As I sat in the little train station, my mind wandered to the lady-from-Georgia’s friends in Canada. I could just imagine them following the station agent’s directions from Fifth and Main. They must be frantic. Having been to the Vancouver B.C. station, the only similarities are the train tracks.
For years I commuted on C-Tran/TriMet to Portland and forced myself to stay awake. Sleeping through my stop presented an unreasonable fear. Other people’s heads nodded forward, jerked back, nodded forward, but not mine. On top of being afraid of ending up in Lake Oswego, what if I drooled? These types of baseless fears are nothing to brag about, but then, are they unjustified? What about this woman who ended up in Vancouver, Washington and not Vancouver, B.C.? What about the two pilots that overshot their destination by 150 miles? If those pilots had been flying from Vancouver (not B.C.) to Seattle and overshot their destination, they would have ended up in Vancouver (yes B.C). Without me, would they have realized they were in the wrong country?
So I got to thinking of the ugly American thing and decided to offer to buy her a cup of coffee. If I ended up in the wrong country I’d appreciate anyone who tried to be kind and I wanted her to have a good impression of the Pacific Northwest and our little city in particular.
“May I buy you a cup of coffee?”
"I don't drink coffee", she snapped and began a diatribe into the cell phone, emphasizing she told the agent in Seattle that she wanted Vancouver, Canada. If I had offered her Starbucks, I would have been insulted at her snub, but one cannot blame someone for turning down vending machine coffee.
Our agent stuck his head in the door and announced the train, darting back outside. He didn't mention which train, northbound or southbound. As it pulled up, heading north, the older couple let out a sigh of relief, "Finally." It rumbled to a stop and the doors slid open, spilling out passengers with suitcases and briefcases and backpacks.
The blonde on the cell phone straightened up, gazed out the window and whirled her head toward me. "Is that train going north?"
"Yes," I answered. She flipped her phone shut and stuffed all her paperwork into her purse. "Are you going to take it?"
"You bet I am! They are going to have to take me back to Seattle." She grabbed her purse, her cell phone, and suitcase and raced for the door. I held it open and trotted along beside her through the dark, dodging a small crowd of passengers heading for the parking lot and station. A conductor hefted the stool back onto the train and both the woman and I yelled, "Stop! Don't close the door. There is another passenger." We sprinted the last few yards and I helped her toss her bag onto the train, while the conductor put the stool back on the pavement. The woman started to climb up.
"But you don't have a ticket to Seattle," I whispered.
"That'll be their problem," she jeered and vaulted into the train.
"Good-bye. Good luck," I called and waved with the vague hope she’d remember our Vancouver as pleasant.
I walked back to the station and the older couple and the cowgirl stood in the doorway, waiting. I stopped, turned back and scanned the dark, empty platform, “Wasn't this the train you were waiting for?"
They nodded. The woman’s knuckles were white as she gripped her purse. The man’s eyebrows met in the middle. His eyes floated back and forth over the platform.
I gulped and nodded at the little girl. "Sooo, where is her mom?"
"I don't know," the woman's voice cracked as she eyed me.
"There she is!" the little girl’s excited cry pierced the air and she jumped up and down.
My gaze skimmed the pavement. Deserted. "Where?"
"There," the girl bounced and pointed. All three of us followed the cowgirl’s finger toward the doorway of the train.
A woman flailed an arm and pounded on the glass in the closed door. “Help, help, I can't get the door open. I need help," came a faint cry through the dark. At that precise moment, the train jerked forward, its big engines snarling. It began to roll north.
“Stop,” I screamed. I slammed out to the platform. "Stop, stop, stop."
A shadowy shape loomed ahead and the old woman, who pounded right behind me, veered off toward it. It was the errant station agent, driving a cart filled with luggage.
The cowgirl began to scream. I glanced back. The grandfather, rooted to the spot, stared helplessly and patted the Stetson.
"My daughter is still on the train!” the woman shrieked.
The agent’s jaw dropped open.
"She couldn't get the door open. She is still on the train." I shouted as I dashed past him. My footsteps smacked the pavement as I loped north on the platform, my arms oscillating in frenzied motion.
"Stop the train, stop the train,” the agent yelped into his walkie-talkie. “You’ve got one of our passengers."
The train kept moving.
My arms pumped, my feet pounded and my heart thundered. Someone wheezed right behind me.
The agent screeched into the radio again. The growing clatter on the rails did not drown out the desperate keening of the cowpoke.
I glanced back. The white-haired woman and the agent were hot on my heels, shouting and waving. "It will be okay. They’ll stop the train,” I shouted to the girl.
The train picked up speed.
The piteous wails of the freckled girl picked up volume.
Panicked, I steamed after the train as if I could catch up to the engine and pull it to a stop. In the dim light of a streetlamp, the dark gray pavement turned abruptly into a dark void. Labored breathing behind me raised the hair on my neck. I squealed to a stop at the end of the platform and hunched my shoulders, waiting for the runners behind to crash into me and send us all hurling into the black abyss. The last car hurtled toward the end of the platform.
(Part Three of Training for Halloween tomorrow)