Empire Service (Part II)

Transports of Delight

For long-time readers of this blog, you may remember a few weeks ago I told you a story from my travels in New York – the tale of the NYPD cop who helped me find my train when I was lost and deranged. You may also remember that I left a tantalising teaser at the end of that story, suggesting that it was not in fact the end. If you need a refresher, here’s the link to Empire Service (Part I). Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

… Doop dee doop …

Okay you’re back! Hello. You probably noticed that I ended that story with “Little did I know …” Classic cliffhanger. And I’m finally going to stop the dangling and drop you off the cliff. So to speak.

So we’re back in the year 2005, a magical year in history. It’s before Facebook but after Furbies. I have just boarded a train from Manhattan that will take me to Buffalo, New York. I am extremely frazzled and exhausted. But it was worth getting up early and all the dramas trying to find the train station – all of that was worth it because soon I will be reunited with my boyfriend. He’s staying with his relatives in Canada, and my plan is to catch the train to Buffalo, where I will then catch a bus to meet him in Niagara Falls.

As meeting places go, it’s hard to miss.

But, once I’m on the train, I discover something interesting. This train doesn’t terminate in Buffalo. In fact, the very next stop after Buffalo is Niagara Falls! (Why I didn’t figure this out when I was booking the ticket, I don’t know. I am nineteen and generally clueless.) So, I come up with a new plan, a cunning plan. I will simply stay on the train one extra stop, disembark at Niagara Falls, and step into the boyf’s waiting arms. Brilliant!

And it all would have gone perfectly, too, if it wasn’t for that damn fire.

I make it through the eight-hour journey from Manhattan – eight hours! – and when the train pulls into Buffalo I do not disembark. I stay in my seat, thinking about what a clever cookie I am. No messing around with buses in Buffalo – I’m cutting a whole leg out of my journey! As it turns out, I will come to regret this decision.

We pull out of Buffalo, and I get more and more excited. Next stop, boyfriend! But then, a considerable way outside Buffalo, the train suddenly grinds to a halt. Everybody on board is puzzled. From my window, there just seems to be a bunch of trees. I check with a service attendant; no, we haven’t reached Niagara Falls. This is not a scheduled stop. I wriggle in my seat, bitten with impatience. The train is supposed to be pulling into my destination in fifteen minutes!

I get a call from my boyfriend. He’s ringing from the payphone at the Niagara Falls train platform, where he’s waiting for me. I tell him that my train is mysteriously delayed, but I should be there soon. We don’t talk long, because we’ll be seeing each other in a few minutes anyway.

What a view.

Then comes the announcement from the train driver. As it turns out, there is an emergency up ahead. A lumberyard next to the tracks has caught fire, and firefighters are trying to put out the blaze. Everyone mutters with not a little anxiety. But it’s not the fire that stopped us – it’s the fire hoses. Because, apparently, the lumberyard is on one side of the tracks, and the fire hydrant is on the other. So the firefighters have to lay their hoses across the train tracks in order to fight the lumberyard inferno. The train will have to wait until the fire is put out before we can keep moving. I grit my teeth. Obviously we can’t run over the top of fire hoses, no matter how many boyfriends are waiting at the next stop. But I pray that this fire goes out quickly.

It does not.

I try to contact my boyfriend, to let him know what’s happening. But he called me from a payphone, so I can’t call him back. (I can’t remember why he didn’t have a cellphone, but he didn’t. I’ll just say it was because he was being purposefully difficult.) I imagine him waiting on that platform, expectantly looking for my train, becoming more and more concerned. The tension is killing me. Finally, he calls me from the payphone again, and I rush to answer my phone.

“Ohmygod I’msogladyoucalled ItriedcallingyoubutIcouldn’t mytrainisstuckanditmightbehours howareyou?!”

He is curt and obviously annoyed. “So am I meant to wait here for hours?”

“No noooo of course not, just go home and I’ll meet you there whenever I get off this train.”

He is not mollified. “Fine. Well I better go, this is costing me money.” (Spoiler Alert: he’s not ‘the One’.)

We hang up and I slump in my seat. This day is not turning out the way I’d hoped. I’m tired and gross from travelling all day, my boyfriend is irritated, and now my stomach is starting to ache. It’s been hours since I polished off my packed lunch, so I head up to the snack bar in search of food. They tell me that the dining cart is closed, but they can offer me a bag of chips. With a heavy heart, I pay for the exorbitant chips and head back to my seat. Meanwhile, the boyf is probably tucking into a hearty dinner at his aunty’s house. Jesus. Should’ve just gotten off at Buffalo.

After nearly three hours stuck at the lumberyard, the fire is finally put out and the firefighters remove the offending hoses. The train lurches down the tracks; I feel palpable relief in the carriage. We finally pull into the Niagara Falls station, and I yank my bags down from the overhead rack. I can’t get off that train fast enough.

At the station, I hail a taxi and head over the border into Canada. I don’t know where my boyfriend is staying or how to contact him, but after getting lost in Manhattan and spending 11 hours stuck on a train, this is the easy part! Okay so the reunion is going to be later than we thought, and we’re both going to be a lot grumpier than we thought, but this is going to happen. It is.

As the taxi winds through the darkened streets of somewhere in Canada, I’m glad to see the back of bloody Amtrak. Little do I know that it won’t be long before I’m back in the States, having more wacky train adventures. OH WHAT – I did it again! You thought the story was over but it isn’t! My New York train adventure still has another part to it. Guess you’ll just have to keep reading my blog, ‘wink’.

Advertisements

The New York Police Department (Empire Service Part I)

Transports of Delight

Most of my stories so far have been about the drunken and/or mentally ill misfits who approach me on public transport. Well, this story is a bit different. In this one, I’m the crazy person, thrusting my unwelcome presence upon passers-by.

It’s 2005 and I’m in New York City. I’m nineteen years old and I’m all alone. It’s the fifth month of my first solo around-the-world backpacking extravaganza, and by this point I would describe my mental state as “shaky”. I am very, very tired. I miss Australia, where I knew the names of the streets and people thanked the bus drivers. On top of all this, plus the usual teenage angst, I miss my boyfriend horribly. I met him earlier in my travels, but we had to part ways for a couple of weeks while I went on my scheduled trip to Canada and he went to Niagara Falls to visit relatives. I know if I can just be reunited with the boyf, this trip will start to be fun again instead of very, very lonely. On this day, in New York City, I am about to board a train that will take me to Buffalo and subsequently to my boyfriend.

There is just one problem.

I have no freaking idea where the train is.

This is in the days before iPhones; Google Maps was only invented a few months ago. All I have is an old ‘analog’ street map that I’m too scared to take out of my backpack lest I get stabbed. (You might think this is an overreaction to New York’s reputation for ‘mean streets’. I might have agreed with you, if I didn’t know that just a few days earlier a baby was stabbed in broad daylight not three blocks from where I was staying. A baby. Think what they would do to a tourist.) The sidewalk is streaming with surly New Yorkers who push past me and buffet me around. It’s as if there’s some kind of angry salmon migration going on and I’m the lone tuna everyone wishes would just leave.

According to the address I have for the train station, I should be looking at the entrance right now. But all I can see is a solid stone wall. There isn’t anything resembling a door. I walk carefully around the corner, checking for any possible signs of an entrance. Nothing. Maybe this is like Platform Nine and Three Quarters, and I need to take a running start at the wall? (This is before iPhones but after Harry Potter.) I don’t know what to do. My watch says I’ve only got 15 minutes before my train leaves. It’ll take me ages to walk there while juggling my backpack and 25-kilo duffel bag. And I haven’t even found the train station yet! This is too much.

Desperate, I attempt to make contact with the angry salmon.

“Excuse me? Please? Um, help?” I try to ask passing New Yorkers for help, but they move too fast. I only get half a sentence out before they’re already disappearing into the crowd.

“Do you know where–” ZRROOOOM and they’re gone.

In Australia you might, at worst, be delicately ignored. (Excluding central Sydney, where they hate life and everyone who takes part in it.) If people don’t want to help you, they will just pretend that you don’t exist. But New Yorkers are vocal. They do not have the time to give you directions, but they will take the time to tell you to fuck right off. This level of rudeness is still new to me, and I can’t help tearing up a little. Great. Now I’m lost in New York, wearing a backpack with an Anne of Green Gables souvenir patch on it, and starting to cry. Then I spot a policeman standing at a nearby intersection. His dark blue NYPD uniform is a signal of hope. I stumble up to him.

“Excuse me, I — sniff — can’t find the train station — blubber.” I talk to his feet, trying to make out shapes through the tears. The policeman listens stoically, then begins to rattle off a list of directions. I look up in shock. Someone is speaking to me. He must notice that my mouth is hanging open, because he starts to repeat the directions. I stare at his mouth, watching his jaw go up and down. Something about turning left, and a corridor, or something. At some point I notice that he’s stopped talking. The cop is frowning, and looking over his shoulder. Then, something amazing happens.

The cop picks up my heavy duffel bag and says “Follow me”. It takes me a minute to register, and by that point he’s nearly out of sight. I sprint to catch up. He leads me to a previously invisible stairwell set in the side of an alley. It feels like I’m being led into the magical land of Narnia. Push aside some coats and there it is! The secret world of the train station. Mr Cop strides through the labyrinth of underground corridors with ease, and pretty soon we’re approaching a bank of turnstiles. I panic, searching for my subway ticket. The cop, however, simply nods to the woman running the security booth next to the turnstiles, and a giant metal gate swings open for us. The cop strides through, still carrying my bag, and I skitter after him. No tickets validated, no words exchanged. Just a nod, and doors open. I marvel at his power.

We’re booking it down a busy corridor when the policeman suddenly halts in his tracks. I nearly run into the back of him. He puts my bag at my feet and points to a doorway.

“Your train is through there. I can’t take you any further.” He slides a look over the crowd, and I notice a few policemen further down the corridor. Mr Cop looks back at me and gives me the corner of a smile. “I’m not supposed to be helping young women find their train platforms.”

I squeak something that sounds like “Thanks”. I’m unspeakably grateful, and feel like I should take a moment to acknowledge what a kind thing he has done for me. But Mr Cop is already turning on his heel and marching away. I stand there for a moment, dazed. Then my mind jumps into action. THE TRAIN! I pelt down the corridor and through the doorway. I race onto the train platform, where my train is just about to pull away. After flicking a ticket at someone, I fling my bag into the carriage and vault across the gap.

I’m aboard!

I made it!

Ah, the sweet sounds of wheels clicking on the tracks, carrying me closer to Buffalo and my boyfriend. I settle back in my seat and rest my cheek on the cold window, thinking the hardest part of the journey is done.

Little do I know …