At 11:23am yesterday I was so excited to be boarding my first ever train. The locomotive rolled in stopping twice, first to let in the VIPers who could afford sleeper cars, and then again to allow us Coach plebeians in.
“What’s your destination?”
After stepping up into the train, and ignoring the other passenger who tried to convince me to drop my perfectly sized carry-on off at the oversized rack, I trudged up the narrow and twisting metal stairs and stepped off into my car. 41, 42, 43 … 48, oh dear god no, 49, ohhhh no, 50.
I was less than delighted to discover that the woman in seat 49, my seatmate, was currently occupying not only her seat but also my own. Spread around her were bags and bags of personal belongings along with the paraphernalia of a very sick person. Stacks and stacks of tissues and paper towels were stuffed into various crevices and mesh pockets while some sort of mini around-the-neck dehumidifier was whirring away. Hoping against hope that I was merely the victim of my occasional dyslexia I glanced up. Nope. Sicky was definitely my neighbor. Worse? The tag above her head indicated that she would be traveling to LAX. She would be my neighbor the entire 19+ hours.
Buck up, Emilie! Just be nice and try not to face her when she breathes.
“Excuse me, 49? I’m 50” I explained with a politely apologetic smile. Miss Mucus, for at this moment she hacked up a beauty into one of the aforementioned paper towels, didn’t respond at first. I decided to give her a moment to recover and pushed my pink Victoria Secret gym bag (now serving as my stylish train luggage) into the overhead rack, only having to push forcefully twice, and then returned. It now sunk in that I was serious about needing my assigned seat, so my new “buddy” began the slow and sniffly process of gathering up her things and shuffling them to her half of the floor. This did not make much of a difference, but at least her tissues were no longer in my seat.
I settled in, trying really hard not to let my disgust at her dripping and coughing and sneezing show too plainly, and pulled out my nook. Not three minutes later she was asleep, snoring and her left arm had fallen from her rotund belly and was now resting quite warmly and heavily on my right thigh. Did I mention that she was a rather large woman? At this point in the trip I thought she was pregnant, and assumed that was why she thought it was ok to lie in her chair at an angle so she took up most of my floor space as well as a good portion of my seat.
I was sort of dry heaving (really she was sooo contagious) and thinking about how I couldn’t afford to get sick right now, and my body was so contorted from trying to lean away from her that I knew it was going to be a long and painful trip. She slept on and off for the next four hours, waking up long enough to lift her left arm and place it back on the rotunda that was her belly before nodding off again and having it drop quite shockingly back onto my thigh. As a new train-goer I had not yet discovered the observation car (or rather where it was located) and besides that I paid for my seat so I should be able to sit in it!
A book and a couple of hours later we were at a “fresh air” stop (which I discovered really means a “no fresh air” stop as this is where the smokers exit en masse and create a nicotine smog cloud right outside all of the doors) and at this time I began to doubt whether my newest friend was really pregnant. Because at this juncture in time, you see, she pulled out a big box which contained several electronic cigarettes, a pipe-type thing (I am obviously incredibly versed in this subject-manner) and loose-leaf tobacco which she decided to roll in her train seat. For having all of the equipment she was not very adept at the process, as loose leaf tobacco (or whatever it is called) ended up on the floor, flakes fell on my nook screen, a copious pile fell dangerously close to my open backpack that contained my munchies (and speaking of munchies yes I am sure it was tobacco and not that other green–thank you RA training) and yet enough of it still ended up in the correct packaging that she went out to join the others.
As the afternoon wore on I was sure that the woman’s antics could not get any worse, but fear not she surpassed her reputation with feat after glorious feat up until the moment I just about ran off the train in Sacramento.
Her snacks consisted of salami slices that she ate like a starving squirrel eats a nut–bending over and then shoveling it quickly into her gaping mouth using only three fingers, fruit cups that she noisily slurped the juices out of and then insisted on hacking right back up, and she topped her meal off with ring pops that she enjoyed with disgusting, slushy sucks. Then she took another nap, taking up more and more of my space.
Around five pm it started to get dark on the train thanks to the woods surrounding the train tracks so I clicked on the overhead light with the button closest to me assuming, like an airplane, that would be the light pointed at me. It was still light enough out that I couldn’t really tell if it was my light or not. For good measure I turned the other one on too, but for a while wasn’t really sure. I amused myself for a few minutes switching back and forth between the two lights trying to figure out which was correct, and I admit I felt a tad vindicated when the flickering lights made her twitch a little. The relief was short-lived as that questing hand fell down again, this time closer to my butt cheek. This was no longer bearable.
I walked around determined to find the cafe car and some coffee so I went through a door labeled “lounge” which apparently was a euphemism for a baby’s changing table and not for a swanky boxcar full of crisply dressed well-to-do society folk. I apologized to the mother and her child, then I used my deductive reasoning and followed the crowd of folks that were constantly walking forward (and it seemed like they never returned) and low and behold two cars up were these tables and side facing chairs with oodles of room and floor to ceiling windows with a snack bar downstairs. This was the place to be! Unfortunately it was full. So I got my coffee, said hi to this hot British man who was ordering–what else–black tea, and looked around longingly again before returning to the slumbering snot behemoth.
Fast forward several hours…all afternoon and night she was up to her continuous antics of hacking and gagging and molesting…but finally it was time for “lights out” in Coach and I decided that I needed to get some sleep so that I could party hardy at the wedding the next day (read=today). Now, I have spent a lot of time sleeping in uncomfortable spaces and positions (I spent all of high school in marching band–by the time I graduated I could sleep in a dress uniform propped up on hat boxes and the emergency kit and the clipboard and the extra boxes that I was in charge of as Drum Major) but I have never, ever been so uncomfortable or had such a hard time sleeping as I did last night/this morning. The seat sort of reclined, but somehow I slid out of it. I would have to constantly push myself up, and each time I did that I would have to touch the fevered arm that was already all over me. I tried leaning to the left but everyone walking in the dark bumped into me.
I tried to center myself in my seat, unfortunately my neighbor’s leg had already done so, so I think I finally got a half hour’s snooze with my face in the mini pillow on my dining tray. Yes, I bent forward and smashed my face into the dining tray, because it was the farthest away I could get from her. And then, something even more uncomfortable happened. Her hand started twitching. I think she was dreaming or something, but I was not ok with her twitchy hand on my butt and I immediately shook her off. But every time she drifted off, her arm would slide down her belly and land on me, and twitch. I left to go to the bathroom, hoping she would rearrange.
When I got back from the bathroom I actually did almost vomit. Because what was lying on my seat, where I had just been, that I had probably been sitting on? Some sort of mouth guard. That had come out of her mouth. Her sick, drippy, mucousy mouth. This meant war. If I wasn’t going to sleep, then she wasn’t either. So each time her arm would approach I would shake it off, or adjust my seat, or puff up my pillow. She even had the audacity to trap my scarf under her hand while she was sleeping, like she had every right to sickly cosy up to my favorite eggplant scarf! Sadly none of these strategies worked and she snored/sniffled away just like she had been doing for about 17.5 hours of the trip.
At 5:02 am I realized I hated this woman. She no longer only disgusted, repelled and annoyed me. She was anathema. What changed? Oh nothing much, except remember how she liked to cough up mucous and then do heaven knows what with it? (Seriously, I was stuck by her for hours and I could never tell where it went). Well this time I found out, because she decided to clutch the gunk-filled cheap paper towel in her left hand. You know, the hand she liked to dramatically flop on my thigh and butt and my favorite scarf and my favorite jean jacket and my fabulous printed prairie skirt?
We were done. Over. Kaput. It’s a good thing she did sleep through that last half hour of my ride, because I spent the whole time glaring at her. Hating her. Wishing that she had brought a mask and that I had brought hand sanitizer and bee propilis and airborne and a stasis field to contain the sickness… I envied the woman one row back across the aisle who had gotten on when I had and was going to LAX but through a cruel twist of fate got her OWN ROW while I, I had to contend with THAT WOMAN.
When we pulled into Sacramento I couldn’t get off the train fast enough. There were no goodbyes, no false “sorries” when I accidentally bumped her while grabbing my Targus backpack. I even did something unthinkable–my disposable water bottle had rolled by her things and rather than pick it up I left it among her tobacco flakes and used tissues and salami packages. I did. I left that bottle, and I don’t regret it.