On Conversations on the Train

On the train tonight, I talked to a homeless man.

To my luck, I caught the slightly earlier train, despite leaving the office at my usual time.

(In a span of about fifteen minutes, there are southbound trains terminating at Cromwell, BWI, and North Avenue, in that order. I normally catch the BWI train at 6 o’clock plus/minus 3 minutes, but the Cromwell train came through at about 5:55. The North Avenue train is the only one that isn’t really useful to me; if I catch that one, I have to either wait at North Avenue for the next southbound train, or I can hike through Bolton Hill to reach the subway station.)

In the back train, there were two bikers having an animated conversation about bike trails. I’d seen one of the two at times on the morning train; she’d get on at the Woodberry stop, and for a time in the spring she was reading the Millennium edition of The Lord of the Rings. The other biker I’d never seen before. They discussed bike trails in and around the greater Baltimore area, from York down to Falls Church.

Yes, I notice people. I’m a writer. It’s what I do.

Their conversation was of no interest to me. Instead, I tried to work out the Sudoku puzzle in the free daily paper, but I grew stumped and frustrated.

There was a grossly overweight man sitting roughly between myself and the two bikers, and at times he would respond to something the two bikers would say. I wasn’t paying attention, but some of the conversation revolved around public transportation to New York, either Amtrak or Greyhound or Bolt Bus.

Eventually, my interest in the Sudoku puzzle flagged. In truth, I had no pressing need to solve this one; I’d actually solved it quite quickly in the morning, by the time the subway train reached the Reisterstown Road stop, but I wanted to give it another try, only this time I was utterly stumped.

I clicked my pen closed, affixed it back it its place in my BPRD bag, and was about to do nothing but watch trees go by, when the man between myself and the bikers asked me a question. “How much is an Amtrak ticket to New York? Do you know?”

I told him I didn’t know.

He proceeded to tell me his story.

He’d come down from New York City three weeks ago. He was looking for work, and he thought that Baltimore would be the ticket. But he had no place to stay, work was scarce, he couldn’t even get on at the State Fair in Timonium. “They don’t even have job classifieds in the [Baltimore] Sun, you know that?” He was changing his clothes as he was telling me this.

It was an odd conversation. Eventually, we turned to talk of baseball. “I was in radio, I covered ballgames,” he said. I could believe it; he grew incredibly animated when talking about the abysmally wretched Chicago Cubs teams of the late 1970s.

The train neared North Avenue; I’d decided, even before the man began to speak to me, that since I’d caught the slightly earlier train, I’d walk through Bolton Hill to the subway station. It was a nice evening, and the exercise never hurts. I handed the man the free daily; Mondays they run job listings. Maybe it would be helpful.

The walk through Bolton Hill was pleasant. Lots of college students on the streets, with the art college back in session.

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