Wednesday, August 4, 2010

traveling companions

thoughts: jumbled and recorded on the train home from Jefferson City to Kansas City, monday evening.

Maybe I should feel bad about not wanting to speak to the women next to me. I do feel bad. I thought carefully about which seat to sit in on the train. I picked this one because the old women across the aisle looked content to sit there quietly. I suppose I misjudged. I’m usually the kind of person who chooses to sit next to children on airplanes or seeks out the person who is looking for a conversation. On my last flight back from D.C. I sat next to a man who was an auditor for the government. He told me I needed to set aside 30% of my monthly pay-check for my retirement. He explained why working for the government was far better than a private firm and that he worked near strawberry hill and has never eaten Croatian bread. I told him about Croatia, and he told me about taxes and I walked away feeling much more educated. On the way to DC I didn’t start the conversation with the man next to me, he struck it up full force, and about 20 minutes later I wasn’t sure I wanted it to continue, mostly because I felt trapped between the large Texan man on my left and the airplane window on the right. I first I thought he was flirting with me, I think my immediate response to what I am going to be researching, gender, ended any sort of flirtation but instead introduced an immense amount of curiosity. I believe his name was Mark. Mark had just moved to D.C. four weeks prior to our meeting. He worked for a government-contracted corporation, something along the lines of building and outfitting airplanes. They also re-did airplanes for billionaires, you know the kind of thing, turning a 747 into a suite straight out of New York’s Plaza hotel. Mark wasn’t a billionaire, in fact we commiserated over the concept of how one actually makes so much money, and then, how do you spend it? Multiple houses? Pimped out airplanes? I suspect my tax advisor on my flight home would of piped in, reminding both mark and I that upon death billionaires lose almost 50% of their wealth to death taxes. The auditor claimed this wasn’t fair because that money is essentially taxed twice, once upon earning, again upon death. I think my belief in the redistribution of wealth trumps any individual rights tendencies I do maintain, I sensed, however, that the auditor felt differently. The auditor, however, said that if you are a rich rich person, 2010 is the year to die in. If you die, right now, there are no (or maybe just significantly less) death taxes. Why is that? The health care reform debates pushed back discussion on the death taxes until congress was out of session and the bill expired. Maybe this makes sense, all the rich people who don’t want universal health care can pass away now, with their own private doctors, and keep every dime. Anyway I’m getting sidetrack, this blog entry is turning into a travel version of Arabian Nights without the elegant and revolting frame story of murder and sex. Lets return to Mark. Mark lived and worked in D.C. and refused to walk. He drove 10 minutes to work even though he confessed the walk was shorter, “but I have FX radio!” He said. I wonder if the women next to me on the train, now on the way back to Kansas City has FX radio. I doubt it. She is small, and wearing a long sleeve turtle-neck shirt in the dead of summer. Step outside even as the sun is sweating and I guarantee you will feel your body evaporate through every pore. It is oppressive to say the least and as I was stuck in Jeff city all afternoon I even contemplated wading in the fountains. The heat is most of the reason I didn’t want to speak to this woman. I feel awful, tired, and full of ice cream and white wine; but this is why you ride the train, to meet all the other strange and wondrous people who still, despite Amtrak’s blatant inefficiency, ride the rails. Maybe later. Maybe after I write. And blog.

Speaking of the blog: Croatia. Orientation. Background checks, (oh she is back with coffee and a glass with ice. Oh, I feel so bad, she looks at me through her black frames. She is at that age where people are constantly bobbling their heads. What causes that? I think I am nervous about speaking to older people because it makes me sad. A bit depressed. I have an immense fear of not being able to care for myself, of losing my mind. Why is the train moving backwards?)

Oh my the most amazing and magical thing just happened. Another old women just walked on and was going to sit in front of me, but as the Amtrak worker put her bag up up above on the rake she walked over to the women who I had been riddling my conscious about talking with and placed her hand on the other women’s shoulder-long lost friends? “Are you one who likes to talk?” She says the new rider. The women in the turtle neck and black-rimmed glasses looks a bit startled but starts to say something, she moves her bag out of the way and the women who just walked in took a seat, starting in with “ride the train often”. They’ll make better conversation for each other anyway. The new women, has brighter white hair, less gray. She isn’t wearing a turtle-neck but is equally bundled up for the summer months, a white loose-knit sweater, long jeans, and some outdoorsy sandals. They make a wonderful pair, the conversation is moving much more fluidly then the one where she asked me about my job, and I told her about Croatia (which evoked a look of puzzlement, at which point I said, the former Yugoslavia, Eastern Europe-I’m not sure it helped), now they are contemplating nursing homes, and exercise regiments, and home-ownerships, things my knowledge of are limited and skewed. They know the stops of the train by number. “I get off in two stops” “Oh, Warrensburg.” I wonder if these women would have been friends in their twenties, if they listened to the same music or lived in the same parts of town. I suppose they are like me and my auditor friend; or mark, the man who works for a government contractor. Momentary friends, passing faces, act like windows into the lives we couldn’t have lived or chose not to. They are introductions into the question we never thought to ask ourselves, such as how does one make a billionaire a plane, or set up a decent retirement home, or what it means to live in Alton Illinois and take the train to Kansas City to wrap “loose ends”, she hesitated—giving me no details on her trip. I hope she has a place to stay. “I never was little, never was skinny- but I lost weight though, supposed to eat double protein” “my folks had money for a while, while I was young, and then they didn’t have” “Were you raised in town?” “That’s why I moved to Missouri” “I never learned to make strawberry jams, my mother did that, one time I had to make pickles” It’s like time traveling. It’s like time traveling but only with the tip of your tongue, the tiniest taste. “I didn’t cook to make it taste good, I cooked to make it healthy” “I always tried to have two main dishes, and two vegetables, he (her husband) ate peas and potatoes and corn…pies are too much work”. “It was years ago I tried to follow recipes.” “I married before I was out of high school…and we moved to Mississippi and he shipped out of Baltimore, I was scared little girl, scared to death, I didn’t know how I got anywhere, never been in a big city” “If you brought a family you had a bring a house with you” (I think she was talking about moving up Washington State). “We were traveling 15 miles an hour” “I worked 9 hours a day and 6 days a week and brought home 33 dollars a week, and we were happy!”

I suppose I shouldn’t ease drop too much. It is most likely unethical, although I have a feeling these women wouldn’t mind.

I intended to sit down and write about getting ready for Croatia. About my trip to D.C., my day in Jeff city, my Croatian lessons, but I’ve been side-tracked by the corn fields, and hay bales, and the golden setting sun striking brilliantly on grain mills, and the two snow frosted, miniature women conversing on my left. It is impossible to recreate the excitement I felt my first day in D.C.

I met a woman at the toy store. We started talking, which is why people shop in little stores like the toy store, and I told her about going to Croatia, about research, about adventuring. “I’m so happy for you,” She said. She had a daughter who was maybe 6 or 7. I recognized them from my earlier toy store days but it had been a few years. She told me how she was a mathematician and in college she was always discriminated against for being a woman, and a beautiful woman at that. Even as a middle-age women she is gorgeous with radiant blonde hair and pale blue eyes, so I believe her when she references this. She told me how no one thought someone who looked like her could do so well in a man’s field. Now remember, she is still young, maybe late thirties. She told me though that when she was younger she traveled all the time and worked, pouring her everything into her work, getting published, etc. “I feel full, you know? I think that’s why so many people’s marriages don’t last anymore, because they don’t live their own lives first, but I am happy to stay in one place and be with my kid because I’m full of all those experiences.” She gestured with her hands, scooping the air up them as if inhaling it and brows furrowed, she was genuine in her sentiment, it wasn’t just one neighbor shooting the breeze with another neighbor. She introduced me to her daughter and told me she wanted so many things for her. And I smiled. Its funny how those little interactions can mean the world to you, to have that kind of support, those moments when you realized the world is full of people who truly want you to find it or something that makes you feel full.

and now cell-phones do what computers do” “I don’t even know what they are doing on there”

Now I’ve completely lost my train of thought. It’s dark now and we are 30 minutes out of Kansas city. I looked over after the ladies spoke of my computer and I let my guard down and was drawn into their conversation, an hour or so later we grew quiet and I never figured out why Julie was riding the train to Kansas City. Annette left us in Warrensburg, reminding me the future is bright because we are all in god's hands, but we might have to suffer first.

her last piece of advice?

"You can't live in the past. You have to think about the future, and since that hasn't happened yet, well then all you have is the present."


Danielle said...

you are lovely. and quite the writer. thanks for sharing this emily. I look forward to seeing what comes next. i sada, naravno.

sretan put!

arm said...

This is really beautiful, Em.

Emily Dara said...

thanks guys! your support means the world to me! hopefully as i set off the post will be more frequent.