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Plains, Trains and (Crappy) Automobiles Part II: The Final Destination
Field of Dreams
I had gotten on a train bound for the Windy City area, had a conversation with a sullen salesman and drifted into a Turner Classic Movies-inspired fever dream. It had been quite a trip already, but we had finally arrived at my destination: Dyer, Indiana.
The reason for my journey in the first place was to visit an old college buddy and attend his housewarming party. It was a spectacular time spent with friends and acquaintances I hadn’t seen in many blue moons. The capper on the trip was a very inclusive tour of the “Friendly Confines,” Wrigley Field. This has long been a major point of interest on my bucket list, so finally getting there was a treat, even more than I had ever imagined. The only blemish on the trip was getting yelled at by the world’s unhappiest Wrigley Field security lady for almost falling into the Cubs’ dugout. Secretly, I wished to dash into the clubhouse and lay a sloppy smooch on Lou Piniella, thanking him for his excellent managerial services, and especially for putting up with the likes of Carlos Zambrano and Milton Bradley. It was sadly not to be.
If you’ve never been to northwest Indiana (the “region,” as it’s known around these parts), I suggest you do so at your earliest convenience. It’s an amazing place to visit with tons of cool stuff to see and do. Being less than an hour’s drive from the home of the storied Chicago Cubs is just another bonus.
As with all good things, it had to end sooner or later, so my friend took me back to the train station to board another choo-choo headed for “Naptown.” We arrived to find a train with only a couple cars (and few passengers), meaning my long-sought aisle seat and serenity were finally a good possibility.
I met the conductor and again was disappointed it was not George Carlin. I would have settled for Alec Baldwin or even Ringo Starr, but since this was the guy who had gotten me to Dyer safely the first time, I figured it was all good. After paying for my ticket, I was overjoyed to find that the raffle system in Indy was scrapped and all train-goers could take whatever seat struck his or her fancy.
I boarded quickly and searched for my holy grail (an aisle seat without another angry fat guy) and upon finding one, I sat down immediately for some much-needed r & r. I removed my golf cap and gazed out the window, hoping the monotony of the Indiana landscape would knock me unconscious. Then I met my new traveling companions.
Sunshine and Rainbows
As I looked out the train window into the lackluster Indiana landscape, I was rudely jolted from my momentary peace by the seating of a middle-aged traveling couple. The woman said little, but it became clear immediately her husband was a chatterbox - an unbelievably annoying chatterbox whose incessant rambling threatened to drive me mad before we had even departed the depot.
He was a photographer (and a know-it-all), clad in a safari hat and camouflage cargo shorts, and with every movement, he jarred my chair as though the train was about to fly off the rails. I secretly wished it would.
He began his conversation with his wife by explaining every facet he knew about train travel: how the tracks used to be constructed, where they led and how often he had ridden them back in the “old days.” He sat as close to me in his chair as he possibly could - so close I could feel his breath on my ear - as his nails-on-a-chalkboard voice sacked the sanctity of my eardrums. He continued with his chair-grabbing and started going on and on about every single photo he had taken in Chicago, dropping every last piece of trivia he could muster about each and every picture as he spoke. It was inhuman torture and it completely justified heat-of-passion homicide. For the first time in my life, I questioned my staunch pro-stance on anti-gun laws.
This went on for what seemed to be an eternity. I can honestly say, without a shred of a shadow of doubt, I was eavesdropping against my will on the most boring, utterly obnoxious person to ever plow his way out of a human being’s birth canal. I would rather sit through a week-long insurance seminar… conducted by Ben Stein… on Valium… in Iowa… during a Coldplay concert.
Next, the happy couple turned their attention to what was almost a pair of newly-formed rainbows.
“Oh, look at that. It’s beautiful. There are almost two of them.”
“It’s gorgeous. I don’t think I’ve ever seen two at the same time before.”
“Me either. Let me just lean up a little. I want to get a picture.”
“They say rainbows are good luck.”
“I’ve heard that. What a great trip it’s been!”
Maybe for them, but mine was made intolerable the second they sat down behind me. I had no idea a rainbow could be this enthralling. There are leprechauns riding My Little Ponies through the sweetest dreams of Lisa Frank that are far less ecstatic at the sudden appearance of this heavenly phenomenon. For all I know, I was sharing a train with this guy:
Kids in the Hall
As if the grating conversation of the rainbow lovers behind me were not enough, the end of my mini-vacation was spoiled by rotten children. A pair of tweens paraded through the mostly empty aisles, ignoring train rules and common freaking sense with every hop and skip. Their mother, of course, was nowhere to be found, so the two occupied themselves with badgering the rest of us.
Up and down the aisles they ran, shouting and screaming all the way. This was juvenile delinquency taken to an extreme reached mostly by pre-teen offenders. And without a parental unit in sight, it definitely wasn’t winding down anytime soon. Lucky me.
Finally, the mother made her first appearance of the evening, behooved her hell-spawn to sit down and behave, and took a seat across from Mr. and Mrs. Rainbow. She started up a conversation with them that was drowned out when the kids resumed their reign of terror. It was at this moment when I decided the best course of action would be to punch out the window and leap to what would surely be a grisly death. I imagined the news report the following morning.
“Just outside of Indianapolis last night, a deranged passenger leapt to his death from an Amtrak train. Police discovered the body of the unidentified man clutching a safari hat and a broken digital camera. The camera contained photos of rainbows and two people who appeared to be very, very annoying. Authorities also found an envelope full of letters of admiration addressed to Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella. The deceased appeared to be in his late 20s or early 30s and was described as being totally awesome. The dead man possessed the only known Indiana Pacers season ticket pass, keys to a very crappy Volkswagen Beetle and six American dollars. Officials hope to make a positive identification by tomorrow, but are reasonably sure the dead man is either Macaulay Culkin or the mascot guy from Mad Magazine. More on this story as it develops.”
The unmistakable sound of a braking train roused me from my Walter Mitty-esque fantasy. At long last, I was back in Indianapolis and nearly home.
If nothing else, my journey will be a memorable one. Beyond all the annoyances, getting on a train for the first time was an experience I’ll take with me forever. The cast of characters I had the displeasure of meeting is something I won’t soon forget, and I’m as excited as I am wary to find out who I bump into next time. I took a ride on a crazy train Ozzy Osbourne would be proud of.
Posted July 22, 2010