I f’in love city street signage.
Public train transportation is the way to travel into the city if you want to ditch the traffic, read a book or fall asleep behind the wheel. Train commuting is a type of home away from home. The MBTA is not the way to travel if you desire consistently being on time, don’t like crowds or require privacy.
The 6:42 a.m. train was a unique scenario as we boarded the now 7:02 a.m. dark passenger cars in Shirley, MA. There was no battery power, lights or air conditioning. The passengers grumbled as they boarded their unreliable steel pool cars. One man in our boarding line read the riot act to the conductor. Said man was riding the rails to catch a 9:15 flight out of Logan. I think half of us were chuckling at the psychotic traveler; he wouldn’t have made that flight on a good day. He was already cutting it way too close for morning Uber traffic, and airport security checks, even if he did arrive in Boston by 8:00. The conductor told him the best bet was to wait for the next train. There were no guarantees and the crew was already hoping this engine would make it to North Station.
Reassured on every level, I made my way to the top of the double-decker.
We pulled into the next station braking with a jolt. Nobody on the train understood what that had to do with no battery. The Ayer passengers embarked complaining about both the lack of power and the man that ran in front of the train. Evidently, someone had crossed the tracks to get to their platform. When the man realized he dropped something, he ran back in front of the oncoming train to pick it up. Everyone waiting on the platform thought they were going to witness a fatal accident. As they boarded, the train was still dark but their trauma was visible. The situation added more time before we were underway again.
The next stop is right off the interstate, and the largest pick up. About 200 people boarded our moving cave and we were on our slow way again without incident.
We arrived at the next depot with incident. Passengers boarded and then the train stayed on the platform. We weren’t moving again. Everyone hedged their bets to either disembark and reboard the next train or wait it out and hope the situation improved. The experienced group I was sitting with knew better, got off the snail and lined up for the following train that would be pulling in any minute. About 300 people were back on the platform and headed to the crossover when the headlight of the the savior train appeared.
The crowd had words for each other as people tried to hurry in front of the next. Everyone jumbled together trying not to be last. The mayhem was railroad “musical chairs”, knowing not everyone would get a seat.
The rest of the ride was uneventful. We were already an hour behind schedule and so many people were standing up, the cars looked more like a subway. The situation could not possibly get worse but the earlier commuters remained visibly on edge.
This second train would arrive on time, so the last few standing passengers weren’t otherwise effected. They had lights and air conditioning. The commuters just outside the city had it made, they just didn’t know it. One woman, standing next to my seat, couldn’t understand the frenzy.
She remained positive, “The railroad does get us there.”
“Yes. This is still better than driving in traffic.” another Cambridge passenger agreed.
“Right? A few less seats does not make a difference.” declared the first.
A dangerous remark from someone that had just boarded in Belmont. I was already on the 2nd train, after the first arrived 20 minutes late, and was an hour behind schedule after offloading and reboarding with 300+ of my most intimate friends.
The morning commute included a bigger crowd, no privacy and I was late. Yes, I had avoided traffic and read a large part of my book. But no, I couldn’t fall asleep, even though it was so much like home. There had been a lot of excitement with the lights off.
My life changed after using the last Q-tip Monday night. Sincerely. I planned to pick up a new box on Tuesday once I finished at the library. The pharmacy was right next door but I managed to forget. On Wednesday, I didn’t think about the Q-tips until I climbed out of the shower that night. Frustrated I muttered, “Oh God! …Let me remember cotton swabs next time I’m out?!” I put on my pajamas and wrote ‘Qtips’ on our refrigerator shopping list.
Thursday was my birthday, so my focus was certainly not on Q-tips or any other kind of cotton swab. I readied for work, caught the train to Boston and bought munchkins for our office. Nobody knew it was my birthday and the morning went by slowly. At noon, I decided to stretch my legs, get some fresh air and take a walk.
The tourists were on the Freedom Trail and the office workers were sitting down to cafe lunches or walking back to buildings with their to-go sacks. I walked with a fast stride, smelled the aromas and listened to the sounds of the city. I watched all the people but saw the homeless. How hard is it for them to watch the feeding frenzy?
The rest of the story that follows is not an event I would typically discuss; moments that happen in my Christian life are between myself and God. However, I feel obligated to spread these special words because I think God works in mysterious and beautiful ways.
I passed many storefronts at a quick pace.
Until I didn’t.
My stride slowed and uncontrollably stopped. I was suddenly standing in front of a very crippled man in his wheelchair. The sensation didn’t scare me and I was not afraid to be with this helpless person. I wanted to assist but didn’t know how. I do know not to give money in the streets. There is a shrine, a soup kitchen and a shelter nearby.
I found myself saying words i hadn’t even formed in my mind yet:
“What can I help you with today?”, as I bent over his chair.
His response was slow, labored and garbled. I didn’t understand anything that he was straining so hard to express.
My soul bled for him as I looked to his hands for some aided expression.
They were twisted and fist-like with long, dirty nails.
They grabbed my heart.
“I am sorry, tell me again.”, now I had to know.
He tried once more, working hard to form lips and sound.
I turned my ear toward him and thought I heard words.
Trying to match a food with what I thought I heard, I questioned, “Chips?! You want potato chips?” I turned back to face him, hoping to see acknowledgement in his eyes.
They were covered with black sunglasses; it was a beautiful sunny day.
Don’t let me give up, I thought. This is my fellow human being. He turned his head, left and right and then directly at me.
A definite but pleading “No.” registered in his mouth and my ears.
I had his lunch request all wrong, didn’t know what else to do, and then, at that very defeated moment, I heard his continued mumble as clear as a foggy day.
He spoke more slowly. “No, Q-tips.” and low but distinct, “I need Q-tips.”
I froze. In elation. For so many reasons.
“Of course. You know what?”, I was so happy and continued, “I need Q-tips too. I’ll buy some for both of us.”
It was as easy as the nearby CVS and the cosmetics aisle. I was overjoyed that I’d waited to understand. Coming together may have been God’s plan all along? My spiritual life changed because remembering new Q-tips helped me not to hear, but to see, in a whole new way.
Happy Birthday to me.
My brother-in-law will tell you I end up in a lot of photos when we have family gatherings but it’s just coincidence that the lens is always nearby. My husband will say he has a special name for my participation during photographed events on his side of the family, endearingly I’m sure, called “the Donna show”. Both scenarios have nothing to do with the fact that I also enjoy being the product of a good photo bomb.
I recently entertained giving up the practice. I realize I have ruined some good prom photos, beautiful scenery and countless other special shots for people. I think I’m funny but that doesn’t mean others agree.
Yesterday, I walked out of a building that spills onto Boston City hall. The area is ripe for photos with a Faneuil Hall backdrop. I saw a family posing for pictures right in my path toward the train but rather than react on impulse and bomb them, I sped up my pace trying to get out of their way with a “Wait, wait, wait – let me hurry past.” My behavior didn’t seem normal. I chuckled to myself, knowing I was holding back. Then I laughed out loud when I heard, “That’s okay, we don’t mind. Join us!”
The tourist family did not have to ask me twice. I doubled-back, hugged the Mom on the end and spread my arms out wide for the photo. I am pretty sure they really snapped a picture. Hopefully, it wasn’t deleted and I end up in a family photo album on another continent.
A girl has to dream. The photo bomb bug is renewed. It only took a family gathering, a lens and a “Donna show”. I am alive and well.
When you go to your first office party as a participant in the ugly sweater contest but it’s not an ugly sweater contest at all.
The first person you see is the admin at the front desk who is dressed in such a cute elf top she could be the lead toymaker in a live production of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. Her green, red and white top even has jingle bells adorned on the cuffs and collar but you are naïve enough to think it is just attributable to her happy nature. Clearly she hadn’t read the memo that she emailed to the staff.
That’s when you go to the break room and see the one woman that is older than you in a gorgeous black velvet jacket with a silk embroidered Christmas scene that could land itself in a gallery. Obviously, she had not bought it at Walmart nor worn her best jacket because she thought it was an ugly contender.You smile and say hello like it’s any other December day but do not take off your coat.
A walk to your private office will help you sort this potential fashion blunder out. You stayed up all night sewing crocheted snowflakes to the oldest red sweater you owned. It was embellished with the worst felt Christmas decorations your kids had ever made. Even midnight hadn’t stopped you from adorning it with gold and silver glitter you threw into the smeared overdose of glue gun horror.
As you mentally change your mindset from clear winner to office loser, you wonder how to continue the morning? You start by rereading the office party luncheon invitation. Lunch is at noon and there will be two judging’s in the morning: one for the nicest office decor and a second for the ugly sweater winner. As far as you’re concerned, your sweat equity ugly sweater efforts are confirmed, so you proceed to the ladies room.
You just about melt when you see the lawyer leaving the bathroom in not just a gorgeous merino wool snowman sweater but an entire dress. She even has black high-heeled boots to emphasize her Christmas fashion statement. Only a top hat and pipe would have heightened the look. She probably had them back in her office so Kris Kringle himself could ask her to perform some magic during the luncheon.
You do what you have to in that situation. You take a shit to demonstrate how you feel, hold your head up high and own it as you strut back into the office – even when people look away or smile in a way that neither acknowledges nor inquires about your holiday sweater. You swallow hard once you’re back at your desk and realize you still have to stand in front of the entire office when it’s your turn for the Yankee swap.
All of this composure is held together even when you realize that joke gifts will not be the norm either. Booze and lottery tickets are the hit as you wonder what you’re reddened face will look like once someone opens your six pack belt of gingered ale.
The hour and day go by as slowly as an entire winter in New England. Snowman lawyer wins both the office decor and “sweater” contest with a fast tally of 32 to zero. A clean sweep…and all you can do is take the broom to clean up the glitter from your participation in the not-ugly-sweater-contest.
The best way to find your self worth is to do something that makes other people happy.
I rarely spend my hard-earned, save it for a rainy day, cold cash on beverages. I don’t drink coffee nor do I frequent the bar scene. My nerves aren’t made of steel and I’m not a lush. I just know what I like.
One of my favorites, my go-to drink versus coffee in the morning, is Tropicana orange juice. I don’t typically have brand loyalty but when someone or something has meaning in my life, I’m loyal to a fault.
All that said, for me to buy a drink with a meal is a rarity. I just happen to like water with my sandwiches and pasta specials. Yesterday was an exception. I looked in the beverage area at lunchtime because I’d rushed out of the house without my o.j. I needed my Tropicana.
I stayed brand loyal but spotted another juice drink that sounded even better than my reliable orange juice. It had all my favorite flavors in one bottle – orange, strawberries and bananas. Acting on an impulse, I added a couple bucks to my lunch tab expecting a smoothie experience with my cheeseburger sub.
I gulped the thick liquid expecting it to go down smoothly. It was actually pretty rough.
My lifelong friend, Melanie, always turned the phrase “Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.” The quote is spot on and my last few weeks can attest to it.
I met a new woman on the train. She lives in the town where I grew up and down the street from my in -laws. Somewhere along the way, we started sitting together and swapping stories during our long commute. I’ve since met her Air Force husband and young daughter and she’s seen pictures of my chia-pet-bearded husband and our two college-age girls. Maria is outgoing, ambitious, talkative and hysterical. We’ve chatted about challenges with our parents, children and life in general. Adding to that, we’ve also laughed about people on the train, our husband’s quirks and yesterday, winter laundry. She had me in stitches talking about clothesline-dried jeans that were stiffer than her husband’s military uniforms. She brought me right back to being a teenager in the 80’s. My sisters and I would want to wear our favorite jeans so badly that we would wash them at night and, since we had no dryer, hang them outside to dry regardless of the cold weather. They’d be stiffly standing at attention waiting for us in the morning. Maria is the silver lining to life’s problems and like the nanny in The Sound of Music – Maria, makes me – laugh!
I met an old friend in the subway station last week. Susan and I originally met in high school but have kept in touch in a variety of ways over the years. I was not only thrilled to see her but also glad she knew me under other circumstances. It was an incredibly hot summer day, I didn’t have on any makeup and I think she caught me cursing the subway car that closed its doors in my face. As a former teammate, she is familiar with my intensity; she’s seen me sweaty and talking smack in the past. I think she also knows I can clean up pretty well (if I need to). We started talking a mile a minute. We picked up where we left off the last time we talked, updated each other on our families, talked about her recent house purchase, my new job and mutual friends in just a few green line stops. Seeing an old (longtime!) friend was, as we said in the 80’s, “awesome”! Sue always has a smile on her face, tells a great story and laughs at my jokes. Who wouldn’t want to keep a friend like that around?
Maybe Maria and Sue will be my lifelong friends too. They hit the spot. If not, maybe I can get them bronzed?
June 22, 2016
When the commuter rail approaches my stop, I’m not one of the people that stands up and waits two miles for the door to open. I’m folding my magazine or finishing a chapter and waiting for my row to disembark. Im never sure if either strategy is saving any of us time or energy. Either way, we all herd into the subway station at once.
Today,I was in the back of the pack when we left the train. As I got to the bottom of the subway stairs, I saw the start of our herd walking off the platform and into the red inbound car. The subway doors closed in front of the rest of us that were still on the approach. We missed being passengers by seconds. We got burned. Branded. It left a mark. I will not let that happen again….mainly because the cars after that hour get cramped. Just Two minutes later I was on the next car – but I was also on my feet. All The seats were taken.
It was the first time I had to stand up on the red line.
For five stops.
I was tired and It was early. I tried to think about something else. Horses came to mind. I wanted to be like them. Horses can sleep standing up.
I’m not experienced enough to read from my book or iPhone while standing up and holding onto a strap or railing. So, I read the ads on the car walls. The hospitals I was passing had ads about vice self-help courses and an adult ADHD study. The Tech school wanted members for its credit union. The school on the other side of the Charles had me convinced I could be a professional photographer.
Then there was the ad with a phone number in 140-point font. It merely said – “Overweight and feeling down?”
No! I’m just over the wait and feeling downtown is still too far away.
What’s your game plan for the day?