Train Sense

Looking out the train window.

As the sun crossed the sky from noon to dusk, the train hurdled and then shuffled and lagged then hurdled again. Heading north.

I understand why there are two ga-zillion songs about trains.

First, there is the sound of the train. It’s rhythmic chug, chug chugging at its low register. It is a growling beast, and then a purring one. It touches your insides via quakes delivered from the soles of your feet. It adds the high tones from the clang of the cars as they pass over the tracks, an underloved but meaningful timbre of the orchestra–more cowbell like. And intermittently the low deep whistle sings it’s lonely tune as the train passes by. It’s warning you that it won’t stop, that it will just break your heart as it powers by.

Then, there is the feel of the train. The jostle back and forth along the tracks. Where walking the aisle of the train is akin to passing an unpasssable sobriety test. It sings songs the rails, leaning ever so slightly to the left and then rolling a bit to the right. The rocking lulls many passengers to dream of adventures to come.

Looking out the window, the world rushes past. The portal is big, but squared off. The edge creating an illusion of a ribbon of film passing through at speeds fast and slow. At first, it seems like the outside is moving, but as the speed picks up you realize that you are the one that’s moving–you just didn’t feel it. Yet, it moves you. Like a song, sung via tons of metal gliding over the tracks heading somewhere else.

Precious Cargo

Oklahoma City National Memorial at night. All lit up. Remembering those who were lost.

The day that the Murrah Building was bombed, I was in Kansas City.

I was staying at either the Hyatt Regency Crown Center or at the Westin Crown Center. They were the same. One was darker than the other, but they were the same. The hotels were linked by a pedestrian bridge that intersected a Hallmark building. Hallmark being a big deal in Kansas City.

You could walk by and watch the artists making Shoebox Cards–the funny cards–through a big window. Sometimes there’d be nobody at the desks. I guess they were on break.

When I went by that window, I was pushing a stroller that was full of a big fat baby Baby Bear. He was my traveling companion that first year of his life. He went from Boston at 10 weeks to Palm Springs at 10 months. There were two trips to Kansas City in between and maybe one after. There were likely six or eight other cities, too.

I took a new job when he was in my belly. I started on April Fools’ Day and he was born in the heat of August. My first foray into business travel with an infant was to Copley Place–I think it was a Marriott. There was some kind of pedestrian walkway there, too. My best mother-in-law ever joined me on that trip. She’d watch the Baby Bear when I was at the conference. I would ply her with the breakfast that I’d walk back from the Au Bon Pain–this was the olden days when their French roast was brewed strong and sweet, they had real cream and their bagels did not insult my New York MIL. We tried room service the first day and it was costly and crappy. Fresh coffee and bagels on the other hand, need I say more?

My assistant was in charge of shipping my breast pump. It was the size and weight of a significant car battery. My company paid the FedEx back and forth. It was cheap for all the work I was doing. Seriously. I carried the stroller on the plane. It came in handy when Grandma pushed him as she strolled downtown Boston.

We met my Bestest in Cambridge. We took the Green Line and transferred at one point to some old trolley car. We carried the stroller up the stairs of the old fashioned car, having to pause once or twice for an outburst of giggles or maybe it was hysterical cackles. This wasn’t the subway she knew in Manhattan and environs. It also bore no resemblance to the D.C. version of train that I knew. My Bestest was happy that we were city people and were up for the misadventure. My favorite part of the evening was strolling among the shops after dinner and finding the red telescope that The Big Guy wanted. MIL asked me if she could buy it for him for Christmas. I still have it.

By the time I arrived in KC, I had done a few solo gigs. My job took me to nice hotels and I’d find a sitter via the concierge. I bet I didn’t tip her well enough–but I also bet I mentally excused myself since I couldn’t expense this big expense. I’d go to sessions, give some presentations and build business during the day. I’d usually skip the socials. I didn’t need a glass of wine. Baby Bear was hungry. And I was mostly exhausted.

Did I tell you what a great traveler he was? People would see me get on the plane with a laptop on one shoulder and a fat baby and bright blue diaper bag on the other. Usually their faces would fall. Especially when they saw me edge toward their seat. The Bear didn’t cry. He didn’t fuss. He’d have his meal and read books with me, except when he was making friends with the person in the seat behind us. My neck muscles elongated like a ballerina’s as I looked over my shoulder at him and his newest friend(s).

The day there was “weather” in Dallas and we were diverted to San Antonio, we sat on the tarmac for three hours. After the first hour, the flight attendants let us all loose. They brought out those little bottles filled with fire water and dug out the remaining cold burritos to keep us happy. Other passengers were shocked that there was a baby on this hell-flight. Frankly, he was having a great time. Better than the ansty adults who entertained themselves by passing him around.

But on that day in April, we were in Kansas City. I didn’t know anything about big federal buildings and the regional fed hubs. That morning, I ordered room service and put on the TV. I didn’t have anyplace to be. I held Baby Bear close to me and sobbed. And sobbed. Downtown Kansas City was uneasy. There are plenty of federal buildings and nobody knew if their would be more attacks.

I put the sweet Bear in his stroller and we walked from one of the hotels, across the link and past the Hallmark artists and through the mall to the other hotel. I don’t know if we started or ended at the W-hotel or the H-hotel. But we went back and forth more than once. We stopped and looked through the glass wall surrounding the bridge. We saw very very wide and very very empty roads below us. I wasn’t scared, but I thought about it. Being scared, that is.

Mostly, though, I thought about those babies who would never grow up. But I couldn’t think about their parents. I still can’t. I don’t know if I could get myself out if I did. My Baby Bear is a young man. I weep for the parents who never got to know their babies as kids and tweens and teens and young adults.

Fuck Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. Bastards.

But I can’t end on that thought. No. They aren’t the story.

I will thank the amazing first responders who walked into that horror. To the people of Oklahoma City who were almost all touched by this tragedy, I’m awed by your resilience. And to the families who lost so much, I am so sorry. Those who you loved so well are still remembered.

And a grateful hug to my Baby Bear. I am counting my blessings through a reprise of tears.

Clifden, County Galway

Clifden, County Galway.

“You’ve never been out drinking before with the Doc.” Spake the Big Guy to Baby Bear.

We had driven our longest stretch, from Belfast to County Galway. We bid our proprietor, Joe, goodbye. We had no idea what he said in return. Didn’t have a clue what anyone said in Belfast.

Except when Joe kept asking the other B&B guests if they “carikikeee reedeey.” We pieced together that he was asking about the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge that was closed due to wind the day we were there. The young woman getting her tea did not understand and batted the old man away.

Joe the Proprietor asked us if we wanted him to take our picture. At least that’s what we think he said, since he motioned to the camera. He took a great one. I wish we got a photo with him.

He waved us away early that morning, after a full Irish, for some.  Not for me. Too much food. Seriously, who can eat that much?

We had a day’s goal to cross the country and make it to Kylemore Abbey for an afternoon view. Legs were folded and bodies curled in the back of the bitty car. The soundtrack was the white noise of light snores.

We drove across green rolling fields spotted with bright yellow bushes that over the miles was recast into the brown mountains of the West. The road was a taupe ribbon on the flats that looped around the feet of the brown peaks. Some turns unveiled blue and green flecked water pocked with a flurry of little white waves.

We had a map and a better than decent idea of where we we were headed. GPS was spotty, but based on our Belfast wifi’d  maps, we made it to the Abbey for an explore. The castle and formal garden were charming, but, oh, the wild grounds. The Victorian era lord planted a zillion trees and brought in pheasants and foxes and stag and a gamekeeper so he could host hunting parties. I’m thinking The Rules of the Game.

Long day. We followed the coast on mission for dinner and a bed. Leenane was behind us. We followed the coast through delightful Letterfrack and pressed on a few miles to Clifden.

Still hugging the coast, we pass some green covered ruins and roll into the nominal capital of Connemara. The main street is a ring, but we didn’t follow it to infinity. As we were making the first lean around the loop I saw the name of a B&B that The Spouse found in his Kindle Fodor’s.

“Go straight!”

The overtaxed, driving-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-road operator rolled down the hill to the sought respite. We were welcomed by the glance of a fluff of a mostly sleeping dog  next to a stoked fireplace. Fire. Pup. Good signs.

The host came out and gave us two rooms. We gratefully walked the steps and put our bags down. The Spouse asked me about the price. I hadn’t asked. I just made the deal. Two rooms with breakfast. Host gave us the keys. It wasn’t like a real transaction. Nobody asked for a credit card. It was friendly. We would pay.

We made friends with the host who spent a decade a decade ago in D.C. environs. Small world. He returned to Ireland, developed the guesthouse and was raising his family with the white fluff dog, Roxy. He pointed us to dinner options 93 steps away. We stepped.

The season was just beginning and all the pubs and restaurants were open. We walked up and down the main drag and settled on a dining room that was beautiful and beautifully delicious. I still don’t understand how such a small town could support quality fine dining. But fine it definitely was.

The non-drivers wanted to spend time listening to music with a pint. The driver had had enough good craic and walked the 93 steps back to the guesthouse to settle for the night.

And that’s how Baby Bear had his first time out drinking with the Doc.

We sat at the bar at the pub with the chalkboard promising live music. We ordered a pint. The joint was shyte. We finished and moved on.

Two storefronts down we found a young man singing and playing his guitar in a window bay, opposite a bulky bar and next to a fireplace hearth. We sat in front of the hearth and ordered more pints. We had the type of talk you have when you’ve eaten a great meal, consumed a few pints, are surrounded by good music and have no place to be.

As we walked the 93 steps back to that night’s headquarters, we crossed a street to see a beautiful moon hanging over the street lamps, watching us from a comforter of clouds.

It had been building all afternoon and evening, but at that moment, when I saw that moon, I fell utterly and completely in love with Clifden, County Galway.

Sláinte