Humanity on the Train

I keep in touch with at least one person that I've met in every long bus or train journey. So today, I met Dave. I want to write about Dave, because meeting him makes me think of meeting people in general, and of "yuan fen" (緣分), which translates partially as affinity, serendipity, Fate, and magic: it's the red thread of connection that ties us all together, some loosely interwoven, some tightly bound together, and some, like me and Dave today, quickly bumping into each other in fateful and delightful quick bounces of starlight bouncing off of starlight for once, and for eternity. 

I sat on one side of the viewing car, and he sat on the other side. I sat facing the sun, he sat facing the shade. After a whole day of grinning into the sun, I started getting light-headed, and decided to move to the shade. There happened to be an empty seat in an ideal-looking chair between a wall and a cute curly-headed man (Dave), so I moved there to sit. I started some light-hearted banter about how nice it is to be in the sun after being in the snow for so long, and how I over-fried my snowy self today. He asks, "Snow? Where?" and thus we begin sharing our life stories through the lens of our travel experiences: my eight years of wanderings, and his recent embarking on USA adventures and heading into Thailand adventures in a month, on a one-way ticket. 

The details of the conversation are not important to this story, but the delight, connection, and quickly-passed time spent in laughing, sharing, and listening are like bright red prickly pear cactus flowers amidst a dull-colored desert landscape. This experience, and experiences/ conversations like this, stood out for me, amidst a long train ride.

But, not so dull. 
Like the desertscape, or the winterscape, as you look closer, you begin to notice the super-fine and super-fabulous details. 

Here's a brief glimpse into the other characters that colored my 3.5 day train experience across the country: 

I'm currently sitting across the aisle from a loudly snoring woman, Pinky (all people given pseudonyms, to protect their privacy). I admired Pinky from afar, ever since Chicago. She patted me on my back every time she passed me by, saying things like, "You are so beautiful," and, "You have a great life ahead of you!" A bright individual who chatted it up with everyone who came her way, I admired her outgoing nature and positive approach to life. Well, seemingly positive. I bumped into Pinky in the bathroom with tears rolling down her usually smiley cheeks. She spilled out the quick low-down of all the current difficulties of her life, tightly hugging me, and crying. She smelled like alcohol... I learned that we may portray one image to the world, but actually be going through a whole different story in our own lives and minds. 

The person sitting in front of her, Charles, was always waiting with me at the door to leave the train, at every rest stop. He and I were also always the last to get back into the train. He seemed passionate about his cigarettes and cellphone, while I was passionate about walking as far and fast as possible during our limited train-breaks. Turns out we both graduated from the same college, except he is about my father's age, and attended my alma mater before I was born. He had a solid career as an engineer for 30 years, then got burnt out from having two jobs, a family, and sleeping on average of 4 hours a night. He couldn't retire fully and just rest and do nothing, because he would get bored, and resort to alcohol and drugs to fulfill his needs for mental stimulation. So, he started renting houses... and that's what he does, now! Funny how we may have certain ideas about our lives, and certain ways we plan things... and then, life happens. 

The first person I sat next to was Eddie, a jazz musician by heart, a salesman by trade. He's a salesman to make a living, but his true passion is making and listening to music. We had a great heart-to-heart, as well. 

A quicker verbal photograph of some more characters, before I head to sleep (earplugs are in, but Pinky's snores shake the entire train and render me sleepless!): 

- The family of four, mama saying, "Look at how some people live," pointing at the Mexican shacks across the fence border. I play peekaboo with the little girl, and she responds by laughing and calling me, "Friend!" singing, "Jingle Bells" with gusto. 
- The round-bellied older man who called me, "Yoga instructor!" as I led our group of stragglers, almost midnight, to the back end of the train to look for an open door to get back onto the train. "Teach me some moves?" he asked me. 
- The older women who smiled at me as I practiced yoga in the lower compartment of the train. Later, during a train break, I noticed them extending their limbs into Superman pose, and even Warrior pose. 
- The older woman who initially sat across from me. We informed each other when the conductor walked down our aisle, so we could pretend to be asleep, and compared notes about how to keep an open seat next to both of us, to facilitate comfortable sleeping at night. She couldn't get over our train being late, and kept asking about the time. 
- The mama who initially sat next to me in the Viewing Car. She asked me what I was studying. I said just one word, "Herbalism." She said, "Oh, that sounds interesting..." then launches into a lengthy monologue about all her children, the job that she just retired from, how proud she is of her children, etc. A whole life story, unasked for, but still touching. Like Pinky, she just needed to be heard. 
- The young man from Long Beach who wore sunglasses, because his eyes were too sensitive to the light, and he couldn't fall asleep, because the train was too exciting, the light too intense, the sounds all too loud. He said, "Hey, you're a pretty Asian girl," then, after looking me up and down as I tried not to laugh, gaging whether or not he was for reals, "I could fall for a pretty Asian girl like you." He's serious. I admire his easy way of chatting with different people, and don't need to set boundaries around not wanting a hot train date. 
- The two military veterans who talked with each other at length about their battle scars. I was surprised and frightened to hear one say that he thought the best way to "deal with the Mexican problem" was to "have towers along the border, and just shoot down whoever tries to sneak through. That'll teach them." He related heart-wrenching tales from his war days. Now, he's headed for his friends thousand-acre farm to enjoy the silence and hunt for deer. I walked with the veteran in a fast walk-trot around the block during a train-break. His blue eyes were like bright blue stars, sharp and piercing, yet also gentle and with authentic humor and caring. 
-... and, more stories abound. But it's time for me to go to sleep. 

With gratitude for how we interweave,
and gratitude for the richness of humanity,
and your own richness of humanity, 

(photos: Ithaca, as viewed from the 10th floor of the Holiday Inn. And, women's feet from Gina's birthday party.) 

Jiling . 林基玲 
  626.344.9140 / 607.262.0302