Notes from a Train Station Waiting Room

My grandfather died. So I visited my extended family’s nerve center in the suburban mid-Atlantic.

There are many details of this visit I want to remember. Like how my grandmother told us all our favorite stories from our more distant ancestral homeland down south: true gothic southern tales of graveyards, mental hospital escapees, and Morgan’s Raiders. Playing bridge: and realizing the game had changed forever for my granny, who had lost her lifelong partner. How we drove around the ruins of a fort and walked against the wind down a beach that had no other footprints. How my grandmother wasn’t quite sure how to pay a restaurant bill with a credit card, having never taken the check herself before. How we went to see a local September 11 memorial for no reason at all, or maybe because we didn’t have a funeral but needed a focal point for grief.

The thing I want to write about now, though, happened after I left my granny’s house. It’s the story of how I missed my train.

Exactly how I missed it would be dull to relate. But I experienced that classic moment of charging up the stairs to the platform only to have the train’s doors pull shut before I could reach them.

Somehow it just killed me to miss this train. I’d held it together all weekend, and normally I’d shrug something like this off. But now the train became a symbol of the brutal heartlessness of the whole world and how life isn’t fair and we all die. I collapsed on a bench on the platform and wept and wept.

After a bit of that I imagined that a security guard might be watching me on video, wondering if I were a terrorist or a suicide risk. So I dried my eyes and went to change my ticket.

As it turned out, I had to sit in the station for three hours until the next train. I found a seat in the waiting room and opened my book.

That’s when I began to notice all the people around me and the chorus of their sounds. To my left, a junkie (?) was snoring. To my right, a guy was blasting tinny, clicky-drum music from his cell phone. Across the way a family was talking loudly in Spanish. And then another guy came along and starting mumbling to himself while writing furiously on a piece of paper.

I’ll be honest; at first I felt irritated about all of this. I was tired, sad, and recovering from a train platform melt-down. And now I just wanted to drift alone in the astral plane of book-immersion.

But then I realized the ridiculousness of the situation. Here I was, reading a book about the workings of society while society itself surrounded me. I started to consider what the other people were doing and why.

The junkies I noticed were crafty. To sit in this particular area you needed to buy something from one of the food concessions. The junkies didn’t buy anything but asked other people if they could have their empty food bags and wrappers, which they then placed on the tables in front of them so they could claim to be customers.

At this point I recalled that I hadn’t bought anything either, on the principle that I shouldn’t need to patronize Dunkin Donuts to sit on 80-year-old wooden bench in a public space. So who was I to feel annoyed about all the others present?

And the benches themselves — beautiful 1930s craftsmanship, now that I took a real look at them. And the ceiling: a marvel.  I’d always had the sense of this particular train station being scummy and terrible, but… once I started to look around, I noticed all manner of architectural flourishes.

Meanwhile the guy talking to himself appeared to be writing a song. I saw him dash off the word “MUSIC” and underline it. Was he jotting lyrics or perhaps chord progressions? Well then. It made sense that he would sit there and sing and talk.

The guy blasting the tinny music, it turned out, had been on break from Dunkin Donuts. DD blasts oldies all day at that train station. And here this man had a few minutes respite from it, sitting on a bench with a jacket covering his uniform, listening to hip-hop/drum & bass. Sure, he might have used headphones. But I couldn’t begrudge him his moment of aural freedom.

I cannot speak Spanish, but I heard the cadence of that family’s language. It sounded like poetry, rounds of poetry fired by a machine gun.

After taking all this in, I had the sudden realization that I myself did not need to sit there in silence. Silence was not the social norm of our waiting room community that morning. And so I started to sing a song that I didn’t even realize I liked until just then.

I wanna know, have you ever seen the rain…

And I kept singing it and kept singing it to myself, and when I finally boarded the train hours later I felt okay again.

33 thoughts on “Notes from a Train Station Waiting Room

  1. I love this! I like watching people and learning to see the beauty in what they’re doing rather than being selfishly annoyed by it. I love that there are other people who do this.. emphasised in the contrast of how bod of a day you felt you were having! x

  2. loved your post…sorry about your grand-dad though. When you mentioned about your granny losing her bridge partner…it reminded me of my grandparents…they would spend hours playing rummy together.
    thank you for sharing this. glad you felt better then

  3. You have a really great way of drawing the reader in. I wanted to know what nostalgic memories your grandmother might have or how she is living in a different way without your grandfather. I felt like she was at the beginning of a journey and had a good support system from, at least, you.

    And I take the train. It was interesting to read about the way you reflected on who was about, what they did and the architecture. I was worried you wouldn’t have a book to read when you had to wait three hours. But you did. So you weren’t alone. I liked that.

  4. Stations… Always people to observe and some architectural detail to discover. I remember sunbathing on a bench at Crewe one February afternoon in the late 1970’s!

  5. I’m in an airport reading this, and it really shifted my perspective – picking up on so much more around me. Condolences for the passing of a loved one – thank you for sharing your thoughts so beautifully.

  6. I loved this and sorry about your Grandfather. I get many ideas on the train,bus, or mind drifts when I observe my surrounding and I come up with story lines for each person sitting on the train.

  7. I love this so much. It really is amazing how much of life is about perspective. Congrats on being able to find positivity in a moment like that, and hopefully this will help others do the same. Certainly helped me!
    -Awkward Girl

  8. I file such experiences under “Urban Pentimento” in my mind, now and then one will take hold as a story. Perspective changes when on your own. Great post thanks!

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  10. i really like how you thought about the things that were around you. sometimes you are just annoyed of all the others but in fact you are the only grumpy one. i truly like your story!

  11. i really felt for you and how u took time to love and share ur grannys nostalgic times gone by memories having myself lost evrything i ever owned…looking for solace every where just to find a moment of peace i came across ur post and it was a little whiff of fresh air and less depressive to take life as that station room belong to nobody at all and observing what people lives are like its funny how thoughts were transferred to a long gone child hood when my granny will make small pieces of old bread and feed it to her favourite bunch of cute little fluffy yellow chicks and how they will bounce around on her lap hands and even jump on top of her head once in a while and uncontrollably i used to laugh when the chicken jumped from her head n rolled over and how my granmaqq picked it n examined if it was hurt that beautiful smile sheer happiness seeing her chicks giggling playing around….aah how times get lost forever ah those moments and den alot of more moments and life goes on

  12. …lemonade. It’s so important to change your frame of mind and see the world in a more positive light. It’s a revelation. I wrote about the yogic practice of this on my blog as I try to navigate NYC with a toddler. Not easy.

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