Saturday, October 11, 2008

Taking the Train to Trenton


Earlier this week, as I was checking one of the New Jersey Transit monitors in a crowded Penn Station a young Asian man approached me with a scrap of paper on which were scribbled the following words: “Trenton, 2:07 p.m.” He then showed me his train ticket to Trenton, his body language telling me he spoke little if any English.

I nodded emphatically, showed him my own ticket to Metuchen and pointed back and forth, first and him then at me, then back at him, assuring him, I hoped, that we would be traveling on the same train and that he should follow me.

And follow me he did—down the steps to the crowded waiting area where we stood awaiting the posting of a track number. When that number flashed on the monitor, he stuck to me like glue amidst the mass of travelers funneling to the track, down the escalator (for once it was running in the right direction), onto the train and, after helping me get my suitcase down a flight of stairs on the double decker train, into a seat right behind me.

Once seated, it occurred to me that my seeming expertise in “Charades” had likely left this young man with the impression that he should follow me off the train as well. So, when the conductor came through to collect tickets, I told him the following: “The guy sitting behind me is going to Trenton, but he doesn’t speak a word of English and is probably going to try to get off in Metuchen, since I helped him get on the train. Just want you to know…” Without a word, he chuckled and moved on.

Indeed, when I stood, gathered my belongings and moved toward the exit at the end of the car, so did the young man behind me. As we awaited the Metuchen stop, I shook my head and pointed back at his seat, futilely telling him, “Trenton is the last stop, the end of the line.” Reluctantly, he returned to his seat as I alighted from the train.

I hope that young man made it to Trenton okay.