Thursday, January 12, 2012

Relationships Passing in the Night

Yesterday was a travel day.

That meant 12 hours on Amtrak negotiating the distance from Canandaigua NY to Gettysburg PA (which translated into riding the rails from Rochester NY to Harrisburg PA via New York City). I know it's not the most direct route, (only 270 miles by crow, it's 566 by choo choo) but the days of hamlet-to-hamlet train service are gone the way of the passenger pigeon (there are those who might argue that I'm a latter day passenger pigeon to be a regular Amtrak patron, but that's a blog for another time), and I consider myself fortunate to be able to cobble together a rail itinerary that works at all.

The amazing thing about yesterday's peregrination was not that we had to spend 30 minutes changing trains in Penn Station (which was a whopping 200 miles east of the route we would have taken by car); it's that Ma'ikwe and I managed to hook up (so to speak) with a dear friend (and ex-partner of mine), Susan Patrice, during the layover. For all of three minutes we enjoyed hugs and an animated exchange before our boarding call was posted for the 5:10 pm Keystone Service to Harrisburg. I was gobsmacked that all of this could come together so quickly.

The miracle was made possible by Facebook, plus the fact that Amtrak now offers wi-fi connectivity on all its northeast corridor trains. Here's how it worked. Ma'ikwe was impressed enough by her virginal experience of being online on a moving train (it's not that uncommon to be able to grab a usable wireless signal during a random station stop, but satellite service while rolling is a new thing), that she posted a breezy sentence about it on her Facebook wall. (Perhaps "breezy" is redundant when used in the same sentence as "Facebook," where the emphasis is on flow, not depth, but I'm honoring here—as someone who has steadfastly kept his distance from the crack cocaine of electronic social media—that Facebook was an essential component to yesterday's serendipitous rendezvous.)

A few hours after Ma'ikwe posted her travel note, Susan was cruising Facebook and noticed that Ma'ikwe had tangentially mentioned that she was en route to the Big Apple. While we hadn't been thinking about Susan at all on this trip (she was still in Asheville NC the last we'd heard), it turned out that she'd moved up to Ganas (a well-established Staten Island community with whom she has maintained a long-term relationship) and actually had business in Manhattan yesterday. After a bit more Facebook back-and-forthing with Ma'ikwe, they determined that it just might work for Susan to wrap up her downtown engagement in time to hustle over to 34th St and catch some face time (as distinct from Facebook time) with her itinerant friends from Missouri.

While it was simultaneously weird and delightful to have Susan just walk up to us beneath the big departure board (which, disappointingly, no longer goes clackety-clack as trains head out and all the announcements for later departures advance up the board digitally now instead of mechanically), how do you even attempt to catch up in 180 seconds on all that's happened in the 18 months since we'd last seen each other? Faced with the impossibility of it all, we complimented her on her auburn hair, and she admired our new glasses.

The world gets a bit smaller all the time.
While it was early evening—not that you could tell from the bowels of Penn Station—it was preciously sweet that our passing ships somehow found each other for long enough to experience a touch of tenderness and connection smack in the midst of the anonymous crush of humanity that iconically characterizes rush hour in urban America. How could it get any crazier than trying to find a friend at 5 pm midweek in the middle of Penn Station?

On the other hand, what am I complaining about; we had three New York minutes. My cup overfloweth.

There are eight million stories in the Naked City; this has been one of them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would love to take AMTRAK more but schedules and routes are diffult when dealing with only a couple of weeks of vacation. Having lived in both Europe and Japan- I traveled extensively by trainsfor business and esp loved the bullet trains in Japan that I found far more enjoyable then flying.