I haven’t been in too many train stations in my life, but I think there are few as pretty as Portland’s Union Station.
While I’d had a blast in Oregon, three days in this unique city had not been enough time. Yoga, hiking through waterfalls, exploring the downtown dining, dancing, and making new friends had certainly filled up my days. There was still so much I didn’t get a chance to see or do, but I was very happy with how I had spent the time. Plus I had a feeling this wouldn’t be the last time I came to visit.
I sat on my suitcase admiring the vaulted marble ceilings and ornate wall clocks, watching the minute hand tick by, telling me my train was late. I sighed, resting my chin in the palm of my hand. I guess there were worse places I could be waiting for a ride.
I flashed back to my train ride into Portland where we had screeched to a halt outside of Kelso. There had been an accident ahead we had to wait to clear. It was snowing and the conductors had no idea when we’d be on the move again. I blinked back to the Portland station and immediately felt better. At least here I had cell service. I watched the little boy ahead of me steal his mother’s iPhone to play games. It was times like these I wish I had Angry Birds.
A half-hour later, the train arrived. I filed out to the platform with the hundreds of others.
When I handed the platform conductor my ticket, he glared at me. “You didn’t check in.” I didn’t understand. I had picked my ticket up from the counter. What more was there to do? Apparently I had broken some sort of train protocol and I was in trouble.
The man huffed and puffed (I was sure to blow shortly) repeating over and over, “You were supposed to check in… All passengers are to check in.” He pulled out a permanent marker and gave me a colored piece of paper with a number on it. “Here. Seat twenty-six. Second floor.” I smiled as angelically as possible and walked away before he could change his mind.
The Coast Starlight was two stories tall and stretched on and on like a large metal centipede.
I found the appropriate car and hauled my heavy suitcase inside. I started up the cramped stairwell and learned quickly that it did not jive well with long skirts and large suitcases. A good deal of pushing, pulling, huffing, and grunting later, I tripped over the top step.
Blowing the hair out of my face, I stood up and dusted myself off. The seated passengers watched me curiously as I got my act together. My cheeks were hot and pink, but I pretended I didn’t notice their stares as I walked by.
I had a window seat next to a young man on his computer. I sat down in a cloud of anxiety and tried to become as inconspicuous as possible. This proved more difficult than I thought because I had this stupid piece of colored paper and no idea what to do with it. I looked at it intently, wondering if there was more to be done or if I could shove it in my bag. I mean, the conductor had made such a fuss about me not having checked in. Was there more? I tried to glance around leisurely to see if anyone else had their colored paper in hand, but the man seated next to me wasn’t fooled. He held out his hand and took the slip from me, placing it on the luggage rack above us. I thanked him quietly, hoping this would be the final act of my train stupidity.
Then came the Footrest Debacle. When I tried to be smooth and push down my footrest with my boot, it wouldn’t budge. After a few minutes of tapping the toe of my shoe against the bar, I leaned forward with a calm expression. I grabbed it with both hands pushed down. It wouldn’t move. I proceeded to shake the damn thing until the person in front of me turned around to see what all the fuss was about. The young man next to me chuckled and pointed to a lever on the side of the seat. I sat back, ashamed of the scene I’d made.
“I’m so sorry,” I prattled, “I don’t normally take trains. I really appreciate you being so nice about it. I promise I’ll get the hang of it… Just gotta establish that learning curve.” He didn’t look at me. “I’m on my way to visit Port Townsend. I’m from Vegas,” I explained. He smiled and shrugged off my idiosyncrasies, telling me not to worry about it. For the remainder of the train ride, I tried not to. I turned my iPod on and focused instead on the hawk that flew alongside the train, wondering what he could possibly think of the travelers riding inside the long centipede.
We reached Tacoma late in the evening. I struggled one last time down the stairs and out of the car. Before leaving the station, I felt compelled to turn and thank my fellow passenger for his kindness. I mentally apologized for my clumsiness and handed him my business card. I strode off before I could trip over my skirt or do something else oh-so-Hilary.
I worked very hard to block that graceful moment out of my head and hadn’t thought another thing of it. Well, that is until I received an e-mail today. It went as follows:
Just wanted to shoot you a quick email thanking you for the pleasant train trip up to Washington last week. I’ve taken the trip up and down between Oregon and Washington many times and it is usually normal, occasionally horrible, but not often is there someone as pleasant as you to sit next to.
I hope your trip to Port Townsend was enjoyable and the rest of your travels are exciting.
P.S. I’m pretty sure I completely failed to introduce myself in the 3 hours or so we traveled together. So yeah, sorry for that…
I sat at my computer dumbfounded.
While I had been so concerned about making a fool out of myself, he had found my presence endearing. Huh.
I guess the lesson learned is that we really do create our own reality. And maybe I should stop putting thoughts in other people’s heads. I do have a bad habit of doing that.
Thanks, Isaac, for being such a cool travel buddy. I hope we meet again some day.