A landmark decision
(On a cell phone) “You two belong together. I always, always, thought that. I never told anybody, but I always thought it.”
(On a cell phone) “If you go to Delaware, you are going to get pregnant.”
(Man, to female companion) “I brought my favorite Star Trek episode to show you.” “Tribbles?” “No, no, this is Next Generation. It’s 'The Naked Now.'”
When I’m not eavesdropping on people’s conversations, it’s likely that I’m waiting for my train to arrive. In Baltimore, this is easy: there are really only two platforms – one for the commuter train, and one for Amtrak, a track going in each direction. In Penn Station, you have to be on your toes; they very craftily do not tell you what track your train is boarding at until it’s time to board, causing the crowd to rush for the escalators like a horde of wildebeest.
Last night, Saturday night, I was waiting to catch the last train from New York to Baltimore. The station was not as crowded as on Friday nights, but the last train is always packed. There’s one more train that goes as far as Philadelphia, but for anyone going further, this was it.
A woman was staring at the giant board hanging in the middle of the boarding area. She caught my eye and came over to me. “Can I ask you a stupid question?” she asked. She seemed nice, with smartly short-trimmed grey hair and blue eyes.
What she didn’t know was, I live to be asked stupid questions. Yes, please ask.
“I see the train listed there ... but no track. How do you know where to go?” I immediately launched into Helper Mode, telling her about how the track numbers are posted about five minutes before the train leaves, blah blah blah. I had noticed some people coming up the escalator from track 12 East, so my hunch was we would be boarding on 12 West. We kept chatting – she said she was up from Washington for a conference, something about educating people about historical landmarks. She asked if the MARC train came up to New York – the MARC train is the commuter train that runs between Baltimore and D.C. Sadly, it doesn’t run any farther than that. The trains are nice – doubledecker, plush seats. Much better than the Long Island Rail Road commuter trains. If I ever get appointed High Commissioner of Musical Theater and have to work in D.C., I will enjoy the commute.
She said she would be coming up several more times and was having a hard time finding places to stay for ten days at a time. I gave her some websites that might help her (oh, yes, I was helping ... helping! Delicious, delicious helping) and she dutifully scribbled them down. She asked what I do, and I told her. I asked her what sort of educational program she was working with. Then she told me. Not historical landmarks – she was involved in Landmark Education. “You’re probably too young to remember EST” “Oh, no, I know what that is...” “So this is more or less what EST has turned into.”
She went on. “It’s amazing – in the room there are all kinds of people – regular folks and CEOs. People from all over the world. I've never seen so many different people, I'm from Virginia. And they’re all in different places in their personal transformation.”
I had some friends that did “The Forum” about twelve or fifteen years ago. I’m all for personal development, and have read plenty of New-Age-y books which I have found helpful – which other people might find ludicrous or worthy of mockery. I’ve had many conversations with different friends about esoteric spiritual-development, so I’m no stranger to the whole thing. But suddenly, I got a bit nervous. My friends who had done “The Forum” – frankly, while they were involved with it, they were obnoxious. I mean, good for you, develop your self confidence, go! But do you have to play on other people’s politeness and desire to avoid confrontation?
So, suddenly they announced the track, and I was right – we were boarding on 12 West. A crowd materialized from nowhere and we were separated in the crush. I was a bit relieved. Once at the bottom of the escalator, I headed for the front of the train. Because I’d had to buy my ticket just a half hour before, all that was left was business class, and I was dying to get home to Baltimore that night – I was exhausted from producing a show, I had just gotten over a cold, but mostly I was missing David intensely. I trotted briskly along the track, past the coach cars, past the cafe car, up to business class. There was the usual Amtrak conductor there, helpfully booming out “Business class!” as I entered the car.
I went halfway down the car and found an empty seat. I discovered then that my new acquaintance was right behind me. “Oh, this looks good!” she said, settling into the seat behind me. I was struck by a strange combination of impulses – surely she must have heard the guy announcing that this was business class? So, she must have a business class ticket. If she didn’t, and had to move, she was unlikely to find a good seat once the rest of the train filled up. But it would be rude of me to ask her about it, wouldn’t it ... ? I decided that I had to do my best not to worry about it. I plugged in my laptop, grateful at least that she hadn’t decided we should be seatmates, too. I began reading. (This is when I heard the “This is my favorite Star Trek episode” comment noted above.)
The conductor came along, moving from the rear of the car to the front. He came to my new acquaintance’s seat.
“This is business class. You don’t have a business class ticket.”
“Am I in the wrong place?”
“Yes. Coach cars are behind the cafe car.”
“Oh. I was following my travel buddy. I guess he misled me.”
“Coach cars are that way.”
“Can’t I stay here?”
“Not unless you want to pay extra.”
“Oh.” Pause. “I was just following my travel buddy.”
He then took my ticket. I could feel her gaze burning through the seat as she very, very, slowly began gathering her things. She spoke to me.
“Well, I guess I have to move.”
“Sorry about that, I, uh ... “
“Do you think I really have to move? Will he come back and make me move?”
“Well, yes, unfortunately he probably will.”
She had that weird expression and tone of voice that my Forum-going friends had once upon a time – like I was somehow responsible and should do something. She was pleasant on the surface, but she was beginning to freak me out.
I muttered something else about how business class was all that was left when I got my ticket and I didn’t know she was following me and uh and uh .... all that I could do was apologize. I felt badly but now all I wanted was for her to get the hell out of there. I mean, "my travel buddy misled me?"
I went back to the laptop. She finally had her things together, and stood next to my seat for a long, long time, looking at me. Then, she began to move down the aisle.
A few minutes later, the guy in the seat across from me got up and leaned over me. “What were you apologizing to that lady for?” I hesitated, trying to figure out how to explain it all briefly. I said that she asked me a question in the waiting area, and that she just followed me up here and I assumed she must have had a business class ticket, but she didn't. He nodded, “Okay.”
I looked down the car to see if she was gone. “You know what, this sounds terrible, but I’m glad. She was a little freaky.”
He nodded again. “Yeah. She was.”
Oh yeah. She was.