Monday, February 21, 2011

Back Home

I was away for the weekend, presenting at a conference in DC. It went well, but it's good to be back home.


I like conferences that are reasonably close to home, so I can take the train. I don't mind being on a plane, but it's all that waiting around and security and driving to and from the airport that I hate. Plus, on the train, I can walk around if I want to. Which is what I told my first seatmate, Cynthia.

Cynthia wasn't in her seat when I got on the train, but her stuff was piled there, and her cell phone was plugged into the outlet next to my window seat, so the chord was running over my legs for a half hour before she finally got to her seat. She talked for the first 10 minutes, though I wasn't sure who she was talking to -- me, or herself. Eventually, I figured out she was talking to me, when she asked if I took the train often. It was about then that I noticed the patch on her arm, just above her forearm tattoo, where she had clearly had a recent IV. (I know what IV line patch-ups look like.) Here's what I learned about Cynthia over three hours:
  • She's 55 years old.
  • She'd recently been in the hospital with a neck injury.
  • She had been visiting her brother, who is an alcoholic, and whose girlfriend is a drug addict, and who had attempted to steal her ATM card.
  • Her brother owns a Jack Russell Terrier. He's a nice enough dog, but he has psychological problems. He tries to catch his own tail and gets really angry when he can't.
  • The dog is on valium. Her brother occasionally takes some of it.
  • Cynthia wished she had some valium at that moment. (I was asked to not take that personally.)
  • She couldn't wait for us to get to New York City, where the train took a 10 minute stop to change crews, so she could have a cigarette.
  • She was a nurse at one time. Not sure why she stopped being a nurse.
  • The worst part about being a nurse was putting in catheters.........I'm not going to talk about that part of our conversation anymore.
  • Or think about it.
I got all of this from her in 5 or 10 minute spurts. She got up a lot to walk around -- one of the benefits of being on a train, we both agreed -- because the neck injury made it hard to get comfortable sitting down.

Cynthia was getting off at the Newark Airport stop, though she wasn't sure if there was such a stop. I looked it up in the Amtrak magazine and saw that there was such a stop. Another man also assured her that Amtrak had a stop there. Her brother (not the alcoholic one -- her other brother, Fast Eddie) was going to pick her up there. (I swear she said his name was "Fast Eddie.") But after we pulled out of the Newark Penn Station station and she didn't get off, the conductor told her she had missed her stop.

She immediately got on the phone with Fast Eddie, who agreed to pick her up at the next stop. Which was good, because I was pretty sure she was going to blame me for there not being a Newark Airport stop, and stab me with a plastic knife from the cafe car.

But no -- she gave a civilized good bye, and wished me luck.

On top of all that, I'm pretty sure I that when Cynthia got off, that girl from New Jersey (who was on American Idol and couldn't get anyone to sing with her on Group Night in Hollywood) got on. But she didn't sit with me. My second seatmate never said a word.


The conference itself was fine. It had been about 5 years since I presented at a national conference (being department chair messed me up that way), and much has changed -- using PowerPoint is now a requirement, and no one wears a jacket and tie (either one or the other is acceptable, but more acceptable is something like a gray v-neck sweater and black pants). My presentation went well, and was well-attended, even though I started at 5:30 on Saturday afternoon, just as the cash bar was opening at the reception downstairs. Which meant I had all the sober, serious people, and none of them laughed at my jokes.

But the best part of it all was being able to stay with my in-laws. I thank them again for their hospitality.


The train ride home wasn't all that memorable. I did some grading, tried to ignore the guy directly behind me who cleared his throat musically every three minutes ("ah-heh-HMMMMMMMM"), land aughed at the very attractive woman whose shoulder bag hit everyone in the head as she walked down the aisle (on purpose, I think -- she looked like the kind of person who would hit people in the head with her shoulder bag just to make sure they look up from their laptops and copies of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest and notice her walking by).

My seatmate for this leg of the trip also said nothing the whole time. Just wrote intensely on a laptop and occasionally picked from a bag of almonds. I thought the very smelly Italian sub I had grabbed in Union Station before I left might offend her, so I held off a while before I ate it. But then I said, Screw it. I have cancer. I'm eating some mortadell' and gabbagoll.

Anyway, like I said, it's good to be back home.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If you think you meet "interesting" people on Amtrak, you should try Greyhound next time. You'll have a lifetie of material in one trip.