1992 was undoubtedly the year that thrust the most change into my unsuspecting arms, forcing me to react in a series of knee-jerks and whimpers. Coach Leathergoods had dissolved my division with only a few days’ notice. The anti-Christ had finally crushed any foolish glimmer of reconciliation and we, to the relief of all of our friends, opted to “opt out”. And I took my meager severance package, packed several leather suitcases with clothing for all occasions, weather conditions, and sudden twists in fashion, and headed to Fort Lauderdale.
I’d like to say that I chose my destination in search of excitement, adventure, and to determine if the “boys really were there” but, years later, I can freely admit: my sister and her family lived there and I just needed to regroup and chill for an unspecified period. My nieces were one and three at the time (the third was yet born) and Polly and I both felt that the change and the vitality of such youth might just rejuvenate my lost spirit.
Although I do detest flying, I decided to take the train to give me ample time to meditate, and harness my intense emotionality. I wasn’t devastated by any means although my life seemed a-shambles. One month earlier, I had been traveling all over the country for work, supervising new store openings. I was fixing elaborate dinners six nights a week and usually hosting some creative, meticulous, and themed dinner party on the seventh. And I spent my free time cultivating gardens or exploring my next home improvement project at our home in Washington. However when I boarded the Southern Crescent on that balmy August night, all of that had disappeared from my reach. I was some clean-shaven yuppie hobo wearing Girbaud jeans, a Tag-Hauer chronograph, and round leather glasses. My world had imploded but at least I had a ticket.
I spent the first three hours of the trip in the club car which was fortunately deserted. Walkman firmly in place, I attempted various New York Times crossword puzzles while trying to prevent my cocktail from vibrating off the table. Instead, I soon found myself chain-smoking, imbibing rather enthusiastically, and finding some obscure element of sorrow in every song. When the Moody Blues’ “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” played, my reserve collapsed … and I simply started sobbing. That midnight drama, of course, scared the young couple on the other end of the club car right back to their assigned seats, leaving me completely alone to wallow in my “issues”.
Fifteen minutes later, I was re-composed and thumbing through my trusty book of crosswords when a young conductor came in and sat at the table next to mine. He was, as we say in the South, “hot as a biscuit”. He was swarthy, a few years younger than me, and obviously feeling chatty. Before I finished that cocktail, we had exchanged our nutshell bios and were actually engaged in meaningful conversation. Naturally, I amended some of the details of my life to make them more generic and mainstream. I discreetly alluded to the break-up, suggesting that it might’ve been with a woman, carefully avoiding certain details. We talked for a few hours and I eventually went to my cabin, which at its broadest, seemed a full foot shorter than I was tall.
I awakened the next morning, stiff and aching from the fetal position, made both mandatory by my quarter’s logistics as well as oddly comforting by my emotional duress. I readied myself for the day, my arrival in Fort Lauderdale, and the outpour of familial questions. By noon, I was bolstered with coffee and somewhat alert when I encountered the young conductor from the night before. We chatted for a few minutes when he was summoned to the clock. He politely said good-bye, wished me well, and said (if circumstances were different), he would want to invite me to dinner, as he was going to be in town for a few days for a holiday layover. He knew that it was presumptuous to mention it and that I obviously wasn’t gay, but that he did enjoy our connection. Flattered and caught off guard, I simply had to let that one go. The Universe seemed far too complicated to offer any explanation and to accept his invitation. But, yes, he was that hot and er uh fetching!
The Southern Crescent pulled into the Broward County Amtrak station just past one that afternoon. The non-descript brick box looked more like a carport with a small ticket office: a most inauspicious of inaugural sites for my visit. My sister, her husband, and little Sara and Sophie gathered around me and, for a short time, I completely forgot about the anti-Christ.
Scott suggested we take the long way home so I could see the newly-renovated beachfront and certain city highlights. I doubt I heard much of what anyone really said though. I just stared out the window, reflecting on the previous two days and the sudden turn of events. There I was in a new town, unemployed, single again, and left with only those memories I could stuff into my luggage. I abandoned all of my expectations in Washington. I stuffed any hope that I still mustered into a locker at Union Station.
Yet, I was still willing to give life another chance. I casually threw the dice into the air and when they finally hit the Florida dirt, life was rather different. I was the manager of a large art gallery, quite accustomed to wearing shorts everyday, and deeply involved with an Icelandic college student. My third niece Aubrey was born. Life was different for me than it had ever been, neither happier nor better … just not what I had ever envisioned.
Little did I then know that I would run into that young train conductor again that following June. I guess even the Fates have their “train sets”, enjoying the mischief, irony, and the unexpected. And if I am truly their acquiescent pawn, I thank them for the resilience … and my view from the caboose.
(Image: “Train Trip II” by MistakePS, DeviantART.)