After finding my seat, I throw my bag overhead on the metal shelves, put my little ticket in the holder on the seat in front of me and begin reading my book, "This Much I Know Is True" by Wally Lamb. It's an interesting book that grabbed me right away with the lead character's twin brother cutting off his own hand in a library, as a protest over the Iraq war. Quite a way to begin a novel. But, I find that I am rarely on the train during the daylight and it's odd to actually see the landscape going by when I look out the windows so, I shut my book when the conductor came by to click-click-click my ticket in their arcane little way to denote where I am going and, I begin to watch the scenery passing by. The changing of the leaves is in full swing in this area, the leaves this year are amazing. I note that there must have been a memo, "Yellow will be the colour this year, dear forest, we have determined that it's going to be THE colour that everyone is wearing this season!" because there are so many trees that are a variation of that bright and happy colour. Banana, lemon, goldenrod, bronze, the colours keep flying by the window of the train, with the occasional deep red and orange but over and over, I see yellow gleaming in the sunlight, warming my soul, guiding my path to Philadelphia. Then, after seemingly endless forest, there's a break and you see those little houses in those nameless communities with a population of five hundred that line railroad tracks. They seem to be different than regular homes, a little taller, a little more pointed, the gables that face the train are at a steeper angle. Almost at attention, saluting the train as it trundles by. They've been there for ages. The horn wails as we fly through a railroad crossing, the cars waiting impatiently, and then...forest again. The train cuts a swath through the New Jersey pine barrens on it's way from A. C. to Philly and, aside from those little houses standing at attention now and again, all you see are trees of every shape and size, beautifully dressed like a fashion magazine spread. Then, a break again, this time a lake and the sun dapples the little ripples of water and the trees are reflected across the surface, glowing in those amazing fall colours and you know, for just a moment, that God must have had a hand in this. Even I, with my science and logic and Vulcan ways and cold black heart, can see the magic, the mystery that these moments can bring. It's funny, this is the most populous state in the Union and yet, there's all this forest, all this space. I begin to listen in on my fellow passenger's conversations, one gentleman is going on about what he prefers on his pizza. His conversation partner is only half listening, giving those little "uh huh's", "yeah's" and "oh really's" half-heartedly, phoning it in although he's sitting right in front of the pizza connoisseur. They are train friends, those people you only know because you see them on the train at the same time, the same days, together. Someone to pass the time with even though you'd never, ever, invite them to your house or give them your real phone number.
The conductor passes through at each stop with his click-click-click and taking the tickets of those who are disembarking at the next platform. How they determine this is also magical and mystical, the little folds of the punched ticket they leave in place of the one you purchased are more of a give-a-way than the little punch holes, I discern. I am determined to learn their secrets. I look him over, he has too many earrings but, he'skinda cute. Short. Shaved head. Big wide eyes, nice eyes. I like that they wear uniforms, and they always have the entire uniform on, tie tied all the way up, hat on. It harkens back to those good ol' days of train travel, even though this is just a little "gambler's express" local run. Before I know it, we've reached Lindenwold, just two stops to go. The pine barrens have long ago given way to those rural/suburban then just suburban communities. Instead of lakes and rivers and forest and trees and unique little houses, it's cookie-cutter tract housing and strip malls. They all look the same. But the trees, they are still there, here and there, showing off their majestic colours. Nature finding it's way through all our civilization.
The train passes over the bridge to Pennsylvania but, my view is blocked by another train on the track next to us, it's stopped and sitting there, I guess waiting for us to pass. It's a cargo train, full of black painted tankers with warning signs all over them, it makes me a little nervous, although it shouldn't. We are so close to it but, it's not like we can veer slightly off the track, we can only go forward or backward, not side to side. Then there are other cars, all attached together, and I am reminded of my paternal grandfather's elaborate train displays at Christmas. They were wonderful, most of them actually worked like the real thing. Dumping their logs, the coal bins dropped "coal" in them, the circus train had little plastic animals in cages. We finally pass the last car, and no, it's not a caboose, damn, and I see the Delaware River, looking rather ugly in this area. All full of industry. Pollution. Progress.
We then pass the Philadelphia Zoo and I think, "Maybe I'll pass the time there". Then I pass the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Boathouse Row and I think, "Maybe I'll pass the time there!" I have no real plans, I have to meet my mother at three so, I have a few hours to do...whatever I bloody hell want!
"Now arriving Thirtieth Street Station, please take all of your belongings with you when you leave and thank you for riding New Jersey Transit" you hear crackling over the intercom. The conductor has long ago taken the last of the tickets that decorated the seats and has disappeared and I gather my things and exit onto the platform. Up the steps I go, dialing my mobile and trying to get a hold of someone, anyone, in Philadelphia that I can spend some time with. Time here that I rarely have. I want to make the best of it, with friends. That's the best way to spend your time. Wham! Now I see where all the people are. I get to the top of the steps and the other steps to the trains are lined everywhere with humanity. People are queued up here and there, the lines snaking all over this beautiful monument to travel called Thirtieth Street Station. It's an amazing display. I quickly make my way out, after a quick bathroom stop where this "gentleman" was displaying himself for anyone willing to look. I wasn't. I am not a "bathroom Betty". Ugh. Off I go through the doors and it's, "Here I am, Philadelphia, what do you want to do!?!"
Next: Gary (my saviour!) and catching up with Mom.
I am a life long resident of this little island on the east coast of New Jersey and I am the walking representation of Atlantic City. Which doesn't say much for the city. I'm a professional party guest.