4.07 – 4.13 pm: Marcella pulls up to the train station’s front entrance and I jump out before she has even put the car in park. I yell to her as I grab my bag out of the back seat, “Thank you so much, Marcella, but I’m sorry we can’t say goodbye properly,” and then I’m running through the station. An attendant is making announcements about the departing trains — there are three of them and I can’t tell which one is mine so I barrel down the escalator. When I reach the bottom I discover I’m on the wrong platform and take off running towards the stairs, which are off course at the opposite end. Before I can make it there, I catch sight of the elevator and throw myself in. As I’m jabbing the buttons with impatient fingers, another conductor sees me and asks what train I am trying to catch; when I tell him I’m Boston-bound, he walkies to the other platform, “I have a late arrival in black heading your way; hold the train.” I want to kiss him, but instead I say “thank you” over and over until the elevator doors close. The elevator takes forever and when I get out, yet another conductor is waiting for me. “Right down here,” he says. “They’re holding the train.” As I run by, shouting my thanks over my shoulder, I see that Marcella has come to make sure I catch the train. She shouts goodbye just before I catapult myself down another escalator; there’s third conductor waiting for me, and he slides the carriage door shut after I hop on. The train is crowded and I consider just plopping down into the first available seat when I see, at the very end of the car, that there’s an unoccupied window seat and I dash toward it. I have to stand on the armrest in order to stow my bag and jacket the overhead rack. After I’m seated, one of the on-board conductors comes through the carriage to collect our tickets. He asks me, “Are you our late arrival?” I smile sheepishly, say yes, aware that I smell like the most unsavory combination of my breakfast (garlic bagel, lox, cream cheese) and my lunch (four-cheese macaroni and cheese, Caesar salad). “I’m glad you were able to make it,” he says. I nod vigorously, feeling droplets of sweat squeeze themselves out of my hair and into the collar of my sweater. Sit back. Try to breathe.
4.18 pm: This is the bumpiest train in the world and I am still out of breath.
4.35 pm: Not bumpy anymore, breathing normally again, perspiring still.
4.43 pm: Across the aisle from me is a young couple; she’s in a blue hooded University of Rhode Island sweatshirt, and he’s wearing a melon-and-white striped button-down. They are cuddling but ignoring each other; she’s playing with her laptop and he’s copying something off of his BlackBerry and into a spiral notebook. Outside the sun is starting to set and shining an orange-gold light on the barren trees and brush-covered ground. Soon I’ll have to turn on the overhead light, and later I won’t be able to see anything that isn’t lit up. For now, I can see wooden sheds housing a trio of John Deeres. Their windshields reflect the sun and blind me.
4.50 pm: The conductor who asked me if I was the late arrival comes through the car, asking if anyone here is called Asia Smith. Now I need to know who she is, and what she did.
4.56 pm: Still too keyed up, even to read. Pull up TiVo Desktop and start Trainspotting, which I haven’t seen since high school. When I got to college, almost everybody — well, almost all the boys, anyway — had Trainspotting posters up in their rooms.
4.59 pm: The kid diagonally across from me is watching Madagascar, no headphones, at such a loud volume that I hear his film much more clearly than mine. And we are stopped, for reasons unknown.
5.01 pm: Apparently we are about to switch onto a single track, but must wait our turn as there is a freight train currently coming through.
5.06 pm: Okay, I can’t do this with Trainspotting. My volume is maxed out, my earphones are (disturbingly) only working in the left earbud, and the story isn’t nearly as effective with Ben Stiller yapping away in the background. Switching to Eat Drink Man Woman, because at least then I can read it. Besides, the opening sequence is amazing. My favorite part is at the very end, stuffing the dumpling. Oh, and we’re moving.
5.09 pm: I wish I had cleaver skills. It would be helpful to have a cleaver, to develop said skills with.
5.17 pm: No sun above the horizon. Getting dusky. Just frozen-over marshes and naked trees, highways with cobalt-blue semis streaking by.
5.31 pm: I can’t even imagine not have functioning taste buds. I’d rather give up an arm. It would have to be my left, though. Pittsfield, by the way.
5.46 pm: When Keith and I were in Shanghai, we encountered so many dishes with non-translatable names, or names that were lost in translation. Some of these were delicious, and others were too terrifying to try.
5.58 pm: Almost completely dark, and the snow is glowing like under a blacklight.
6.17 pm: Solid black outside, don’t know for how long. Imagine, living somewhere that the only light for miles would be from your porch, or your window? Unfathomable to me.
6.34 pm: Something near me is squeaking, don’t know what but it sounds like mice. Suddenly this train ride seems unbearably long. I’m looking forward to sleeping in my own bed tonight, without a dog on my head.
6.49 pm: Springfield.
7.05 pm: Still Springfield.
7.06 pm: Moving! On the road (rails?) again…
7.08 pm: Done with Eat Drink Man Woman, and onto Emily Post: Daughter of the Gilded Age, Mistress of American Manners. The book group girls and I have been discussing it, and it appears as though no one is much enjoying this month’s book. I had heard all of these rumblings before picking it up myself, but I’ve got to say I’m really enjoying it. There’s not much, if any dialogue, but I still find it fascinating, mostly because a large chunk of it takes place near where I grew up in New York.
7.20 pm: As more and more travelers walk past me to and from the café car, our carriage smells more strongly of hot dogs, something I’ve always loved. (I think it is the Filipina in me.) I refuse to give in, though I am fittingly listening to Morrissey’s “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get,” off of Vauxhall and I.
7.43 pm: I think it might be time for a little nap, though I’m hoping it will be one without dreams. Lately I can’t get through the night without one, and they’re all so tiring, often involving me being chased by or running from The Law.
8.14 pm: Worcester. No dreams yet, but the melon-and-white shirt is talking to someone on the phone about trading gold and the stock market. It’s boring me back to sleep.
8.22 – 8.27 pm: Am awakened by a text message from Marcella. A short period of frenetic texting ensures, the topic of which is our favorite of the weekend, aside from baking: boys.
8.29 pm: I hate looking out the window and seeing my reflection. Unrelated: time for some My Bloody Valentine, and back to Emily Post.
8.36 pm: Ashland Commuter Rail station… there are stretches of utter black in between stations but we’ll be at Framingham next, and there are far more lights all of a sudden.
8.50 pm: Framingham. Apparently we are running early, and will arrive at South Station in about forty minutes. How bizarre — even with my holding up the train in Albany and the delays on the way, we’ll be twenty minutes ahead of schedule.
8.58 pm: Reading Emily Post had given me an idea for another book group road trip — to Newport, to visit the Breakers. I haven’t been since grade school, but I’ve always loved that sort of thing. I can’t even conceive of living in such a house, and the Breakers was one of the Vanderbilts’ vacation homes, another concept I’ve trouble grasping sometimes. What if you can’t get to your second house often? I guess these are the problems of the idle rich.
9.04 pm: Wellesley Square Commuter Rail — getting closer and closer to home, and my bed. The train is going by so slowly, and giving me plenty of time of examine the backs of many short and squat brick apartment buildings, and a Mobil station.
9.12 pm: Now riding alongside the highway, the same one Keith and I take to and from New York — I think it’s the Pike but I honestly don’t know. We’re keeping pace with a shockingly white Mack truck. How fast are we going? How fast is he? Am I wrong to assume it’s a man behind the wheel? I don’t know anyone personally who would enjoy the profession, male or female, but I still want to lean out the window and call over to the driver, “Where are you going, where have you been?”
9.20 pm: Slowly going through Allston before coming to a stop directly in front of the New Balance building. Just got off the phone with my dad, who was calling to make sure Keith would be picking me up at South Station. He’s very old-fashioned, my dad, and was quite disconcerted when he heard I was going away for the weekend without Keith. My father finds it hard to believe that his daughter, or young women in general, are capable of doing certain things without the aid or company of men.
9.25 pm: I’m at a point in the Emily Post book that takes place almost exactly one hundred years ago and it is utterly fascinating. I’ve always said that if and when time travel is invented, I’d love to go back to New York and spend a few days during each of the huge, history-making eras; the Gilded Age is definitely on the list.
9.26 pm: Back Bay. Time to pack it up.
9.35 pm: South Station. And soon, home!