As a young woman in my twenties, I travelled a lot more often than I do as a middle-aged woman. I got a lot more attention than I wanted, and people were drawn to me. Everywhere I went, strangers would seek me out. No matter how hard I tried to look unapproachable, I was approachable.
One time, for example, I was waiting at the Ottawa Greyhound bus terminal for a friend who was traveling in from Toronto. I noticed a middle-aged woman who seemed inebriated. Her boots were unzipped, and were hanging open to the side. I tried my best unapproachable look, but it failed. She singled me out, out of literally hundreds of people, and had me zip up her boots. Which, of course, I did.
Another time I was waiting in line at Toronto Union Station to board the train back to Ottawa. I was minding my own business, and trying to look cross. It didn’t work. The next thing I knew the person in front of me asked me to 1) hold their place in line while they used the rest room; and 2) hold their ice cream cone. I could not make this up if I tried. Of course, I did both of these things. Was there a hidden camera somewhere? I mean really and truly, who asks a complete stranger to hold their ice cream cone?
Another time, I was taking the bus to Montreal to see my friend Lynne. The weather was bad, freezing rain, and I didn’t want to risk the drive. So I hopped on the bus. While waiting in line to board the bus, I noticed a strange dude in the terminal. He was roaming around, and didn’t seem to have any luggage, unlike everyone else. He was erratic, and he stood out. I boarded the bus and got a window seat to myself. It was perfect. The bus left the station. Awesome, a seat to myself!
But not so fast….after we were well on our way, erratic man jumps up, zooms down the aisle, and plants himself beside me. Wait a minute! Clearly erratic guy doesn’t know the unwritten rule about staying in your seat. It got worse though….he started to grunt and rub his legs. Okay, no….two can play this game. So I pop up, and zoom to the front of the bus and take a seat. Ha ha! take that! But no…erratic guy pops up and zooms to the front of the bus, and takes the seat across the aisle from me. Seriously? Don’t you see the cross look on my face? Apparently not! Dude proceeds to grunt and poke me from across the aisle. It was a long long bus ride….perhaps I should have taken the car.
But this story isn’t about zipper boot woman, ice cream dude, or erratic guy. This story is about the train ride back from Toronto the summer of 1988.
I had hopped on the train after visiting Cynthia. She was my room-mate at Acadia University, and after University I moved to Ottawa and stayed with her family for a while before we eventually were able to move out and share a place with a friend.
We both had a lot of trouble finding permanent work, so Cynthia eventually moved to Toronto to find a job and start a life. There were more opportunities in the big city, and Cynthia was able to carve out a very successful career for herself there.
From time to time I would visit her, or she would come to Ottawa and visit me. So this weekend was my turn. I was on my way home on Sunday afternoon, I needed to be back to Ottawa for work on Monday. I had hoped for a quiet ride on the train home, but that was not to be.
There were a couple of soldiers on the train. The had missed their train to CFB Petawawa. They planned to take the train to Brockville and make their way to the base from there. Everyone in the train car knew this because they were very drunk, and very loud.
They were also very obnoxious, and they were bigots to boot. How nice. They referred to the poor fellow who was our train attendant as “Leroy” the whole trip as he was black. That fellow was verbally abused the whole trip to Brockville. We all heard it loud and clear. I am pretty sure they thought that they were being funny.
Once the train pulled up to Brockville Station, the morons disembarked. I decided to try to figure out if I could figure out who they were, so I looked out to the platform. I spotted them immediately. Why? Because one of the yahoos was carrying my suitcase. That’s right, he had taken my bag in error. Shit!
I quickly ran to find “Leroy” and told him what had transpired. He swiftly jumped off of the train and caught up to the idiots, and much to my delight, he managed to get my suitcase back. Go Leroy!
But before I knew it, the train started to pull away, and the poor fellow was left behind holding the bag. I quickly found another attendant and recounted the series of events as quickly as I could with the hopes that the train would stop and Leroy could hop back on. But no, that was not to be, “trains don’t stop” he told my in a very grumpy and unhelpful way. “Why did you send him off the train” he asked in a very aggressive and rude manner.
In the end, Via Rail send Leroy back to Ottawa via taxi. It’s over an hours drive. Leroy diligently brought the rescued suitcase with him. What a nice guy, I felt bad for him. I hoped that he didn’t get in trouble with his superiors for his actions.
The next day it was delivered to my place of work. Alls well that ends well.
Ridiculous on so many levels, but true.
“Travelling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” Ibn Battuta