I have taken the train to Windsor a dozen times each year starting in 2004, when I began university in a city far, far away.
When you take the train enough, you acquire certain train-taking skills. You know just when to leave work in time to catch the subway and collect your ticket and secure a spot in line for the best people-watching vantage. You know about finding a favourite seat (half-way up the car in a window’s back half for the widest view, and on the south side traveling toward home so you can see the skyline and the lake and the crumbling brick stations and the people-catching-people as they spill off the train). You’ve learned how to wedge your ticket stub in the plastic crevice of the seatback in front of yours for the ticket collector to collect. And once you reach London, if you still have your now-empty paper coffee cup from the coffee you bought just before Oakville Station, you smile and ask the attendant for a refill when he returns with the snack cart. He will smile and wink and tell you he’s not supposed to refill your coffee cup. But he will anyway. And you thank him, because the coffee on Train 79 is not the murky dishwater that non-train-takers would expect to find aboard.
Always, London Station signals half-way home.
When you take the train enough, you get to know the other people on the train – out of your large sample, you establish a Typology of Train Takers. Most of these train-takers fit your first type, the Distracted Ones. With two little white buds growing out their ears, their perpetual springtime blooms.They are listening to music or movies or maybe a book on tape. They are lost inside a dome of noise – sometimes it spills over to where you sit, and hopefully not with a pulsating bassline.
In the seat next sits the Serious Business Man with his ThinkPad and loosened tie. He likes the leg room and the young lady next (you) who looks (fingers-crossed) particularly untalkative. He’s too busy for conversation, what with his spreadsheets and blinking BlackBerry: counting his stars for money. Before he counts he feasts. He orders a turkey sandwich with baby carrots and ranch dip, and a cheese plate, and a little green canister of sour-cream-and-onion chips, and a can of Diet Coke. He pays the attendant $16.50 for his cellophane banquet. As he chews, he casts dire glances at the Family with Children in the four-seater, with the infant whose scream will soon distract from his sky accounting.
The Gazer packed her very best library book to while away the hours. As she reads, she listens to pieces of conversations and the clack-clack-clack of wheels meeting track and inevitably, she reaches into her seat-pocket for the in-train magazine – to see if anyone has completed the puzzles, and if he used pen or pencil, and to check his answers. She’s abandoned her book to stare out her carefully-chosen window at the land and the lake and the escarpment, and more times than not, she spots most of the farm animals on her standard list of farm animals (a game of “Where’s Waldo?” with livestock). Especially now beneath the dramatic early-winter sunset and its unearthly glow that illuminates each beast. Cow. Horse. Sheep. Pig. Check.
When you take the train enough, you know to call dad just outside Chatham to deliver your boilerplate message: “Hi! We’re running 15 minutes behind. I will see you at 11:30?” And because this is the Toronto to Windsor route, and all the truly billingual attendants go north to Montreal, the final call rings over the loud-speaker as you approach Windsor Station, first in English and then in very butchered French nous vous souhaitons une agréable journée. You note the offended Francophones aboard.
Always, when feet meet platform, dad waits in his usual parking spot, and he intercepts your cream-and-brown-and-navy plaid bag, and you breathe the breath you keep deep inside for these first minutes home. Because Windsor Station is next to the brewery with its billowy fermenting yeast clouds that mingle with the car exhaust and damp asphalt and river. The air of reunion pools in your nostrils and it’s the best bad smell you will ever know.
P.S.: Thanks, Lan, for the nudge.
[Image: Train Window by Chambo25 on flickr]