to me and said “I’m getting out of here. I can’t do this any longer.” And in her eyes I could see a sadness, as if betraying us and her own conviction at the same time. I looked up at her without replying. I smiled knowingly and nodded once, as a war veteran might wordlessly acknowledge another’s service. I was losing another comrade.

“Come with me.” she asked. “There’s nothing for you here anymore. We can leave this place.”

I sighed loudly and replied that I could not leave. My train had not yet come. She looked down at me mournfully and then picked up her bag and turned to leave. As she approached the doors to the street she looked back, first at me and then at the other half dozen survivors in turn. I couldn’t be sure, but it looked as if her lips were moving in some silent prayer for us remaining unfortunates. Then she spun around and walked out from under the blue light into nothingness.

As 1 am blared into existence on the red LED clocks around the room, the silence intensified. There were now only three of us left. I tried a few last ditch calls to the Amtrak reps, who insisted that either a train or a bus would come for us eventually and we should just get on anything headed south. We huddled together, myself and two Boston University students, more for solidarity than for anything else. That was when the delusions began.

When it is left in a void of sensory information, the human mind can do strange things. In this case, one of the students was first to crack.

“I hear it!” he bellowed out.

With that we all jumped up and flew down the steps to the track. We were giddy, almost maniacal with joy that our faith in Amtrak had been vindicated. We beamed at each other for a few minutes, until gradually our smiles faded as the rails running alongside the station remained cold and empty. We went back into the station, but now a paranoia began to take hold of all of us. Each of us began to hear a train at different times, either far off or seemingly running right through the station. It occurred to me that maybe there would never be a train. As this thought ran across my mind I looked up again at the status board. At that moment the listing for my train disappeared from the screen and was replaced with another listing.

Replaced, or never existed?

My mind began to wander. I could no longer remember how I got to the station or why I was there. I only knew that I needed to leave. On a train. Minutes stretched on for hours. It became an eternity waiting for a phantom train I could only see and hear in my head. I didn’t realized I was drifting off into unconsciousness until 2AM, when I woke up with a start as the Voice returned.

“Southbound Amtrak passengers be advised your train is arriving on Track 2.”

I looked over at one of the students.

“Did you hear that?” I said.
“I think so, man. I’m not sure. Maybe.”

I could tell he was further gone than I was. I stood up and picked him up by the arms. “Come on, man!” I yelled. “This is it!” In my haste to get my companion up and on his feet I suddenly realized it was only the two of us.

“What happened to the other guy?” I asked.
“He’s gone, man. He’s just…. gone. I was looking at him and then he just disappeared.”

I wasn’t going to let that happen to us. I threw my new friend’s arm over my head and dragged him and our belongings back down the stairs to the track. I heard the train. It was clear and the sound of the train whistle cut the night in half. I could see the light at the head of the train. It was approaching us. This was it. I didn’t care what the train number was. It was going south. It sped towards us.

And then it sped past us.

My friend slumped to the floor of the track, not caring how filthy the ground was. I looked up incredulously back at the station and raised my arms up, hoping the Voice would see me and give me some kind of explanation, some nugget of truth or word of sympathy. But it never came. The station loomed over us; a square bulk of concrete and steel forever glowing in stillness.

I stood there for a moment pondering our fate, and then made a show of laboriously picking up the baggage of my shattered dreams up off the platform and back up the steps. My friend began deliriously espousing his faith in Amtrak. “WE are getting on a TRAIN! To-NITE! Yes sir. TO-nite!” He was awake now and more or less ambulatory and functional, but he was looking more and like he was sleepwalking. I sat down again for about twenty minutes, feeling like a small man caught between different planes of unreality when at last the Voice returned.

“YOU TWO. TRACK TWO.”

I didn’t move. I was done. But this time it was my friend who did the rousing. He wildly sprang into the air a few feet as if hit by a bolt of lightning and picked up his belongings. I just looked at him with amusement, as an old weathered man seeing the exuberance and foolhardiness of youth before him. He ran over to me and stopped. He could see my face and my intentions plainly, but he didn’t care. He grabbed my arm and pulled me up so we were standing inches from each other. For a moment I thought he was going to hug me, but he just stood there with his hand now on my shoulder, and I could see his eyes, before cloudy with madness, coalesce into a clarity. He had woken from his fever dream and was himself now, emboldened with a new resolve.
“It is our time, brother.”

I nodded wordlessly as I had before to the young woman and gathered my bags. I followed him down to the track and stood for a few minutes, not knowing how I was still standing up at all. It was 2:30 a.m. Once again the light of the train grew from off in the distance. Once more the whistle of the train sliced through the dark. But this time, the train slowed. Then it stopped. Like before, I wasn’t sure what train it was, but it was pointed in the right direction.

I didn’t take a step towards it until I saw a beleaguered and clearly run-down man step off the train, wearing an unbuttoned and untucked Amtrak uniform that looked ripe for a wash. He stumbled towards us looking at me in disbelief.

“What are YOU doing here?” he asked.
“We… are…here…for..the TRAIN!” my new brother answered.

That was apparently sufficient to board, as the conductor narrowed his eyes on us suspiciously, then raised his eyebrows and with a grand sweeping gesture waved us on to the train. As we boarded a few other Amtrak staff members also looked at us like we were apparitions from the netherworld. I walked into the coach car and saw sleeping bodies strewn every which way in seats, on the floor, everywhere. I found one of the few remaining seats and threw my bag in the middle of the aisle. No one cared. When the conductor remembered to come around and collect my ticket, I pulled it out of my coat pocket and handed it to him. After plucking it from my hand I saw his mouth open and his eyes widen ever so slightly. I assumed he was put off by the fact that this wasn’t my train. I didn’t care anymore which train number it was as long as I was headed southbound. But then he told me the most horrifying thing I’ve ever heard.

“Glad you made your train. This is the 8:22pm Southbound.”