My Amtrack ride from Denver to Chicago was running in the range of ten hours behind schedule. There was a man in the seat behind me, a little ragged looking, old Globe Trotters jacket, faded hat, who I'd been overhearing on the phone.
"I'm going to fucking miss my connection. I have to go all the way to Chicago, and take a train, but those are full, or a bus, but those are booked."
He spoke in a low voice. Controlled but wavering slightly.
I thought to myself, "I hope he doesn't have a firearm."
He said, "I haven't killed anybody yet, but I'm close."
Then, "They're going to give us dinner, but guess what they're feeding us?" Disgusted, "Chicken."
As I got up to go to the bathroom I heard him say, "You don't have much longer."
When I read that now, I realize it doesn't sound that scary. But I was stuck on a train! And a bullet could have easily ripped through the plastic-cloth components of the seat back and pierced my heart.
We were just idling on the tracks. The chicken-hating man could have cornered me in the joint between the dirty window, with white smears of children's hand and face prints (probably tongue prints), and the geometrically patterned cushions. Or stood me up with the gun barrel to my head shouting---Get those freight trains to move their asses or the girl dies!
(Not a bad plan, actually.)
He was right about the dinner. It was a decent meal of mashed potatoes, broth and a croissant. I met a guy who had just finished hiking the 500-mile trail from Denver to Durango. He does a new long-distance hiking trip every summer.
I moved to the observation lounge with a beer and my book, feeling pretty good. An older man, whom I had heard heckling the attendant because he wanted dessert (Just a little square of cake...), sat down next to me.
He was on the phone: We're twelve hours late...unbelievable...and don't even ask me about dinner...yes, terrible...no cake.
He hung up and turned to me, "58 years...that was the most affable....conversation we've ever had."
Then he put his camera to the window to take a picture of the silhouette, the sun setting red and purple behind an Iowan farm house. He couldn't figure out how to turn the flash off. Flash. Flash -- obscuring his picture.
A woman behind us said, "Oh, lightning!"