I once journaled about a non-adventure I had while traveling from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh via train. Here is that story.
My Missing Adventures
Missing: Maureen Kennedy, Female, 21-years-old, Blonde, Blue-eyes. Took a trip to a friend’s wedding and hasn’t been seen for almost a day. Last seen in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on Sunday, July 10, 2005. Have you seen me? [Insert picture here.]
After a short-night’s sleep after a long-night at a good-friend’s wedding I leave my best-friend Sarah’s house for the Harrisburg International Airport. Arrive by 7:30am. Sarah and her sister Denise leave me by 7:50am to take a trip to South Carolina. I am on my way home to Pittsburgh. Last words of advice from my father: “Take the train!”
The signs read “Ground Transportation” on the far side of the terminal. I grab my one shoulder bag and over-sized jean purse and walk out of the airport. The one driver-less cab sits idle at the curb. Two men sit on the old bench talking.
“How much would it cost to go to Middletown Train Station?” I ask.
“Five bucks,” the one man snickers as he looks at his friend, not trying to hide his amusement.
He stands up and puts his head in the door-way of a small office. He tells a third man to “hear this one.”
He opens the back passenger-side door and I enter the cab.
“Not many people go to the Middletown Train Station?” I ask as we start the ride.
“No, they go to Harrisburg.” Then after a pause he continues, “All Middletown is a roof and a bench. You can’t but tickets there.”
I think to myself, “Oh great.” I should ask, “Well, how much to Harrisburg?” I remain silent.
The taxi pulls up to a small open space that is just off of a possible main street in the empty town. I exit the cab at the Middletown (MDL) Train Box. I break a twenty-dollar bill and receive fourteen-dollars change after I tip my driver. The bills get folded up and placed back into my sports bra for safe-keeping. Evidence I am not completely daft is in the fact that I actually have money in my sports bra. A quick visit to the airport’s ATM before I left recognizable civilization was the smartest act I have done all day.
I am alone in the “station”. Fortunately the sun is shining through the cool morning air. I approach the weather-worn bench that is slightly protected by a wood and glass overhang in preparation to sit and relax. Spiders and their webs have overrun the area and the dead bugs hang motionless. I opt to stand.
On the one shack wall a paper list of the train schedule is stapled to the wood. The page is wrinkled but still legible. The list is all abbreviations with no key to explain the shortened terms. Depending on if my interpretation is correct a train does run today, on SU at 1056A toward W HAR from E PHL 43.
The lack of restrooms is noticeable. If it is to be a lengthy day at this station the few buildings that appear to be Monday-though-Friday stores cannot help me.
Twenty feet outside of the box are two wooden benches in the sunlight. I place my shoulder bag and jean purse down on the ground in front of the one and I sit. The morning sun is soft as I lie down on the bench to wait for the expected train.
At Sarah’s house I visited http://www.amtrak.com and saw that a MDL train was scheduled to head to HAR. I anticipated the ability to purchase a ticket at the MDL station, I did not anticipate a lack of station. Inexperience in ticket-less train travel leaves me wondering about the possibility of boarding a train without a ticket in hand prior to getting all board.
Last night, while planning out the way to get me home, Sarah suggested that I travel to the airport with her in the morning then catch a train to catch a train to Pittsburgh instead of heading to the Harrisburg station directly from her house and then on to home. Evidence the best-laid plans succumb to the difference between theory and practice is in the quality of the station. Plans appear ill equipped to deal with potential complications when one goes into a situation blind.
The ground rumbles gently at first but within thirty-seconds the vibrations get stronger and there is no denying what the feeling is. Extra confirmation of my suspicion comes with the ever-louder whistle cutting through the trees on a path towards me. A train is approaching!
Not a passenger train. I wave to the engineer; he waves back.
I hear voices. One male, one female. I snap around. They are approaching the area in front of the time-worn bench. The older man has luggage and is wearing a newly pressed suit. This is possible confirmation that passenger trains do ride these rails.
Another older man with luggage and his wife to send him off join the area with the semblance of a platform. Investigation into their activities commences.
“Good morning, excuse me.” I ask the group. “Where are you guys heading?”
“Philly,” comes the unanimous reply just as the train quickly rolls rounds the bend and they grab their belongings.
I step back towards my bench and take note of which track heads to Philadelphia and which one goes west. I need to go to the right.
“Taking the train?” the engineer shouts.
I smile and say, “Nope. Harrisburg,” as I point to my right.
He points that way, too. Evidence the nice older train travelers were telling the truth.
As the train pulls away the engineer leans out of the door. I wave and he waves back. Kodak moment minus the Kodak.
I decide the Middletown station is ironically named. No doubt it is in the middle of somewhere, but just where that is is hard to tell. Across the street the cab dropped me off on are two buildings that must be stores, not open. Across the tracks there are a few houses, therefore, this is a town. If this was the middle of the 1800s on the middle of the frontier then this town fits right in. I am attempting to catch a train on the frontier back to anywhere.
I take a picture of the station with the camera I’ve dug out of my jean purse. You’ll see the irony of the station name if you ever see the picture.
Sitting here is nicer than anticipated. Peaceful. Warm. Slow.
Mother nature has no boundaries in this town. Large black ants and a few small spiders insist on crawling up my pants. I just knocked off the third one from my leg, I’m sure there have been more I’ve missed.
After scrounging through my jean purse again I discover that I have survival supplies. I have 1/3 of .5 liters of water. And I ate two blueberry pancakes at Sarah’s house this morning. It appears I may have to ration the one candy buck-eye that was semi-wedged into the inner-lining of my purse.
In case I am robbed I will have fourteen dollars and now another twenty dollars in my sports bra. These are precautions against the worst-case-scenario. If all goes better than current expectations the money will be there until this evening when I am safe at home.
I must somehow fill this vast expanse of vacancy. My CD player and headphones are now on my lap and Tim McGraw’s voice will surely set this circus down.
Train! Not a passenger train. There are two engines and 110 cars.
Another large black ant is on my jeans.
My cell phone battery is now dead. Fortunately the one additional amenity in this station is a pay phone. I have three quarters, one dime, and one nickel. I think I will investigate its ability to complete a call to my home.
I cannot operate a pay phone.
I follow the instructions numerous times and still the female machine-operator says, “the call could not be completed as dialed.”
For the record, the pay phone’s number is 1.717.944.9211. I had attempted to dial 1.412.XXX.XXX approximately twenty times. Collect-calling also failed.
A local policeman just drove down the street and circled the empty parking lot that sits somewhat offset from the station.
Possible reason for this action: suspicious person loitering at train station.
The policeman has returned down the main road but then turned without canvassing the parking lot.
Either there are multiple policemen on duty and patrolling the streets or there are only four streets in this town in the shape of a square and one car is circling the block numerous times. The policeman just drove by again.
The patrol car is now slowly driving in the lot at an angle that is head-on with me. I decide to walk over and ask him about the trains, but he starts to leave before I get there.
Further attempts to phone home fail even with the entering of credit-card information.
The sun’s radiance is burning the back of my neck and transforming my jeans into a pile of kindling. Must find shade.
I’m back in the box.
Beneath the weathered schedule is a giant Rubbermaid toolbox of some kind that, I speculate, holds back-up tools for Amtrak employees when maintenance of this station is ever considered.
I decide to sit on the green container among the fewest number of spiders I have yet seen in one location.
If I have interpreted the schedule correctly the train should be here. No indication of a train is readily apparent.
Slight rumbles and I look up and witness a blue-blaze of glory rounding the slight bend at the most distant visible part of the track. The engine’s light shines like a beacon of salvation. I get up from the Rubbermaid seat and stand on the appropriate platform, the one that goes to the right.
The train slows to a stop and a nice train man lets me board despite the fact I cannot hand him a ticket.
“I don’t have a ticket,” I state with a certainty that if this is a problem I will still be boarding the train.
“You can buy one on the train,” he tells me.
A few minutes later he comes by and scribbles on a tablet HAR and says, “Seven dollars.”
I already have my wallet on my lap and I take out a ten-dollar bill and hand it over. These are surely seven-dollars very well spent.
On my right, inner-thigh I feel something moving. At first it is only somewhat itchy and so I casually scratch away my itch. My left thumb hits a lump. After the experience of batting off ants from my pants this morning I automatically know what the lump is. I grab my jeans and pinch the fabric together around the suspected ant and I squeeze hard. This little stow-away remained undetected because he climbed up on the inside of my pants. He was a smart one. Oh well, he’s dead now.
The train slows into the Harrisburg station and I climb up the rustic stairs and enter into the beautiful marble-floor and carved wood spacious room. Antique benches rest in the center and the one end exits into the main lobby.
I walk into the main lobby and approach the counter.
“A ticket to Pittsburgh, please,” I tell the teller.
“Do you have ID?” she says.
I slide it through the small opening, she glances at it, types in my information, and says, “48 dollars.”
I pull out the last remaining cash from my wallet and try to inconspicuously pull the bills from my sports bra out. I hand over a few crisp bills and a few that are slightly damp.
This train station has a station store located within the building. I have been in this store since 11:13am debating all of my choices.
I have just purchased several items and I returned to the old-fashioned benches. I am eating a chocolate éclair ice cream on a popsicle stick. I have a Pepsi at my one side and a Baked Lays Doritos bag on my other. The fifty sexiest men are on my lap as I open my 99¢ magazine.
I dropped my melting ice cream on my lap. It would have hit the bench but I caught it with my legs. I picked it up quickly with my hands, ate it, and then sprinted to the bathroom to put water on my pants.
I just finished reviewing the fifty sexiest men and the study was very accurate in their findings.
I am going to get more ice cream after I try to make a phone call.
I finally got a call to go through! It was a collect-call to my aunt, but now family has an indication of where I am. I told her the train is expected in at 7:00pm and I gave her the pay phone’s number so my parents can reach me.
I’m still standing by the phone. Eating my chips. There is a little boy shouting “I’m a monkey!” and hopping around on all fours. The echo carries his voice and it sounds much like a monkey cage at the zoo.
The phone rings and it is my older sister Bridgette.
“Hi Maur,” she says.
“Hi Bridg!” I shout. “Just letting you know I’m in Harrisburg. I’m still alive, that’s important.”
“So Aunt Mary Kay said you’re coming in at 7:00pm?”
“7:05pm actually,” I give the expected arrival time according to Amtrak. “So make sure Mom or Dad is there to get me.”
“Okay, love you, Maur.”
“Love you, too.”
I just bought another bag of 99¢ chips, a 50¢ rainbow Italian ice, a 25¢ root beer twin popsicle, and nine 33¢ postcards.
On to the popsicles.
I am sitting in seat DF3 on a train bound for Pittsburgh. I am nearly guaranteed to make it home safe-and-sound. I pop open my rainbow Italian ice in celebration – red, white, and blue flavors of near freedom.
I finish my tasting of freedom in time to enjoy the view of the Susquehanna River. The sun reflects off the water and a few rocks and trees dot the crossing. A faint whistle rolls past my window as we ride across the bridge.
Music through my headphones and sleep commences.
I slowly become conscious of the kink in my neck and the fact that Tim McGraw has stopped playing in my ears. Batteries are dead, must replace with back-up pair.
The engineer announces that we are heading into Horseshoe Curve in Altoona. The mountain bends back and the train starts to round the counter-clockwise half-circle. Between the tracks and the edge of the mountain is the train museum and some picnic tables. As we enter the curve a dad with his young son on his shoulders is running to the railing to show his son a close-up view of a train. They reach the railing as the engine starts to pass and when my window goes by I can see the kid’s wide-eyes and his father pointing in my direction. Several women and other children are sitting at picnic tables or in the grass eating ice cream. Everyone starts to wave, I wave back.
The half-circle of happiness and waving arms slowly grows smaller and smaller as we exit the curve.
I have just returned from my first trip to the on-board bathroom. It was uneventful outside of the fact it was the cleanest train bathroom I have ever used. Evidence that things can be better than anticipated.
My headphones are back over my ears and drowning out everything but Tim McGraw and the sway of my body as the train rolls down the tracks.
Just outside of Johnstown we are passing though an old industrial complex. The old rusty buildings and dusty-gravel gives an image of a forgotten world that keeps standing in hopes of being remembered. In an open space on the gravel stand three camping tents. Several people have taken a break from the ordinary to camp out in the middle of the late 19th century.
Dinner consists of the chips from Harrisburg and some Pepsi.
A man’s voice sings into my ears, “Forty minutes to Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh forty minutes.”
I return to Tim McGraw, the only witness to the joy brought by the other man’s voice.
Not sure where I am, but no doubt it’s close to home.
“Pittsburgh, exit this way!” comes a shout.
In the jolt of excitement I grab my two bags and jump into the aisle. I stand watching the world slow down.
“6:47 what a glorious time of day!” the same man says.
The train is completely stopped in the PGH station.
“Amtrak Welcomes You to Pittsburgh” the sign reads. I stare at the words as the escalator carries me down to the lobby.
This is the only welcome I receive.
My bags rest on solid Pittsburgh ground as I stand outside the station. It is my expected arrival time and I am here. Where is my family?
I am still here. By myself.
The Toyota Camry pulls into the parking lot. My dad is driving, my mom is next to him, and my two younger sisters are in the backseat. I pick up my two bags and walk to the car.
“Hey Maur,” they all say simultaneously as I open the door.
“Hi guys!” I say as I throw my bags on the floor and slide into the seat.
“How was your trip?” my mom turns to ask.
“Not too bad.”
“Sorry we’re late,” my dad says.
“So how was the trip?” he asks.
“Let’s just say it’s been enough adventure for one Sunday,” I say with a smile. And I take a deep breath as they wait to hear.
Found: Maureen Kennedy. Located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on July 10, 2005 after she returned from a trip from her friend’s house. She is reported as unharmed and has been reunited with her family.