Friday, September 16, 2011

Still sick, but feeling somewhat better today. Here's something I wrote ~ten years ago, shortly after getting my doctorate, and just before 9/11, turning 40, and breaking free of the 9-5 world. At the time I was commuting via train and used the hour or so each way to write.

Amtrak Summer (2001)

All summer as I sit on a bench on the platform, I have watched the sunflowers on the village side (which means not on the river side). Early in the season, when mine at home were barely more than seeds, there was one high up, close to the overpass - tall, proud and in bloom. How did it grow so fast, and in such an inhospitable place? Now that mine are at peak - almost - there are many blooming at the station also but I think they are past their prime. Who planted them? Or did they sprout from some planted long ago that have now re-seeded? They are down an embankment, at the top of a very high concrete wall, where weeds thrive, mostly.

Lately, the sunflower admiring has been at a minimum. I have been sitting in the terminal as long as possible while I wait for the northbound train to be called, because there are some very annoying bees hovering around on the platform. It is not the flowers that attract them. A few used to circle half-empty soda cans that hurried travelers left behind on the benches, but now the numbers have multiplied. Intoxicated from the spilled cola, they take the opportunity to harass me by buzzing around my briefcase and pocketbook and hair, threatening to land and sting. They are even out in the morning.

Zipping along on the train north to Rensselaer, outside the window there are cattails and other wetland grasses, and some spots where purple loosestrife is ominously mixed in. Generally, in the morning, when traveling south, I am never on board early enough to get a seat on the river side, and usually I am lucky to get a window at all - every so often the seat coincides with wall rather than window and of course those seats stay empty the longest. Most of the time I do get to sit alone, though, at least until Hudson, and so I am spared from having to tolerate these usual seat mate behaviors: coffee-drinking, cellphone talking, snoring.

Exiting at Rhinecliff each morning, nearly everyday the conductor has to tell the people who want to board to wait until I get off. No-one else leaves the train at Rhinecliff. A few weeks ago, a conductor whispered to me as I was preparing to exit, "these are the rudest people in the world." As a regular patron, I am held in higher esteem than the ordinary passenger, and as a result, I am privileged with such confidences. I don't know whether he meant Rhinecliff residents, or commuters headed for New York City, or people on their way to meetings, or occasional Amtrak riders in general. But whichever it was I think they would trample me in their eagerness to board, and find a prized empty seat near a window on the river side. I guess they don't know that the one I just vacated lacks two of those three qualities.

As September approaches, some days I still wait on the platform. Often, there are many folks bound for New York City, Diet Cokes in hand (besides me, if there are one of two others going to Rensselaer in the afternoon, that is a busy day for the northbound run), and the bees are occupied with them. Soon enough it will be fall, then winter and there will be no more sunflowers or problems with bees.

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