A Few Nice Folks on Trains.
I learned to love trains when my family lived in Italy in 1969. But our family of 6 often had our own compartment, so there wasn't much mingling with strangers. Instead we often entertained ourselves with games like Botticelli and tic tac toe.
Or We Read Books
We always traveled with books. I was 11 and my 7 year old brother, David was a very good audience when I read to him from my Enid Blyton books!
But one time our family joined some friends on a train for a day trip to the seaside town of Viareggio. The 6 kids were in one compartment and the adults in another. We were headed for a festive pre-lent celebration which meant some of us were in costume and armed with confetti and plastic bats for bopping strangers. (With good humor) The kid compartment was pretty wound up and giddy by the time a policeman opened the door. Luckily he just wanted a seat. His presence subdued us for a while, but before long he was sharing our candy and allowing us to ask him silly questions with the help of an Italian dictionary. I don't remember his answers, but I do remember some questions. "Are you happy?" and "Do you swim in the bathtub?"
From Michigan to Missouri
On another winter day 7 years later, my younger brother and I once again traveled by train... and met strangers. This time we departed from the lovely old station in Ann Arbor and headed home to St. Louis after the Christmas holiday.
We boarded before dawn to find the train already jammed with holiday travelers. Every seat was taken and the aisles were crowded with luggage. David and I sat on our suitcases in the unheated space between train cars, until we realized there was a dining car with actual seats and tables! Not only was the snack bar area warm, but it was alive with the good spirits of travelers who all seemed to have upbeat attitudes about this ridiculous overcrowding. David and I were invited to squeeze into a booth with others and before long everyone was talking together. We sat beside some children playing "Battleship" and a sweet older woman who was eating her sack lunch. The children let us play their game when they were finished and the dear woman insisted we let her give us each a dollar. She had overheard us worrying over having only $10.00, since it looked like weather was going to cause a huge delay in Chicago. Dave and I ended up sharing a tangerine and candy bars with a painter from California and we discussed alligators, pollution and poodles with a man from Iowa. By the time we reached Chicago I remember feeling bonded to these travelers. I hated saying good bye.
Chicago to St. Louis
The storms didn't end up delaying our departure from Chicago. Dave and I boarded Amtrak and actually found two seats together. However there was no heat in our car and the temperature was in the teens. But at least we had seats for the last half of our 12 hour journey.
Thank you, Train Travelers!
It was a great experience sharing food, games and conversation with all of you. If I ever get stuck on a boat, train or plane with some kind of horrible problem like the Carnival Cruise Ship that made news recently...I hope I'm surrounded by strangers like all of you!
To celebrate my birthday in April 2012, I decided to reflect on the past with a different kind of list. I've met a lot of people in my 55 years, but I'm going to stop and remind myself about the strangers I've met. These are people I met by accident, not through friends or work. For some reason, these strangers dropped into my life. Even though we may have only spent a few minutes together, these people have never been forgotten.
Each week, I'll spotlight someone I met in the past, who in some small way, made me stop and think.
Remember 55 Strangers