I had been on the train to Chicago about two hours before I toot the first picture. The burned out building across the track from our stop at Pontiac, Illinois was typical of the mood of the rainy, dark and drab morning since leaving the Springfield Amtrak station at 6:32. The land tells a tale of woe in winter. The one ray of sunshine that entered my picture was a young woman who boarded the coach class car a few minutes after me, who approached as asked if the aisle seat beside my window seat was taken. “It is if you would like to sit in it.” is what I should have said, and whatever I said worked because she sat down. From that point on, as the Number 305 began to roll, I knew I was one of the luckiest passengers on the train.
I was in no rush to be chatty, and neither was she; a good thing. Thanks to the rainy sky and hour of the new day, the whole car seemed hushed. A few passengers, obviously aboard since St. Louis or before had taken advantage of the seats with spare empties and stretched, to occupy both in blissful slumber through the night. There would be ample time for talk in the coming 3 1/2 hours. I glanced peripherally in her direction as she pulled out a Sports Illustrated, thumbed through it, stopping to read an article, it seemed, then looked over some papers from a computer printer. This took about an hour and a half. I stared out the window at the darkness, mildly perturbed that the seat was positioned awkwardly behind the closest window. To take pictures when the sun rose to the occasion, I’d have to lean forward. It was really going to crimp my modus operandi, but as the light began to creep into the morning, I knew I wasn’t going to photograph anything significant anyway with the rain drops all over the window. There was no point in gazing into the dark so I began to read a small biography of Wolfgang Mozart I had brought for such a glum circumstance.
My trainmate sat still, eyes closed, no doubt, dozing. I know this because people don’t open their months slightly when they are meditating or feigning slumber. When I first noticed, her head faced pretty much forward, but over the miles it rolled to her left. I know this seems crazy to confess, but I felt I was watching something sacred as she slept. I glanced at her probably five times over that quiet hour, and never for more than a few seconds at a time. I didn’t want her to awaken to see me watching her. After her nap we began to lob remarks back and forth, and gradually began to converse. The entree to what would be civil, convivial patter for the rest of the journey was my asking her, “Are you a dancer? I noticed you reading the Sports Illustrated when we started, and I thought you might be with a ballet or something.”
No, she was not a dancer although she volunteers for an arts organization in Quincy, Illinois where she lives and works. She was coming to Chicago to go shopping and take a break from the home town. We chatted about Quincy and the times I had enjoyed there when on the road selling Encyclopedia Britannica. I was surprised she had not yet visited the Quincy museum, across the street from what used to be the Lincoln-Douglas Hotel where I used to stay, now a home for senior citizens. I introduced myself; told her my name is Job and asked her first name.
She was Anna Lee. BEAUTIFUL name! Later, after we had talked awhile, I asked if I could take her picture. She said “yes.”
When I boarded the train, I had put my laptop computer carrying bag in the overhead luggage, but had placed my guitar, soundbox to the bottom and neck up, between my legs. Eventually, it entered the dialogue as I explained I was going to entertain at the Christmas party of some Chicago friends, Peter and Byung who had been visiting the Vachel Lindsay home State Historic site in 2010 when I was featured speaker at an event there.
As we rolled along I snapped a few pictures of the scenery outside, but my heart wasn’t in it. The weather was not my friend. I recognized a lot of the scenery from my trip last year when I spoke, recited and sang at Chicago’s College of Complexes, thanks to the invitation and hospitality of my new friends Peter and Byung. I took probably three more pictures, and, two days later, after reviewing them, decided none were fit to share.
As the train began to pull away from the Joliet station, I remembered to call Peter to let him know I was this far into the trip so he could start out for Union Station to meet me curbside by the CVS Pharmacy, I dialed his number. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . and discovered no answer and no voice mail! DANGIT! Peter had lost his cell phone and had told me earlier in an e-mail he’d be borrowing his wife’s on Saturday morning. I called her number five times. The only result was that I learned, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that his charming wife, Byung, had not set up voice mail! I had noticed Anna Lee using an Android or something like it earlier, so I asked if she could access e-mail with it. She could. And did. I gave her the information and we found Peter’s e to me in which he had given me Byung’s cell number. YES (surprise!) I HAD copied it correctly! I tried a few times more. NOTHING! Back to Anna Lee . . . Could she go back to that e-mail from Peter since all his e-mails include his home and office phone numbers. Maybe he had found his phone and didn’t tell me. . . . I called both numbers . . . twice! No joy. Anna Lee suggested she could e-mail him a note to call me on my cell. At least I would answer it. So we e-mailed him something cryptic with my cell number. . . . . . . . And in five minutes or so my phone rang. WHHHHEEEEEEW!
Okay, all was set. No worries. I gave Anna Lee my “Balladeer For Rent” folksinger card, and to my surprise and delight, she gave me her business card with an e-mail address. As the train entered the dark part of the station, slowing to a stop, Anna Lee rose to get her luggage, and asked if she could pass me my laptop case. “Absolutely,” I said, and reached into one of the pockets, removed a copy of my book Confluence of Legends about my visit to Urbana, Ohio where I read a Vachel Lindsay poem and played/sang folk songs. I explained I would wait for most of the passengers in our car to depart before following with my bulky guitar thanked her profusely for being such terrific company! She indicated the same satisfaction from our serendipitous encounter and went happily down the aisle.
My laptop case was full of my books: the afore-mentioned Confluence, plus Minstrel’s Ramble: to Live and Die in Springfield, Illinois and Bear’ sKin, two of my three poetry books and Springfield Aviation from Arcadia publishing. I had also brought copies of some Vachel Lindsay poems (I recite what I’ve memorised at the drop of a hint) and the Mozart biography. In one pocket were my hair brush, a bottle of after-shave from a grocery store. I had forgotten my toothbrush and toothpaste, though I had brushed before leaving Springfield. Finally, I had packed a pair of clean shorts, Fruit of the Looms, for the return trip the next day. I needn’t have bothered.
The trek into the station up the escalator and over to the CVS to wait for Peter was a breeze, in light rain. I would have been as happy to be walking in magnificent downtown Chi’ if it had been raining cats and dogs. I had packed light, I had my guitar, some great memories from the trip with Anna Lee. I was looking forward to seeing Peter and Byung again. I wasn’t merely Springfield folk slinger; I was frikking James frikking Taylor! I was a frikking STAR! I was absolutely where I wanted to be!
. . . Coming next on “Return to Chi’ (or) I Didn’t Even Change My Shorts” part 2: I meet Peter and tour an art house preparing for a silent auction and the FABULOUS MAJOR University of Chicago Art Gallery!
Live long . . . . . . . and proper.
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