Monday, June 20, 2011


Today was the last day of my “vacation,” which, you will observe, I put in quotes because I’m not sure you can call it a vacation if you don’t actually have a job to take time off from.
But it sounds better than “This was the last day of my time out of town.”
It has not exactly been a trip to paradise. The weather the first couple of days in the Saint Louis area was actually hotter and muggier than back in South Florida. And then it turned kind of cool, which, combined with strange pollen, resulted in a battle against a head cold and cough for the last 10 days or so.
Ugh. Not exactly the best way to greet the summer solstice.
I originally thought I would be safely back in South Florida by this time, but I forgot to factor in the inability of my wife and daughter to communicate such mundane information such as the date of her return.
We were not exactly the free spirits we usually are because we were her to babysit while my daughter went off the Caribbean to get married (parental presence was not required for this second ceremony).
Date of departure my wife and daughter got down. What they did not get was the date of my daughter’s return. I thought it was going to be a stay of not much longer than a week. At one point, I was wondering if I was going to be in town for when the Cardinals returned to Busch Stadium for their series with the Kansas City Royals.
It wasn’t until later that I learned I actually could have been here for their series against the Phillies.
But I simply couldn’t stay that long. So my wife finishes up the babysitting duty while I return to Miami to get to the monthly SAMA luncheon plus finish up planning for the automotive media group’s first convertible carnival, which we have quaintly dubbed Topless in Miami. (Technically, more toplessness occurs in Miami Beach than Miami, but that is quibbling over semantics.)
Most people spend the last day of their “vacation” sitting back and reflecting on the good times or getting in one last day at the beach, one last round of golf, or similar event.
I spent it riding on a train and buses.
You see, because I will not be in town to go the airport to pick up my daughter and her new husband, I had to take out his car and park it in a long-term lot so it would be there when they got back. I didn’t want to put my wife through following me the 40-minute trek to Lambert Field. If she got lost, I would never hear the last of it, and deservedly so.
It would be easy enough to take the Metrolink train from the airport through Saint Louis and to the Illinois side of the Mississippi River to link up with the region’s bus service. It would entail having to transfer once, but no big deal.
It wasn’t bad, not nearly as bad as my last actual flying trip (see earlier blog below), and it did provide for some unexpected experiences.
I must have the kind of face that people like to confide in.
For the first few stops from the airport, I sat by myself, but then a nice woman on her way home from work (though she did get off just before we reached downtown), sat down beside me.
She didn’t exactly chat me up, but after a few minutes, she and another woman in front of her were wondering why the ticket taker in the car didn’t call the police because one of the male riders didn’t have a ticket or ID.
Any way, my seat mate noted my obvious cough and observed that she, too, had been fighting a summer cold.
“Nothing worse,” she said.
Then she proceeded to tell me of an incident on one of her recent rides when another woman had put down a purse in the seat beside her and a young man had come by and picked it right up on his way off the train.
She also had been on the train when someone else stole one of the new computer gadgets (iPod? Kindle? She wasn’t sure.).
Both the victims, she assured me, were very upset. One was really crying.
She got off at the next stop before giving any more crime reports.
“Have a nice day,” she said.
Across the river, I got off at the second stop to catch the first of my two bus rides.
I found the right boarding spot and sat down on the bench next to a lone guy.
For whatever reason, he immediately told me a couple of racial jokes, which I don’t really appreciate and didn’t really see the wisdom in considering we were in East Saint Louis at the time.
But he also told me where I had to make my next stop and that I should ask the driver for a transfer, which I did when I boarded.
He also told me that he had once had to travel over to the airport by bus alone, and it was a long trip before there was train service. (An aside here: I wasn’t aware until I saw the train at the airport a few years ago that Saint Louis even had a rail system.)
This was back when he had been in an accident and had lost his marbles and couldn’t drive, he said. He had most of his marbles back now, he said, though he thought some were still broken.
He was only going to Collinsville, where he once live. He told me of a good bar he had once ridden his bike to from his home several nights a week and when he got too drunk, he would hitch a ride back home and lock the bike up at a big pole at the bar, which, by the way, closed recently.
At Collinsville, I made the switch to the bus to Edwardsville.
My idea was to ride to the end of the line at city hall. But a closer look at the map I had picked up earlier showed the route actually split once it hit Edwardsville. The bus I was on was heading to the SIU-Edwardsville campus, not city hall were my wife expected me to be.
Thank goodness for cell phones.
I called my wife and told her to pick up me up at the Walmart, which is a stop along the way.
Oh, yeah. There were only a couple of other people on the small bus, but before he got off at a rather early stop, one of them made a cell phone call to his boss. After the call, he looked over to my general area and gave the news that some generals were coming to his place of work the next day, and he had to be there at 5 a.m. because there were going to be bomb-sniffing dogs.
“Imagine,” he said. “Bomb-sniffing dogs.”
I was the only passenger on my side of the bus, and the only other rider had an iPod on, so I figured he was talking to me.
As the bus neared the Walmart stop, I checked the time. It was 4:23 in the afternoon. I had left the airport about two hours earlier, so the usual 40- minute or so ride back home had just about tripled in duration.
But I had spent only $1.85 as a “senior” rider.
Well, that’s not right either.
You see, when I was standing in front of the ticket dispenser for Metrolink back at the airport looking lost, a guy had stopped to help me figure out exactly what I needed.
Before I could get away, he told me a story about having some sort of operation because he had diabetes, and he pointed to a nasty looking wound on his chin. (I didn’t look closely.)
He rejected my offer of train fare, but said he needed to get to Houston, which he may have said was home (I didn’t catch all the details) but, of course, he didn’t have anywhere near the money that was going to cost.
Bus fare to Texas was much cheaper.
I felt I should help him out. I looked for a fiver in my wallet, but I had used it to buy my train ticket.
There was a tenner, however. What else could I do at that point?
So the train/bus trip technically cost me $11.85.
“Vacation” has ended just in time.

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