“Journey by Train,” by Jamie Elmer

Arrival: I am a half hour early due to my father’s excitability. He called me 8 times from the grocery store before my alarm even went off to wake up. 15 minutes before the train is scheduled to arrive, an announcement goes off but, after “train fourteen,” it’s cut off from the screeching of the freight train on the opposing track. Bastards. A lovely conductor (is that what she would be called?) on a tram asks me where I’m going and tells me to jump on, as the train arrives farther down the track. I board.

Hour one: I am seated next to a friendly older man who shakes my hand and tells me his name, which I quickly forget because my memory is abysmal. He’s sticking with me almost to the end and has the window seat. Curses. To my dismay, I find that the free WiFi I was promised is nonexistent at the moment. Curse them as well. I settle with reading a chapter in The Hobbit while sustaining myself with a chocolate chip muffin.

Hour two: I’m already tired of being on the train; that’s got to be a bad sign. I’ve finished my chapter and have pulled out my computer to attempt work that is useless until WiFi becomes available again. Which I hope is soon. After learning from his phone calls that he has been to jail, is on probation, had a great talk about God at AA, and is moving to Texas with his daughter, my neighbor ventures off to find the lunch compartment and has not returned.

Hour two & a half: The older lady beside me tells me I have great concentration. I’m pretty sure she thinks I’m in high school when she asks if I’m doing school work, but I do have a giant elephant on my sweater so I concede. My neighbor comes back once, mentions a hotspot on his phone, and then disappears again and has still not returned. Hopes for WiFi dashed again. Curses. I begin eating my turkey sandwich just as the train comes to a halt. Now the pitiful air conditioning has turned off. I will soon be dead.

Hour three: We were stopped for almost 20 minutes and the air was painfully turned off for most of it. I fear they have an agenda against me. My neighbor shuffled by with new friends he made, and wandered off with my hopes of a hotspot in tow. We finally move, and I wish I could sleep away the coming hours of travel.

Hour four: Train bathrooms are almost worse than airplane bathrooms. I didn’t know that this was possible. I am both impressed and disgusted. I tire of reading and riding trains and hope that my finally-returned neighbor requires Internet.

Hour five: Signal is intermittent. WiFi still nonexistent. Being cut off from the outside world while being surrounded by mountains is only made worse by the fact that we haven’t been to a station stop in so long. I overhear the man in front of me say, “I asked and they said that we’re 25 minutes behind.” Nothing can dash my hopes more.

Hour six: And we’ve stopped again. I am most displeased with this situation. I long for my off-key singing ringing in my ear and the hum of my vehicle scooting on its way. I would be not long for my destination if I had driven. I must think positively for I have many hours to go and additional precious minutes that could be spent doing productive things, like sucking face. I have completed my first draft of a cover letter, so there’s at least that to show for my suffering. Why must it be so hot?

Hour six and more than a half: I’m pretty sure I saw an Amish child pass three times now. Are there special train exceptions nowadays, because I don’t blame them for not wanting to take a carriage across California.

Hour seven: Nausea has kicked in. I’ve never felt a greater need for fresh air than I do in this very moment, pitifully sucking the salt from my pretzels. They never mention feeling queasy on the Hogwarts Express. I bet wizards don’t get queasy. Bastards.

Hour eight on the dot: The sky is fading around me and I feel like I am fading with it. I was told by my neighbor that we’re running an hour and a half behind. I pray to all the Gods that this news is incorrect. Never again. No trains. Death would be a sweet release.

Hour eight, continued: Upon checking the status on my phone, I will arrive only 29 minutes late. Although dreadful, it is no hour and a half. If this status is lying, I may punch a baby in the throat. I dream of the moment when I can twirl in the fresh night air like a woodland nymph frolicking in the forest. In the meantime, I will hide my possessions and use the disgusting facilities and hope that I can read once I have splashed water upon my saddened face.

Hour nine: In a perfect world I would soon be departing, but in reality I will be hitting hour ten with an unhappy stomach and a heart full of regret. A woman nearby took a picture with her phone of the train. I was blinded by the flash. This is my existence. Half blind, hungry. I feel as Bilbo Baggins does on his own journey, the old people are the trolls in the mountains and the train is the dragon I must overcome. Let us hope that during my remaining time in seat 50 this granola bar sustains me as the Elvish bread sustained Bilbo.

Hour ten: Alas, I have finally come to a countdown that brings me hope! One hour until I am free from this wretched mechanical beast! I can hear my new neighbors whispering about my work and am glad that my font is tiny enough to avoid the prying eyes of the elderly. I can at least count my blessings that I am not the old woman who got on with me, who still has more than twelve hours to go! I shudder at the thought.

Hour ten and a little past half: It is almost time to depart, and I put my book down in my excitement. Awaiting me is freedom, a boy, and a burger, so I say adieu to this train journey and repress the knowledge that I will be back for another in four days time.

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