Happy Canada Day!

Vincent and the boys dropped me off at the train station around 9:15 on Sunday morning. Once I’d established where to get in line, I located the nearest Starbucks, and stocked up on Egg McMuffins and water for the 10+-hour trip. It’s listed as 10h40m on the Amtrak schedule but I could swear it used to be more like eight hours. This mystery was solved eventually.

Seating on Amtrak is general, so there was a long line forming at the entranceway to the gate. I placed myself and started fiddling with my phone. As others joined behind me there was some small talk about where to go, luggage, customs, etc. An attendant came along with a portable scale to weigh the luggage of the man behind me. I commented in an aside to him, “I get weight matters in a plane, but on a train?” He cheerfully transferred three pounds of materials from his big bag to a smaller one to meet compliance.

The man and I started chatting. It’s funny how little details come out in a conversation. I don’t remember exactly how it started, but I think he said something about the train leaving earlier than scheduled because of the heat. I replied that I didn’t know it was early, but then I’d bought my ticket the day before. I then commented on how the train ride used to be more like eight or nine hours and now it was longer. He suggested the border as a cause. I told him about the border guard into Canada giving my husband a rough time because he stated his reason for the visit was conducting a Study Abroad from WMU and the guard suggested he was taking away Canadian jobs. It was very hard not to argue with him because he was so pigheadedly wrong. The man brightened and said he was a professor just getting back from conducting a study abroad in Ireland. He was a nursing professor from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. He shared he was taking the train to Whitehall for a vacation with his family at Lake George and it had been cheaper to fly from Europe to Montreal and take the train from there. His family would be meeting him there.

At this point the attendant returned with the custom forms and she asked us if we were together (in which case we’d only need one form.) We laughed, and I told him I had a PhD in Playwriting, which he found very interesting – “A PhD in Theatre?” surprised such a thing could exist. His doctorate was in nursing and I asked what sort of study abroad nursing students did. It seemed focused on enlarging their world. I started talking about the work I’d done with theatre and health, and how there existed classes for health science people to understand narrative and humanities to help them connect with patients. He started getting that look “give me your card, maybe we could do a symposium, that gives me ideas!” I don’t carry a card at the moment as I am between jobs. I didn’t even have a pen, but he supplied me with both and I gave him my information. Our conversation shifted into the desultory higher ed market. He mentioned salaries and when I revealed Vincent’s current salary after 18 years, he was shocked at how low it was. We agreed higher ed wasn’t worth entering anymore. His wife was working on getting her PhD, but she was older now. I commiserated, as I’d gotten mine at 44. “Oh, but she’ll be sixty next week, her birthdays on, let’s see…” Somehow, I knew he was going to say July 8th before he did. “That’s my birthday!” I said. The whole conversation felt fated. We parted ways as we boarded, but I do hope he contacts me. His name was Rick.

The Amtrak ride had an upside and a downside. The upside – the two conductors from Montreal to Albany were hilarious. It was Abbott and Costello the whole way. They announced repeatedly that it was “Make a Friend Day” because the train would be full, and we’d have to share. They also announced that because of the heat advisory at some point we’d be ordered to slow down for safety reasons. Don’t understand why? “If you want to know the science behind that, you can ask, but just know that for now.” At one point as one of the conductors passed near me the other on the Walkie-Talkie told him to go check something and he replied, “Don’t tell me what to do.” The tinned voice shot back “Are we married?” It kept us laughing for quite a while.

A good thing too because it was frigging hot. At first, I thought it was me. We didn’t make the border for two hours, which is ridiculous because it’s a 45-minute drive from Montreal. But we were going so slow. Apparently there’s some new speed regulations on the Canadian side. Then I thought it was because I was sitting in the sun, so when the passenger across from me left, I moved to the other side of the car. No. I was sweating, in that oozing damp way you do in humidity.

At one point the train stopped and all the electricity went out for about 10 minutes. An hour later it stopped again and the conductor announced he was going to go out and try to get the compressors working for the air conditioners manually. If that didn’t work, he said, we’d move forward to another car he’d been saving for passengers boarding later. We sat there for another 10 minutes and then he came back and we all moved forward, through the dining car. Lord, there was air conditioning there. Once seated again I still didn’t have to share so I returned to my book. At first it felt better, but as the hours dragged on, and I finally got a seat partner at Saratoga Springs, I realized it was suffocating hot again. We stopped at Albany for over 45 minutes and there was some talk of fixing the air conditioning. I remembered the coolness of the dining car and made my way back there. Bliss! The poor woman working the concessions was a wonder of movement and efficiency. I tipped her $5.00 for my cheese and crackers and glasses of blessed ice. I then sat in the car for a bit until I actually felt chilled. When I returned to my place, my seatmate had donned a sweater, the air conditioning worked for three of the twelve hours of that trip.

When we finally arrived at Grand Central at 10:15pm (12 hours on the train, nine of them with no A/C) I made my way to the A train and the last ride home. First I had to refill my MetroCard and I learned a lesson. When they say 7-days, they mean 7-days – not in hours. I bought the card at 11pm on Sunday and it expires on Saturday. Pooh. I’d been a bit nervous about trains running on the weekend, but it was fine. The car was full of tired people returning from the beach. Heads nodding everywhere.

I wanted to mention one moment after changing cars. There were two young Quebec men who had been sitting in front of me at first, and then behind me after the seat change. One of the lovely things about Montreal is listening to people talk and hearing them switch from French to English within sentences. This is especially true of the younger generation. At one point I heard the voice behind me repeatedly saying “Kalamazoo”. After a bit I had to peek over the back of my seat and tell them I was “from” Kalamazoo and did they want to know anything? It turned out they had been looking at the Amtrak map in the company magazine.

Yesterday I ran errands: laundry, dry cleaning, note writing, etc. The toilet tank wasn’t filling properly so I fixed it all by myself with a twist tie. I wrote to the enthusiastic agency (I’m just going to call it Agency B, with Agency A being the one that actually sent me for those tests). I asked Agency B if they had any temp work they could send my way, and they said they’d consider it. I spent more hours brushing up on my math skills for the UN test on Friday.

This morning Agency B called me and told me they had a company that needed someone but weren’t sure if they’d take a person who’d never worked there before. She told me she’d call me back in a few minutes if they agreed. I rushed to shower, put on makeup, get dressed. After about 40 minutes and checking my phone for missed calls Agent B e-mailed me that the company didn’t have the staff to “sit with me” today, but they might take me on Thursday. Freaking baby steps. So, here I sit with makeup on my face which I can feel sloughing off in sweat. Tomorrow’s the 4th of July so no joy there. We’ll see what mischief I can manage today. Still haven’t used the MetroCard since Sunday.

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