Backstory: My son and I made a quick (well, sort of) train trip from Seattle to Portland to attend the Portland Auto Show (he’s a big car fanatic). It was snowing. A lot. We got stuck. For a long time. Both ways. Here’s what I learned…
4. You eventually have to talk to people. I met a number of people, but my favorite was a cool man who lives on top of a hill in the Portland area. He showed me video he took from his house that morning with over a foot of snow. Then he showed me a video of his dog (a standard poodle). His youngest daughter’s name is Meredith and he plays doubles tennis. He took a lot of phone calls that had nothing to do with work, and I’m pretty sure he’s a ladies’ man. He taught me about taking the MAX rail and why nobody took the tickets I’d purchased (random spot-check, who knew?). He listened to my son talk about cars. We watched each other’s bags for bathroom breaks. When my son left his sunglasses sitting on a bench, this guy came to find us to hand them to him. And, when the train finally came, we bumped into each other twice on board and it felt like this, both times:
I’ll never forget that guy’s face, he had a GREAT smile.
3. You see other people build new connections. Like the young guy standing in line in front of the young woman. The guy is teaching English to college students in China (he’s from Eugene, Oregon). The woman is from China. They had a lot to talk about. I found it fascinating. On the train itself, a pair behind me turned out to not have known each other prior to the train ride (they had been on the train long before we boarded, and had also been ‘stuck’ and delayed many times). A young guy and girl, college aged, talking about everything from friendships to relationships to religion…pretty incredible. In our digitized, phones-in-faces world, to be witness to (and to experience myself) real, in-person new connections is a beautiful thing. We should do more of that, minus the being stranded part. Less phones in faces. More smiling, more talking to each other. More meeting people. It feels good.
2. People bond over tough times. We were stuck in a train station for 5 hours together due to snow and ice. And then again for another hour or more on the train before it started moving. And then it moved about 100 feet before stalling again due to a frozen switch that needed to be manually dug out and adjusted. People could have been terribly cranky. My son and I made our way down to the bistro cart to get something to eat, and a bunch of riders had gathered. We talked about wine. We joked about turning this whole disaster into a party train. By the time I’d collected a hot dog for my kid and a vodka cranberry for me, I wasn’t so mad after all. Being alone with my frustration would have certainly led to a terrible mood, but communing – and alcohol – saved the day.
1. You get to teach your kids that sometimes things don’t work out the way you planned, and show them how to deal. Now granted, you may not always be the picture of perfect parenting. Like when you almost break down in tears at the bus stop when the machine won’t take your money (because it’s broken, but how would you know that? You haven’t taken a bus in 20 years and this isn’t even your city) and the bus is leaving the station and you have no idea which one to get on, and it’s snowing and you wore the wrong boots. Never mind that! Because guess what. You figured it out. You spied that other ticket machine. And it worked. And you asked that guy which bus to take, and he told you. And you grabbed your kid’s hand and got on that bus and you asked some riders which stop to take, and none of them happened to speak English, but thankfully someone overheard you and came over and told you what to do. And you and your kiddo got off the bus. And you kind of saw what you thought was the train station and walked toward it but in the snow, couldn’t find the entrance, so you asked a nice couple if they knew, and they were in town from Arizona looking for apartments and also unsure so you all figured it out together. All four of you blazed into that train station triumphantly, stomping snow off your boots and wishing each other well. You eventually boarded a train. You made blankets out of jackets and pillows out of backpacks. You got off a train at 4am to a garage that had been closed since 5pm, figured out how to get your car out, and drove home in even more snow and ice to your cozy bed. You didn’t give up. And, your kid will never forget it.