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HaggardRiders

Three huge golden carp make a bright / pattern at the bottom of the water as our train crosses a bridge above the Connecticut River. Then we slow to a crawl, click-clack across a rusty old switch, and curve sharply onto a side track. A sign on the nearby street says "Depot Village". We stop, toot, and lurch forward past parking lots, industrial buildings, and the unkempt back yards of little houses. We stop again. A freight train waiting on the adjacent track creeps out. Then we reverse out of our siding and cross another set of switches. Now we're going onto the main line --- traveling backwards past the town of Palmer Massachusetts, toward New York City.

It's my trip homeward on "The Vermonter", heading south from Amherst. Paulette [1] & I have taken our daughter Gray to summer music camp, for the fourth year running. This time it's Musicorda on the Mount Holyoke College campus. The trip up from the Washington DC area is a wee bit too exciting: after an eight-hour drive, alas, one of the brakes on our "new" car (an '87 Mercury Topaz) overheats in a freeway traffic jam on a hot Friday afternoon in the hills of Connecticut.

Fortunately Paulette is driving and pulls off the highway in time; had I been behind the wheel, the damage would have been far worse. The left front brake rotor gets so hot that the wheel's hubcap fittings melt. The hubcap itself falls off and spins away as we turn a corner to park in a local service station. A kind elderly couple behind us stops and tells us where they saw it roll; I walk back and find it, reduced to a bizarre and useless artifact. The gas station has no real mechanical facilities, just pumps and a mini-mart where people stand in line to buy candy and lottery tickets. We phone the auto club and they send help.

A few hours later, a 90+ mile tow gets the car to Amherst. Along the way, riding in the truck I meet a fascinating fellow: "Kev", the driver, who has lost ~120 pounds in the past year (and still weighs 300+), and who has cut back to smoking only half a pack of cigarettes daily. He's a genuinely decent guy ... a family man with a six-year-old son, a wife whom he clearly loves, and a job that keeps him busy with its constant variety. Kev tells me of the $65 ticket that he got recently when he failed to pull in to a truck weigh station (the cop could have hit him for over $200), of the latest accident he was in (his back still hurts; he has a lawyer who is suing the teenager who pulled out in front of him), and of the crazy states that people get into when their cars break down. It's almost 11pm when we arrive; Kev unloads our car and heads back to his home, where he has to get up for an early shift the next morning.

Meanwhile, the family friends who are hosting our visit overwhelm us as they go far beyond all conceivable calls of duty. Husband drives down to pick up Paulette and Gray, while wife stays up late to give Kev and me directions to their neighborhood mechanic's garage. Then they put us up for the night, feed us, lend us their car, and in general go so far out of their way and are so extraordinarily nice that we unable to thank them enough. (But thanks again anyway, Michael & Ruthie & Caleb!)

Saturday morning things continue to improve: the Merc appears likely fixable within a few days, and Paulette finds a rental car (seemingly the last one available in the region) so that she can continue on her planned journey to visit other friends who have retired to Maine. I take Gray to check in at Musicorda, 10 miles down the road in South Hadley. The little town is filled with signs announcing its 250th anniversary celebration to come on the 4th of July this year. Mount Holyoke's campus is lovely, Gray's dorm room is excellent, and so by midday we've deposited her gear and are back in Amherst. We eat some good Indian food, shop a bit in the town's bookstores, and at 4pm I'm on a train heading home, as per previous design.

The rail trip is long but rather pleasant. The route winds through thick woods and past open fields decorated with decaying farm machinery. It crosses a wooden bridge where a young couple sits near the tracks, looking down at a stream below and leaning on one another. We pass Bridgeport and see a baseball game in progress; the score is 0-0 in the bottom of the second inning. The sun makes a vertical streak of light as it sets behind high cirrus clouds. A girl in the seat behind me (or in front of me, since we're still going backwards) talks on her cellphone, sometimes cheerily, sometimes crying about a broken relationship. A pair of girls in front (or back?) chat together as they prepare to get off at Stamford, having ridden all the way from Montreal. One of them speaks politely with a boy who is trying to convert her to his religion. She's a thoughtful listener who raises some good questions; he's rather predictable and doctrinaire in his proselytizing.

Our train changes from diesel engine to an electric locomotive when we get to the main Northeast Corridor line, and progress is faster. We pass more dirty derelict warehouses: empty shells, their broken windows symbolic of economic change and malinvestment. I ponder the parallel situation in information space --- forsaken business models, unmaintained web sites, bankrupt dot-coms and their abandoned domains ...

I read a bit of Rider Haggard's She (so far, not as good as King Solomon's Mines), try to learn a few letters of the Arabic alphabet, write a few notes to myself, and nap. Saturday winds to its close between Baltimore and Washington. A little after midnight "The Vermonter" arrives at Union Station. I take the subway to my neighborhood, walk three quarters of a mile home with my pack on my back, and find the boys still awake and playing video games. Then for me it's bedtime, and up early Sunday morning to don running clothes and try my old legs in a 5k race, the new "Burning Tree" event in Bethesda. The course is hilly and I'm slow, but it feels great. So does the amateur baseball game that I watch Sunday evening.

And this Friday morning, less than a week later, I'm up before dawn to get back to Union Station and catch "The Vermonter" for the eight-hour ride north to Amherst, where I'll meet Paulette on her way back from Maine. We'll visit friends and daughter, then drive home --- uneventfully, touch wood.

(see also RailWeb (3 Jan 2001), PopGoes (19 Jun 2001), ThisSpaceFor (17 Feb 2003), Rider Haggard (27 Jun 2003), ...)


TopicPersonalHistory - TopicProfiles - Datetag20030704


footnote: I think my geography was wrong --- it wasn't the Connecticut River ... sorry! - ^z


(correlates: HaveToLaugh, TwoDreams, BeUnprepared, ...)