June 29 2012

Trains by A. Y. Stratton

Last week I took the train from Milwaukee to Chicago to visit college friends.  Whenever I take that trip, I make sure to look out the window as we pass through Glenview, Illinois, where I lived until I was fourteen.  I have many fond memories of growing up there.  

After our gathering broke up, I headed back to the station in plenty of time to catch the late afternoon train for home. It was Friday. The train cars were at capacity, but I managed to get a window seat.  I read my magazine, chatted a bit with the young woman who sat next to me (a recent college grad with a real job), made sure I watched as we flew past Glenview, checked my emails, and dozed.

Just north of the Wisconsin border, our train came to a stop without announcing the station. Though we sat in mid track for a few minutes, I didn’t worry about the delay, until I looked at my watch. My plan was to meet my husband at the Milwaukee station and drive to the 7:05 Brewers game.  The train was definitely going to be late.  

Eventually the train attendant announced there was an “incident” ahead of us on the tracks, repeating several times that there was no danger to us. A red flag flickered in my head.  The next time the attendant came through the car, she repeated the message verbatim, adding the kicker:  we would be delayed on the track for at least two more hours.  At least.  She apologized and added she was not able to give us any more information.

In unison the passengers reached for their cells, scrambling to reach their relatives and friends.  Eventually a conclusion rippled through the three cars: a train ahead of us must have had hit something. Or someone.  I didn’t want to hear that. Or picture it.

People pestered the attendant, asking why we couldn’t just get off right where we were. That was impossible, the attendant explained. Because we weren’t in a station, there was no safe way for us to even climb down from the train, much less scramble down the bank.  We were shanghaied.

My stomach reacted. I was hungry. Dinner was hours away. I wasn’t alone. The snack seller became very popular. I bet he had a record day.  Though a candy bar and chips weren’t on my normal diet, they had to do. My seatmate announced she intended to get drunk and settled for two mini bottles of vodka.

Eventually we heard good news. Our train had been cleared to move on to the next station. Grateful (and in my case, still famished) we streamed off and scrambled to get rides to our cars.  My husband zoomed down to rescue me.  

We got home around ten p.m. and checked the internet to see what had caused our “situation.”  Dark news: a young woman had crossed the tracks in front of a south bound train and died instantly.  The death was ruled accidental or suicide.

That night, safe in bed next to my husband, I was haunted by an incident near another train station on another day long ago.  I will post the rest of the story in a few days. Stayed tuned.