What made me get involved in this saga? Wasn’t acting as “Vancouver, USA, Visitor’s Welcome” enough? What drove me to immerse myself in the continuing drama? Was it a desire to dispel the Ugly American perception so my brother-in-law could hold his head up when visiting his homeland? Paaleeeez. I love my brother-in-law like a brother, but I'm not that noble.
Was it heroics? A desire to save the pig-tailed, freckle-faced buckaroo from the worst Halloween of her life? Phffffft. I haven’t a heroic bone in my body. I once saw an old lady hunched over a walker, flailing a white cane with a red tip trying to cross a busy street in rush hour traffic. Did I stop to help her? Well, okay, I just made that up, but if I really did see that, I’d probably drive by and whisper, “Bummer.”
Was it an inability to keep my nose out of other people’s lives? Geeez, we might be getting closer to the truth on this one. Except, I’m pretty darned sure I could keep my nose out if I saw someone screaming for help in the middle of an icy, raging river. Oh sure, I might flip open my cell phone and mention it to the police if I hadn’t used all my minutes, but I probably wouldn’t even slow down.
As I waited to be sent into oblivion at the edge of that train platform, it never occurred to me I could have been sitting quietly in the station, reading a book. The only thoughts in my head centered around getting the trained stopped so the cowpuncher could get back to riding fence.
The little lights blinked on beside the doors of the car and metal wheels screeched against metal rail like fingernails down a chalkboard. The agent and the woman drooped against each other. I bent at the waist and panted into my knees. The very last door was all that remained at the platform while the rest of the train shivered to a stop down the track.
A conductor jumped down from the car and jogged toward us. Before he reached us, he heard the young mother pounding on the door, barking, "Let me off, let me off!" He set his jaw and his eyes flashed in the dim light. With a growl, he jumped back onto the train, yelled for her to come to the open door and leaped back to the platform to put the stool down. The young woman clutched a small baby and diaper bag in one arm, a large suitcase and dangling purse in the other. Her hair hung half out of a bun and her mascara ran down her cheeks. He wrestled the suitcase away from her and tossed it to the ground, his breathing hard and his lips compressed. As soon as the mother’s feet touched the cement the cowgirl launched herself into her mother's legs, wailing.
“Next time pay attention to what doors will open,” he reprimanded. He ripped his walkie-talkie out of his holster and snarled out a command, scooping up the stool and hopping back onto the train. He glared and slammed the door, throwing the lock.
The little lights blinked off and far into the dark the engine bellowed its frustration as it strained toward its destination, five hours late.
The family snuffled and shuffled off and I pressed a hand to my chest. Back in the station, I slumped onto a bench, exhausted. The station agent came in a side door with some suitcases on a cart. His eyes skimmed the counter where the blonde had been standing and cut to me. "Where's the woman that was over there," he roared.
At the same time, the front door opened and a cab driver strode in. “Who called for the cab?”
"She got on the train," I said to the agent.
The agent’s eyes widened. "She got on the train?"
"She got on the train?" the cab driver echoed.
I glanced at the cabby. “No,” I said to him. I had no idea who had called him.
“She didn’t get on the train?” the agent clipped.
“Yes. She got on the train,” I said to the agent.
"So, she did get on the train?" the cab driver sent the agent a narrowed-eyed glare and returned his gaze to me. The station agent shrugged his shoulders and began stacking the luggage.
“No, the woman who was here got on the train.” I didn’t want to appear rude to the cab driver, so I tried to explain. "She thought she was in Vancouver, Canada."
"What?" Both the agent and the driver asked together.
"She bought a ticket to Vancouver, B.C. in Seattle, but she got on the wrong train. She thought she was in Canada." I explained. I gave her the benefit of the doubt and pretended I believed her story.
The agent’s hands balled into fists and bright red color rose up his neck into his face. He fixed his eyes on me. “She thought she was in Canada?”
“Y-yes,” I stammered, shrinking back on the bench.
The driver picked up his radio and gritted out, "I'm clear. My passenger thought she was in Canada. She got back on the train." He shoved the door open and stormed out. The agent slammed a suitcase onto the counter. “I told her friend on the phone the station was in Vancouver, Washington and not Portland, Oregon. I made that clear. She accused me of giving her friend bad directions.”
I decided not the remind him they never could have found the station using his directions. “Yes, well, she didn’t want coffee, either,” I commiserated.
He snorted and tossed a few more bags onto the floor from the cart.
I tucked my feet under me and slouched on the bench, trying to be invisible. Ten minutes later my daughter’s train arrived. She got off, we sauntered over to my car and climbed in. I put the car in gear and eased out of the lot, driving to the nearest Starbucks where people are sane, most of them are friendly and you can get a decent cup of coffee.
I'm not cut out to be the ambassador for the abolishment of the "Ugly American" stereotype. It is hard work and I don’t think my heart can take it. My poor brother-in-law will have to do it on his own. With his French accent and sweet disposition, maybe he is just the one to win over the world. Wish him luck. Do it for America.