The Journey series
This week's Mustard Seed wraps up the series about my European and Mideast adventure in the late seventies.
Safely aboard my Skytrain flight, I was eight hours from New York. From there, I would be twenty-four hundred miles and who knew how many hours from Vancouver. Worry would resolve nothing, there was no entertainment on this bare-bones flight, and the food I had needed to last several days, so I slept.
But I didn't sleep long enough – I woke up hungry and, despite willing not to, ate my remaining food. I landed at JFK still hungry. After passing through Customs, I went to the tourist bureau in search of a means home. As luck would have it (I was still wary of providence), that was the last day of Amtrak's Ninety-Nine Dollar Ticket To Anywhere Sale.
After paying for the shuttle to Grand Central Station, I had exactly one hundred dollars when I arrived at the Amtrak ticket counter. That day's train had already left but, as long as I paid on that day, a ninety-nine dollar ticket would get me to Vancouver. The next train left at nine the next morning.
My dollar and I wandered about, able to visit only the parts of New York within walking distance and only from the outside. Late that evening a man approached me. We chatted. I didn't learn much about him, but he patiently allowed me to vent much of the stress that had built up through my travails. Just before ten, I found he had subtly led me to the YMCA hostel. He paid the clerk twenty-five dollars for me to bunk there over night. He wished me a safe trip home, said good night, and left.
I woke much more relaxed the next day. As I made my way back to Grand Central Station, I found a diner that offered a ninety-nine-cent breakfast before seven a.m. It was six-fifty-five. Two eggs over easy, bacon, toast, hash browns, and coffee. I lingered over that breakfast as long as I could, knowing it would be my last meal until I arrived in Vancouver three and a half days later. Too many cups of coffee later I made my way to Grand Central just as they announced the platform for my train.
As I approached the platform, a tourist headed the other direction handed me a Robert Ludlum novel. "Here, I've finished it," he said, "Maybe you'll enjoy it."
I thanked him more than I could express. The next three days would pass faster with entertainment. Reading would also offer a needed distraction from the hunger headed my way. I rationed the pages to ensure the book would last the full trip. On the second day a young woman sat across from me. "Where are you in the book?" she asked.
She had just finished reading it. We discussed the book for a bit and mused about its premise – up to the point that avoided spoilers. We then chatted about each other's trips. Jill had been visiting a friend in Chicago and was heading back to Portland, Oregon. When she learned of my plight she invited me to dinner in the dining car. I promised to repay her once I accessed my money in Vancouver. "No," she insisted. "Come visit me in Portland and you can buy me dinner."
I agreed and she gave me the number of a friend through whom I would be able to contact her. She had a chef's salad and I had a Salisbury steak. We shared a bottle of wine. After dinner we returned to our seats and continued our conversation. I'm not sure which of us fell asleep first. I declined her invitation to breakfast the next morning. She returned shortly before noon and not long before Seattle where she changed trains to head south and I remained aboard to head north.
I arrived in Vancouver shortly after ten p.m. With only one penny, I couldn't afford to call anyone or take a bus so I walked three miles to my mother's house. A block before arriving, my cat ran up and jumped up to ride my shoulders the rest of the way. I approached to my mother's barking dog. My mother and one of my sisters were surprised and excited to see me. No one expected me back for at least a year. My mom made tea and we had a bit of a celebration which woke my youngest sister.
She poked her head into the living room. "What are you doing here?" she asked, squinting her eyes against the light.
"Well don't make so much noise. I'm trying to sleep." She headed back to her room.
The next morning I retrieved my car from the friend I'd lent it to, went to the bank to withdraw some cash, and reclaimed the room I had been renting before I left for my journey. I called up my previous employer who was anxious for me to start working there again immediately. We were so busy that I wasn't able to go to Portland to meet my obligation to Jill for over a month.
When I finally did arrive in Portland I called the number Jill had written down for me. Jill happened to be visiting that friend when I called. Jill said she'd love to get together with me for dinner but she had a previous commitment with another friend. "How about tomorrow?" I asked.
"No," she insisted, "he won't mind if you tag along."
She told me where to meet her and when. She had herbal tea and biscuits waiting for me when I arrived. She showed me the hanging baskets she'd made to sell at the local flea market and we discussed our activities since parting. Time flew by and before Jill was ready her friend knocked on the door. She opened it.
"Hello, Kerry," I said to everyone's amazement.
Kerry and I had been on the same Magic Bus trip from Athens to London. I didn't know Kerry lived in Portland. As far as I know, Kerry and Jill were the only two people I knew who lived in Portland. I'd been half way around the world and back only to find out just how small the world truly is.
Next week: We'll See.
Peter T Elliott