Today on the train, I am transported to the swampy fens of England and the dry, windswept moors of Yorkshire—away from the grim wetlands of Revere, the working Chelsea River, the city, and people. Spartan places a world away that geography has trouble mapping. Something in the rain, the sky silvering at the edge of the horizon, says more England than New England.
The air is heavy and British, full with the promise of fog.
A van crossing the bridge to Saugus becomes a lorry carrying cream from Devon. A white heron that alights in the marsh calls in a British accent. The tracks that run to the rail yard in Boston become tracks that extend to the outermost tip of Cornwall where they head straight off the cliff into the ocean.
The train came barreling through the snow one morning this week and for a minute, I was transported to Siberia, to the cold climes of Doctor Zhivago where men wore fur hats and women warmed their hands in muffs and where the ever-present cold sting makes you wonder, How did people live in such an inhospitable place where even a house in the countryside was glazed in a sheath of ice, glinting beautifully in the sun, but that must have felt like living in a freezer or one of those ice hotels that I will never understand.
And sure, that was a movie, but there’s Alaska and Antarctica where real people actually live—willingly—who will never know the joy of wearing a bikini or going outside without a ski mask. I can’t imagine anyone in cold climates even bothers fixing their hair.
Here, we’ve surpassed the region’s record of snowfall in January by a foot already with two more months of winter to go. Another foot just fell this week, bringing the total to more than 60 inches of snow. And there’s more to come on Wednesday (snow storms are scheduled for Wednesdays, apparently). I can’t get enough of shoveling. I love poking around the driveway with a shovel trying to find my car. I love a day that threatens to take your breath away—and freeze it in midair. My new hobbies are seeing how far I can walk without slipping on ice and wondering if the snowbanks can swallow my knee-high snow boots.
At least here, though, our houses are not ice prisons and we thaw out eventually enough to de-layer, tentatively venturing out without a scarf on that one brilliant spring day, and returning at last to our core body temperature just as November rolls around and it’s time to do it all over again.
When it’s 26 degrees outside and the wind chill factor is, well, major, meaning it feels more like 18 degrees, I find the formula can be extrapolated to mean that if the train is three minutes late, it feels like it’s actually 11 minutes late, and waiting a long 11 minutes on a cold train platform means that the train is going slower than X, whatever X is, and that you may never get to work, and if you do get to work, you will have to wear all four sweaters on your office chair until your limbs regain feeling.
On my commute home last night, the train conductor dropped a ticket in front of me, bent down on his knee to retrieve it, and without missing a beat, asked me to marry him. My seat mate chuckled and the conductor grinned, but who’s to say he was kidding? True, we hardly know each other, and maybe this is a classic conductor’s move, but I liked his quick wit, his forthright declaration, and the way he wielded his hole punch, clicking his way down the aisle. So I’m considering his proposal and imagining what our life together would be like. I picture us riding the rails north and south of Boston, heading to Portland for a day trip, or to New York City for the weekend on his free train pass. At least, I assume we’d get to ride the rails for free. If not, the engagement is off.
OK, I’ve determined that my stuffy nose and congested head is not from a potentially deadly flu but most likely allergies. Which is why I totally appreciated my fellow passenger on the subway for recognizing this in the midst of a coughing fit. In one of those panicky moments when you can’t stop coughing and your face turns red and tears are streaming down your face, I still managed to feel bad for the people next to me as I made my way home today. Because if that were me sitting close by while some woman hacked away, I might have turned an evil eye on the offender as if to say, I know you have H1N1 and thank you for infecting me. But this sweet man took pity on me.
“Allergies, huh?” he asked.
“Uhthr,” I coughed out.
“They’re bad this year.”
Despite my messy face and urge to sneeze, just to spice things up, I tried to show gratitude for his fearless understanding.
“I forgot to bring water,” I said. “Thanks for not running away.”
Of course, this is on the heels of another coughing fit yesterday while I was reading the delightful Olive Kitteridge also on the T. The woman next to me took advantage of the pause in my attack to ask if the book was as good as she’d heard.
“Yrhgythaq,” I managed, nodding, so she’d know that was a yes. My eyes had welled up from the coughing (and the book is really sad, OK?) so when she looked over at me, I giant tear was making tracks down my cheek. We carried on conversing as if everyone cries on the T, and I told her she should really read it despite our shared hesitation that linked short stories would not be as satisfying as a novel and that cough, it’s also very moving.
Thank you, kind passengers for not shunning me on the train.
I love these railroad tracks in Cambridge. They make the journey look so darn interesting. Tracks just beckon you, don’t they? I’ve always wanted to walk the line just to see life from that vantage point and to find out just where they go.
The tracks by my house had gone unused for years, until last spring when I started hearing a low train whistle that I thought I dreamed each night. Turns out a train was running again and one of the stops was a flour delivery for a bakery in my neighborhood. I haven’t heard it all summer and I miss that little slice of country life. Maybe the trains don’t rumble by like they do out West. They’re more the commuter rail variety around these parts. Still, it makes me want to set out on a journey like a hobo, except without the satchel hanging from a twig—and without the train barreling down the bridge to scare the crap out of me like in The Goonies.
Dear MBTA officials,
Do you remember last year when I complained that the bus I take to work took forever to arrive on the coldest days of the year? Do you remember when I was swearing under my breath about those mysterious “switching problems” on the T that cause interminable delays? Do you remember when I was annoyed that every evening train was packed with commuters shoving onboard causing me to be intimate with that strange guy? Yeah, I will never complain about public transportation again.
Hundreds of Pakistani Sunni Muslims return home from a religious congregation. I'd say it was well attended. AP Photo/Khalid Tanveer