Monday, May 19, 2008

Stuck in R.I.

Here are my unedited remarks, written while stuck on a broken train for three hours today:

It’s 4:30 on Sunday afternoon, the 18th of May, and I am outside Kingston, Rhode Island, aboard a train that is not moving. The Amtrak operators seem to have misplaced the piece of equipment that connects to the electrical power source. Perhaps we ran a little to close to an overhanging tree branch.

This is an in auspicious beginning to the already questionable execution of a life transition. Tomorrow is my first day as a Discover magazine intern. But I cannot move into my sublet until a week from tomorrow. The apartment worked out really well – friends of a friend live there, I don’t have to sign any lease paperwork, it’s reasonably priced for Brooklyn – except for this one thing. I have been trying to keep myself pepped up to get past this. It will be good fodder for writing, I tell myself, and so I have begun a chronicle and I sit here going nowhere. But first the clouds roll in as soon as I leave Boston and then the train breaks down. I choose to interpret these events not as omens portending gloom for the near future, but as more evidence that American train service is a disaster.

A woman just came on the intercom to say that we’re going to be here for at least an hour. I would say the fix is in, but I don’t think the train workers want to be stuck in rural Rhode Island any more than I do. I’m going to keep writing, because frankly, I’m not good at waiting. Ask anyone who’s spent any time with me and they’ll tell you I’m fidgety. Can’t help it. Have to have something to do with my hands or they’ll bounce out of control. I shuffle cards. I tap fingers I drink beer too fast out of sheer love for the physical act of drinking.

Sitting still is often the worst when it comes to transportation. Frequently I walk long distances rather than wait for the bus, even when there is no doubt that this action will take longer. Nothing is more disheartening than unchanging scenery. This, I think, is the truth that carried through people of centuries past who traversed long distances by horse or by foot. They made slow progress, but relatively consistent progress. Sailors have almost certainly gone mad for the same reason – making uncertain gains against an endless and visually undifferentiated sea.

Speaking of buses, I could be on one right now, and probably one making progress toward New York City. I paid considerably more not only because I prefer riding the train, but also that I have four bags, two more than what the Chinatown bus lines permit. So I am sitting with few prospects of motion as the direct result of an ugly tweed suitcase full of shirts and ties. Though to be fair, the Chinatown buses have been known to catch fire, and while I am bored, I am not singed.

There is a crying baby across the aisle. I have the White Stripes on my iPod. So this is certainly not the worst thing that has ever happened to me.

The conductor and his assistant are making another pass down the length of the train, with the same look of strained confusion and feigned confidence you get from too many men standing over the open hood of a broken down car.

*

It’s 10:15. We’re in Bridgeport. By about 11:30, I should be in Penn Station, where I’ll switch to another train, the metro, to go to Rob’s house. And maybe then, finally, sleep. Multi-step travel is always mentally exhausting, even when you don’t waste 3 hours in the middle of nowhere because a piece of metal bent in the wrong direction. I was so relieved when the train finally started again; now I’m just anxious. I’m even too anxious to be nervous. When I get to Brooklyn I won’t remember this being as bad as it is. The worst always recedes into memory; perhaps because I’m been raised to put a polite Midwestern smile on things as soon as they’re over.

12 hours from now I’ll be at work. I don’t know how to properly feel about this. But on the plus side, if I’m not mentally all there tomorrow, I have a better excuse than simply that it’s my first day. I’m ready for the universe to have some mercy on me, a tired newcomer.