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Amtrak, clickity clack

Green River Station. 7 AM
Just down from Ray’s Tavern
Padlocked, in hock, dry docked on Broadway
Historic function mocked, doors locked, platform pocked with age and inattention
Misery clocked year by year, maybe a beauty in its day
A building now socked in the historical jaw.
No place to sit except for a splintery old discarded pallet.
Looking in the window
An air conditioner the only proof of a human presence;
And soon a Union Pacific guy comes by
One hand around a small Thermos, the other hand on the doorknob.
“Is it possible for me to come in and sit?” I say.
“Sorry,” he says. “I just handle the freight.”
“I have nothing to do with Amtrak.” Disappears.
One small Moabite shuffles back, forth, then back again across the concrete slab
An SUV is parked nearby; they know how to do this Amtrak waiting thing
Wouldn’t want to be here after dark. A good place for a murder.

The train’s right on time, I mount the metal steps, big as you please
No taking off shoes or scanning or taking out the laptop; no scrutiny at all
30 seconds later we slip Green River bonds
I sit and am immediately pulled into a conversation with two young women
About men, children, mothers-in-law, and back to men again
The conductor sticks a little tag above my seat
“Chi” for Chicago. That’s who I am now.
Others are Grand Junction, Denver, Omaha
He-who-never-sleeps knows who’s getting off when and where
Our conductor will make sure you get off even if you fall asleep.

Omaha, 3 AM.
People on the platform in coats, shoulders high, hands shoved in pockets
Watching for the right face at the door
Fast hugs, long hugs, tentative hugs, no hugs, a back slap
Then pivoting, the connection made
Towing belongings, plastic shopping bags, pillows and blankets,
Car doors slam, headlights pull out into the night
Will they sit up till the dawn talking at a kitchen table somewhere?
Drive for hours till the right town or the right farm appears?
Our train slides away, clickity clickity clickity clack at first
As it clears the metro switches and sidings
The five-part-harmony moaning whistle as it approaches a road crossing
Whooo-whooo, whuh-whoooooo.

That sound of longing and pulling away, signaling the insomniacs and the broken-hearted
I’m going, why are you staying? I’m going, why are you staying? I’m going, I’m going . . .
Then the swooooooosh of rural miles.

Lots of announcements
Ding ding ding. “We are now announcing the 5:30 dinner seating.”
Ding ding ding. “Watch your step, we are having some rail turbulence.”
Ding ding ding. “We are now crossing the Mississippi River.
New stop Burlington, then Ottumwa.
“The café lounge is open till midnight.
The dining car will be open for breakfast at 6 AM.
“If this is your stop and you wish to detrain,
Please go back to your seat to gather your belongings.”
Ding ding ding. “The snack car will be closed from 5 to 6 because I need break.”

Denver. 5 PM.
55 Boy Scouts pile into my car
Hugely annoyed there’s no Internet
Texting and making calls to the friends who didn’t come, mostly girls
Cell coverage dropping in and out; demands of “Are you there?” “Can you hear me?”
Boys on their way to some leadership conference
Hugely annoyed again that the snack car closes at midnight
A teenage male festival of cookies, Doritos, sodas, and whispered Chicago plans
Planet Hollywood and Hooters topping the list.
Getting ready to compartmentalize leadership, ethics, and objectifying women
Scoutmasters coming by every half hour to pat my arm,
They look inquiringly into my eyes, hoping their smiles can help the situation
Knowing what a pain in the ass their boys can be,
Saying, “Are you doing okay, Ma’am?”

Chicago. 2 PM.
An extended Amish family speaking German camped out in the waiting room.
Boyish men with beards and straw hats
Wives with bonnets over piled-up hair, plain hand-sewn dresses
Babies passed around from grandma to mom to sister to grandma again
Sandwiches pulled out of tote bags, turning the heads of other passengers
Young girls with bonnets and braids in chairs; boys sprawled on the floor.
The thick-bearded patriarch, whom all the men resemble
Okays missions to the bathroom and Burger King
The lucky ones return with precious cardboard flutes of French fries to pass around.

New River Gorge, West Virginia. The next morning.
The woman behind me says our conductor used to be a manager at Pizza Hut;
She used to go there for pizza all the time. “It’s him!” she says to her seatmate.
He comes by later. Yes, he says, it was me.
My own seatmate has at least two fried chickens in the valise in her lap
Each of her four children has a different father
She’s going to visit her daughter who’s a nurse in D.C.

Alexandria, Virginia. 6 PM.
It’s my stop now. Drizzly and gray, no one waiting, I just step off, start walking.
At the hotel, I pull out my dusty rose, chiffon, mother-of the-groom dress
Three days of being rolled up tight in a stowed suitcase, and I shake it out
Not one wrinkle.

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