If I remember correctly it was a Wednesday. My train was rolling from Chicago IL to Pontiac MI. I had a breakfast of four dollar chips and a three dollar pop. I had convinced myself yet another reason to splurge on meaningless food stuffs. This trip was more relaxing than the last. I wasn't as new to trains as I was on my previous trip. I had less anxiety.
I was wearing my fine set of clothes because they would keep me cool on the AM to PM train ride. A loose white blouse and grey casual dress pants with sneakers and a large black backpack. My clothes and demeanor usually make me easily spotted as a traveler. In addition to that I always look lost because I usually am. All this adds to the smell of my suspicion and compounds on illusions and assumptions that are my own. It adds to what I call a stink of fear that causes heightened emotions in scenarios that are not real.
Along the ride I smile and acknowledge a few passengers at first but soon dive into the soothing rhythm of train on track and plateaus of greenery to ease the eyes. I turn on Alexandre Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo audiobook and pass the first few hours. Then a pee. I feel cool on the train.
I actually prepared for this, maybe, to tactfully do nothing. The shock of initial travel and life changing decisions blew away most of my plans and focus for a good measure of time. A learning curve, I hope, that there are still lessons to be learned from.
I usually put important things off. I try to relax and understand that things will work out. Especially if those things are things that are not in my control. Things under my control don’t necessarily work out but then again what is ‘working out’ anyway?
In this case I was putting off being vigilant about securing a ride from the train station in Pontiac MI back to where I was staying in Oxford MI, about a twenty minute car ride. I failed to plan this while I was on the train.
I supposed I would catch an Uber. My friend had texted earlier asking if I could get one. Surely I could I assured him and let it go until I pretty much arrived at Pontiac station. Relax to enjoy the finer things in life and find yourself.
I arrive at Pontiac station and begin dialing an Uber. It doesn't go through because my phone is an unregistered number. I exit the train and my WiFi leaves with it.
Dusk is on the verge of making an appearance. I pace a train platform in a completely unknown town and very deserted town. As I approach the doorway to enter the station the attendant inside closes up shop and locks the door. He gives me what I perceive as a “Sorry buddy, good luck.” type frown with helpless eyes. He shouldn't be sorry I counsel the voice in my head, he doesn't owe me anything. I turn to face the town which looks asleep and unwatched to survey for a phone.
All I see are very vacant looking buildings alongside stretches of road with an occasional car or truck of traffic. Both sides of the small downtown area are hidden behind a wall of concrete buildings and parking garages.
Let us give a few points to pre-planning a trip at this point. A bit of conscious planning beforehand could have saved me hours of commute and the uncertainty of a complete foreign circumstance. Although, isn't that the point? Just enough not planning to create uncertain plot lines? I’m not sure but take a few points off of pre-planning a trip anyhow.
As I walk towards the town I remember what I’ve heard about Pontiac so far. “Abandoned post auto industrial town, no cops in town except occasional state trooper.”. I take note of the relaxing fact that I still have a few hours of sunlight. I realize I have no number to call even if I do find a phone.
My phone had not been updated with the only contact I had in Michigan. I could refer to the merits of pre-planning here but the number is still yet to be updated. I did not know of any taxi number or have internet access either. I crossed a few roads while cutting from the train station to the town borders. On the corner I see a liquor store and make my way towards it.
The sky hangs low in a haze and below its thick atmosphere blows a chill breeze. The sky is behind the translucent damp and it feels like the calm before a storm. The painted yellow brick liquor store, to me, appears unwelcoming. There are rusted metal gates that shut over the establishments heavy metal doors. There is virtually no other way in the building. All windows seem boarded up, spray painted, and closed.
I enter the parking lot from across the street to notice a young boy walking a bike. He appears to be between eight and twelve years old. I cut in front of him as I turn into the lot off the intersection and hear
“Excuse me sir!”
but I pretend not to.
I get the impression that I am avoiding being swindled with the hopes it does not persist.
“Excuse me sir!” I hear it persisting,
“Can you help me fix my bike!”, this time there is a particular emphasis on the “Excuse me” with desperation and pleading.
I turn to face the boy who is now closer behind me and we both stand in the middle of the empty parking lot before the grizzly looking liquor store.
“My bike seat is broken, can you help me fix it?”.
I tell the boy I can take a look and remind myself to be myself as much as possible. I have no idea where I am or how to get help if I need any. Although this is just a small boy asking for help I am not fond of delaying my time in Pontiac or getting mixed up in any extensive situations. So when I am in a situation like this I try to be myself as much as possible. I let my guard down, I approach him, I try to help.
His bike seat is loose and the bracket that holds the screw is stripped. I force the seat back to its proper position and tell the boy that this fix won’t last forever. I examine his bike and notice that most of it will not last forever. It is hanging together and may be assembled from various bicycles.
“Do you have thirty eight cents?” he asks me. I tell him I do not and that I have no change. I’m perplexed by the defined amount, he must be very close to reaching some sort of goal. He frowns a bit but accepts my refusal and follows me into the yellow bricked liquor store.
Inside there are two attendants who are behind the counter which is completely closed off by double sided glass doors which look bulletproof. There is a woman shopping in the aisles, a man in a wheelchair buying lottery tickets, and the kid who asks the shop keepers for thirty eight cents who both shake their heads.
The two behind the counter look like brothers. Their matching olive skin and facial expressions form deep lines on their sun baked faces. Their eyes are drooping, bloodshot, tired and bored.
“Do you have thirty eight cents?” The boy persists in the shop and finally meets generosity. “Here you go sweetie.”. The shopping woman hands the boy what looks like a dollar. He buys a candy bar and offers her the received change but she refuses the nickels and dimes saying “You keep it sweet heart.”. She is a mother, I assume, and for a moment I feel warmth and love.
“Could I use your phone to call a taxi, please?”. I ask the attendant who picks up a cordless phone and asks me the number.
I get anxious pretty easy. I get anxious during exchange of goods in retail, phone calls, and pretty much most human encounters. I constantly assume I am doing something wrong. As he hands me the phone and asks me for a number my anxiety increases but a calm voice inside tells me that I better keep my wits about me. This reassuring voice is calm but I feel on edge.
“I’m not sure the number and I have no internet to find it out.” I tell him and I am met with a blank stare, my heart jumps to my chest. I assume my resources at this location have ran out and I may have to search the town further.
“555-0728” (I’m not sure what exactly numbers she said) Said the generous woman who had given up the change earlier. I thank her and turn around to the attendant who says “What did she say?”
This puts me into a frenzy because I am not quite sure what she said. I don’t want to ask again because I have irrational fear about asking for help. I also believe that they will give up on me if I don’t act like I am paying a lot of attention to what is going on. Possibly another irrational fear.
“555-0728” I tell him, unsure if I got it right. He dials and hands me the phone which rings a few times while I pray. The taxi answers the phone and I tell him where I am at but I have to ask the store owners where we are first. I tell the person on the phone that I need to get to Oxford which is about twenty minutes away. He tells me I will have to wait at least forty five minutes and asks if that is ok. I tell him it is and hang up to harbor the fear that they may not show up at all. I pass the phone back through the countertop windows and head outside to wait for my car.
Not many people pass by but those who do go inside the liquor store. A mother with carriage, a few young adult males and a lady in a rickety car with a busted front end. She drops a case of beer in the back and through her smoking mouth tells me a joke I can not hear. We laugh and she departs. I had waited about an hour so far. I had doubts the car would arrive.
I scope for places to sleep if night fell. There was a dumpster nearby or should I head to town and try my luck with humans?
As promised the car did eventually arrive. It was hard to spot but did have markings of a company of some kind. It pulls in the lot driving like a cab would be expected to drive. Fast and cutting in a crescent shape with complete abuse to the car and abruptly stops next to me.
“You cool, man?”
The voice seemed to come from everywhere, I even checked around, but could have only come from the cab that had stopped and instantly asked the question.
“You cool, man?”
I thought about it for a fraction of a moment weighing both doubt and certainty and replied “Yeah, I’m cool man.”.
He said alright and told me to get in the front with my stuff. We discussed the destination a bit and remembered our previous conversation on the phone. He told me he had to make a stop before driving me home. He had picked me up before doing so because he did not want me to wait on the corner like that. He said something about “Some dude, on some corner, you know.”. I told him I did know and appreciated the effort.
He smoked heavy cigarettes. The smoke was like silk curtains in the air and he was constantly at them. They lit up his face to reveal a tired bloodshot expression with slow closing eyelids over yellow laden eyes. I have seen these same eyes on many drivers as well as doctors, parents, firefighters, refugees and otherwise worn out heros.
We picked up a friend of his deeper in town while I tried to make a mental map of my whereabouts.
“Left turn, right turn, left turn, highway is south, highway is north...”.
We picked up the drivers friend who asked who I was as he entered the back seat.
I would like to say the driver said “Don’t worry, He’s cool, man.”, but I’m not sure exactly what he said.
We again began to twist and turn down another part of the outlying suburbs. I became completely lost. We ended up at a park that was lightly populated. People enjoyed the evening air and some walked dogs. A large truck pulled up to park next to us. Our driver got out to return to the cab just about a minute later. Myself and the extra passenger remained silent. I looked out the window and saw more people walking dogs and wind blowing in the grass.
When the driver returned he shook hands with the man in the back. We departed the park to yet another part of town and dropped off the second passenger. The driver and I talked about directions. He wasn't exactly sure how to get to Oxford and neither was I and we had no GPS. It was a bit difficult to communicate with the cabbie. He spoke low and used anecdotes and gestures I couldn't exactly translate. We talked about music briefly. He asked if I liked Jay Z and if I knew Dr. Dre. I said we go way back and we laughed about how many millions of dollars those guys are rolling in.
On the drive down the highway night had completely set it. I tipped the driver while we were on the road and said I appreciated him getting me home. We talked after that about the state of the world and how people get stuck doing the same things over and over. We talked about the hope of financial freedom and our previous jobs. We shared stories about friends and family and I would say for that time we became friends ourselves. He dropped me off and we said goodbye.
It was pretty cool, man.