On my US coast-to-coast Amtrak journey, I met many a wonderful people. None more interesting than this girl that I met on my train ride from Chicago to Seattle.
The journey was going to be long. 46 hours to be exact. So I had to choose my seat-partner carefully.
Now Amtrak was being cute. Here:
It was time for me to ‘make a friend.’
I purposefully boarded the train late despite reaching the station early. It’s always better to determine with whom you sit, than your choice of seat. The 18-hour Amtrak from Washington DC to Chicago the preceding day had led me to this insight.
I had two seat options. Seat 18 and seat 22, right behind each other. Both aisles. On seat 17 and seat 21, window seats, sat two girls. I walked slowly to evaluate with whom I should sit. The one on seat 17 was scribbling something in her notebook while looking pensively into abyss outside the window, sported ear sets, and wore multiple layers, including a cap. She just looked weird. She gave a ‘do not disturb me’ vibe. The one on seat 21 wore a nice white t-shirt and was talking on phone. As I was approaching she adjusted her bag out of politeness. She’d won the pleasure of my company! Ha!
We started speaking nonchalantly as she put the phone down. She mentioned that she had a six-hour train journey, and that she planned to sleep through it. She would meet with her friends for a Christmas party. She wanted to be fully refreshed for it. I left for the café car as she slipped into sleep.
After a few hours of sitting in the café car, talking to fellow passengers, reading, writing, listening to music, and watching a couple of short documentaries, as I was readying to retire for my seat to sleep, I bumped into this really tall, athletic girl. I apologized awkwardly. She asked if I am the guy who’s doing the coast-to-coast train ride. I looked at her with bemusement. She mentioned that she was sitting in front of me and overheard me talking to my co-passenger earlier in the day. I invited her to sit and talk.
She spoke easily yet passionately. She mentioned that she was traveling from Boston to Minnesota via Amtrak, as it was the most environmental way of travel. She spoke about her time in Iceland and the culture she experienced. She spoke about her work as a puppeteer. I loved the shine in her big brown eyes as she spoke about global warming and about being a global citizen.
We didn’t sit facing each other. We both were sitting in the café car looking outside. Like you would in a restaurant on a bright warm evening in Aix-En-Provence. Except, it was dark outside. We could hardly see anything. Plus, it wasn’t warm. It wasn’t the usual Minneapolis December but still snowing. We saw each other’s reflection in train window, which now acted as mirror. It was almost as if we were talking to a version of each other and not the real selves.
I loved how she snapped her fingers when I said that the locus of control lay outside of us. ‘Our life is controlled much more by extrinsic factors than we give credit. We fail to be self-compassionate. We flagellate ourselves for our shortcomings due to the misbelief that we are in control.’ She nodded.
She talked about how she absolutely loved her last 18 months. But now she wanted to be responsible for someone beyond her. She wanted to experience “nurturing a relationship.” That completely drew me in. I don’t think she realized the profundity of her statement in that moment. I snapped my fingers.
She spoke about her poet friend in India. She spoke about her family and her elder brothers. Some of her stories were dull. But it didn’t matter. Suddenly, for me, it wasn’t what she was saying but the fact that she was talking. I had been stuck at the thought about ‘nurturing.’
I turned to my side to look at her. The way her lips moved as she spoke, her hand gestures, they way she rolled her eyes – she was so animated. Her short hair made her long nape look beautiful. She sensed that I wasn’t listening. I think. We sat there in quiet for a few moments.
Train was approaching her stop – St. Pauls. She got up to move back to her seat and arrange her bags. I offered to help. She looked clumsy with everything she was carrying. Frankly, I wondered how she would manage this entire luggage without anyone’s help. On the station she showed me how she’d been carrying all this stuff after giving me a hug and bidding me goodbye. She was weird. An interesting kind of weird.