Sunday, August 13, 2006

But the Sea Does Not Change

In Providence, I get off the Peter Pan Bonanza bus. The bus driver is busy accosting a college girl with a Valley accent and a sweater he's unraveling with his eyes. It's 8:15 Sunday morning, and the square around the bus station is swarming with freaks of all kinds. I feel right at home with my wheelie laptop case, a dollar store gift bag and no fucking idea where I'm going. Last year, the bus from Cape Cod left us inside a terminal; I followed fellow passengers like an ant trail from the bus up a long flight of stairs, outside, around a building, up another flight of stairs and into a circle of Hell where I'd be afraid to close my eyes. This year: it's different. Inside the bus station, the guy at the information booth is exceptionally helpful.

Tata: Can you please direct me to the train station?
Guy: Whaddya wanna go there for?
Tata: Amtrak, please?
Guy: You go out that door on the left, you bear right, then you turn right and you keep going about half a mile to the Westin Hotel. Do you know where the mall is?
Tata: No, I'm not from here.
Guy: Okay, it's behind the Westin.
Tata: Thank you.
Guy: Where you going?
Tata: Jersey.
Guy: I got a bus in an hour.
Tata: I've got a train ticket in two. Thanks.

I go out the door on the left, bear right, then turn right. What I should have realized before the bus stopped was that this part of Providence - and possibly all of it, I don't know - is under construction by architects and engineers not at all familiar with right angles. Once I cross the street to stay on a sidewalk, I've walked into the Land of Wild Guessing, and to compound my confusion, while it may be Saturday afternoon-rocking at the bus station, fifty feet away it's Sunday morning-dead. There's no one to ask about fine-tuning my directions that suddenly end with me at an intersection and without clues. The weather is sunny and a comfortable temperature, with a light breeze. I have a sandwich, credit cards and water. I have confidence in my ability to walk through a deserted city and refuse to hear the theme music unless Mark Knopfler is scoring my cinematic life. I pass half a dozen hotels at odd angles to one another before I spy the Westin's valet parking, which looks complicated. I cross the street and find a man and a woman, both in uniform. By now, I have no context, so I imagine I look like a middle-aged runaway. With knitting.

Tata: Can you please direct me to the train station?
Man: Go over there and turn left -

He's gesturing right.

Tata: Left?
Man: Left. Go up there -

He's gesturing down.

Tata: At that corner, turn left?
Man: And the train station is behind that building.
Tata: Behind that building?
Man: Yes, that one.
Tata: Thank you.

More than half a mile later in the Land of Wild Guessing, I finally see a sign that approximates a train meeting some crown moulding, and after I walk past a whole slew of what can only be yuppie lawyer bars and restaurants on a straight line to the State House, I see in the distance a gentleman setting up tables at an outdoor cafe. I walk up a long incline to him, pleased that I'm physically fit and that no one has tried mugging me.

Tata: Can you please direct me to the train station? Is it that round building?
Gentleman: I, um, I, um. My English is no so good -
Tata: That's okay. Point!
Gentleman: There!

He points. My destination is in sight. All in all, this would've been a nice walk if I hadn't been dragging dumb-looking luggage to a public building the front door of which resembled a dingy concrete loading dock. At the Amtrak counter, the information guy is very excited that I have photo ID, a reservation and I'm not swearing at him, so he points out the earlier train I might catch. I'm on it now. It's packed. It's 10:35 Sunday morning in business class on the Northeast Corridor. I should be watching tumbleweeds roll down the aisle and listening to Ennio Maricone in my head but no, I'm wondering if I'll have to spear passenger kebabs on my knitting needles to get off at Metro Park.

I want Americans to utilize public transportation. I want that. But damn it, I want my own seat where no one is blabbing about why the other shitty passengers won't let people traveling together sit together and whose son left the Jesuits and whether or not this video game is cool. I just spent 36 hours with my family, and I've had enough togetherness to hold me until fucking Christmas. If I can smell you, you are too close!


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