Monday, July 19, 2010

Things Observed from an East-Facing Window Seat on the Downeaster from Portland to Boston

(or Lists I Make on Various Forms of Transportation to Amuse Myself when I Can’t Sleep, Part 82)

-- Two marmots picnicking on grass outside the Portland station. They were lovely, wild, fat-bellied things and may not have been marmots at all. Woodchucks, maybe, Will theorized. Or prairie dogs. Look it up, he instructed, but somehow I couldn’t log on to the train’s free WiFi.

-- A fellow passenger, a monk, with a black robe, a bald head and thickish glasses. Two other monks were seeing him off at the platform in Portland, and he called them on his cell phone when the train was pulling away from the station. “But why were you crying?” he asked, gently. “I’m going to see you again.” He got off a few stops later, at Durham.

-- Old Orchard Beach: ice cream stands and surf shops and a somewhat rickety looking roller coaster, a fantastic water slide, tanned bodies, Crocs and brightly painted murals.

-- Christmas tree farms. A man standing uncomfortably close to the train platform. Heaps of railroad ties. A baseball field in West Medford. Woods. Ocean. Lakes. Swamps thick with lilypads. John Deere tractors. Shoes, laces tied together, looped over a telephone wire. Trees that had fallen or were kneeling, about to fall. Field hockey practice in Dover, New Hampshire. Cemeteries. Backyards. Trailer courts. Graffiti (we all want to get our names out there, don’t we?), even in the smallest blinks of towns. On the back side of a tin shed: SHY. Initials? A moniker? A lament that I share, all too often? Elsewhere: SOUP and OUST.

-- My own reflection: mascara smudged, my bangs fallen flat, chapped lips (my lip balm inconveniently stored in my suitcase, which was inconveniently lodged in the overhead bin).

- Empty buildings, self-storage units and smockstacks in Haverhill (“Have-rill”), Massachusetts. A funky-looking bookstore (Bookends) in Winchester.

-- A man who looked like (but sadly, was not) David from my writing program. I caught a glimpse of his dark hair and flannel shirt on the way into the bathroom and waited for him to come out, waited so long (about 15 minutes, according to Will’s wristwatch) that I began to really hope it wasn’t him at all, because he might be embarrassed to make eye contact after such horrible intestinal issues or to be publicly exposed as a cokehead.

-- Will: in his favorite Royal Robbins garb, Nick Hornby book splayed facedown in his lap, hands clasped, mouth open, sleepy smile on lips, glasses perched on the bridge of his nose.

- The New York Times’s Style section wedding pages, which I went through with a pen, circling all mentions of “Harvard” and “Yale” and “Princeton.”

- The inside of the bathroom (technically not observed from seat). Until this moment, lowering myself carefully to the toilet seat, I had not noticed just how rocky the train was.

- Boston: the Charles River, a funky bridge, lots more grafitti, mammoth concrete loops for underpasses, overpasses, onramps and off-ramps. Brick everywhere. Blue sky. My home for the next three days.

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