April 23rd, 2011

An Unexpected Roadtrip: Making The Train

Happy Easter! I'm coming to you now from my Aunt's very nice apartment in Huntersville, North Carolina. For those not in the know, it's a fairly affluent suburb of Charlotte. Getting here, like everything else in my life of late, was an adventure.
So after the dreary, cold weather that made up yesterday, I was very much looking forward to the 80s and sun that had been promised me on this one. I slept till nearly 12, luxuriating in the rare chance to actually do so amid the constant hubbub that is graduate school. Once I did get up and take a peak outside though, I was disappointed to find that there wasn't much sun to be felt.
Despite this, I decided to take a quick walk down to the mailbox and just get my muscles going, if nothing else. I hadn't thought there was going to be much else to do today or tomorrow, given that it was a holiday weekend and most of my friends were gone. Kids flew by on bikes, almost knocking me down. I also had to dodge the occasional wayward lawnmower as I wove my way in and out of the tightly packed cars that are not kind to knees. Writing this, I realize that I live in an obstacle course!
I'd forgotten to bring my cell phone with me, and so when I returned I discovered that my Aunt had called. She said that if I could take the train down to Charlotte, she'd take me first to our church here bright and early for the sunrise service, and then up to my mom's church in Southern Pines for the normal 11:00 gathering. I've not been to that church since 2007, I'm sad to say. Anyway, I decided that I'd go for it, because I know that I'd regret not having left there come tomorrow morning.
This set off a flurry of activity, during which I called every number and emailed and texted all of the people I could think of in an attempt to secure a ride to the Durham train station. I wasn't too entirely surprised that this venture proved unsuccessful though, as such last-minute efforts often do. Someone suggested that I consider taking the bus and hoping that I could then get help to cross the street on arrival at the Durham station, since that crossing isn't really friendly at all. It was worse than that even, but I'll go into that later.
So I ran over to the bus stop and asked the driver if he thought I might have time to make it all the way to the train station by 5:20, the departure time for my train. It was 3:30 as I boarded. "Hmmm, I don't know," he said. "We're not affiliated with TTA" (The Triangle Transit Authority), "so it's hard for me to say for sure". He gave me the number to that company, but no one would pick up. So, I opted to just chance it. The driver told me to get off at Columbia and Franklin streets and walk over to the stop at the Carolina Coffee shop to catch the bus to Durham. Doing this was easy enough, and I found a pair of eyes to help ensure that I indeed hopped onto the right bus. The TTA driver then informed me that the ETA for the train station was 5 PM, so I figured that should in fact give me enough time. I settled in and listened to people argue, snore, and otherwise engage in the silliness that is normal on public transit. I wanted to go online, but I chose not to do so because I was afraid of being distracted on a route I knew pretty much nothing about.
So 5:00 came, and I arrived at my stop. "Is this the train station?" I asked someone. "No, this the bus station!" they replied. "uh, well can someone please help me get over to the train station?" A woman stood and began assisting me, only there was apparently no easy way to just cross the street. I guess whatever kind of path they had for that before has been altered or something. She had to pass me on for fear of missing her bus, and then the guy with whom I was paired said it would be a long walk. "But I need to be there by 5:20," I insisted. "Well why you come here so late!" "Because my plans were made at the last minute, and I was under the impression that it (the train station) would be relatively close to here". "Ah well it's changed," he retorted. "You can't cross those railroad tracks no more, and going straight across that street will get you hit. Sit down here for a second". I basked on that bench for 10 minutes, pretty much prepared to call a taxi, when someone from the station showed up with a car. "Alright man, we're gonna get there on time" he said. "It's just around the corner". He told me that, at this time anyway, it probably wouldn't be such a good idea to attempt taking the bus over to that station alone. I think I'm going to talk to someone and see if some sort of relatively easy fix can't be implemented. It's a lot more convenient and cheaper to take that bus than to shell out all the dough I'd have to in order to get a taxi all the way from my place. And obviously, I can't always rely on others being available with wheels to help me out.
Anyway, so I just barely got my ticket purchased and had taken a seat inside before the Charlotte train was called. While sitting there, I met a nice older woman who was in a wheelchair, and we began chatting. "I think I'll go ahead and sit beside you sir," she said: "if that's alright by you". She told me that she'd gone to school in Greensboro, I guess at UNCG or perhaps NC A&T State, and majored in Marketing and Sales. "Oh yeah!" she said: "that was my niche. Did that all the way up till a few years ago when I began working in a call center. I'd stayed there till I was laid off last year". I'm not exactly sure what she's doing now.
Everytime I'd pull out my computer as we rumbled down the tracks, she'd ask me another question. I really didn't mind though, since I'm just as much of a talker as anyone. She was only going to Greensboro, so I baid her adieu at that station. Both of us had also begun talking to a woman who said she was an American sign language interpreter here in Charlotte. She said she worked at a high school here. She was very kind, going to get food for both of us from the snack car, which she said was six cars away. I got a cheeseburger and chips, which cost an insane $8. "Man, it's like I'm at a stadium!" I told her. She laughed at that.
Not much else happened. As we pulled into Charlotte, one of the attendants began asking me questions about what I was doing with my life. "Did you go to grad school?" I asked him. "Oh no!" he replied. "I did high school and undergrad, pretty much putting in just enough to get by. All the schooling I needed, I got out here". Ha, I guess I can understand that.
Once inside of the station, I waited no more than 5 minutes for my Aunt to show up. They've recently gotten a new dog, whose name I think is Angel. As soon as I got into her vehicle, he began trying to check me out. He's a 9-month-old poodle. We made a quick stop by the grocery, and then we arrived at her place. I had a quick but delicious dinner of honey-baked turkey, collards, and mac and cheese. Then I chatted with my youngest blind cousin for a bit. With these new aids, this is really the first time ever that I've been able to hear him well enough to easily carry on a conversation. That's a little sad, isn't it?
And now I suppose I'd better get to winding down if I hope to be remotely functional by 5 AM. Tomorrow will be a super long day, and I will of course document as much of it as I end up being able to capture.