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People trying to make the best of a bad situation bandy about the term “staycation.” A better term might be fauxcation. It’s a false term with the unfortunate implication that someone would actually opt to clean out the gutters or flip all the mattresses rather than doing something relaxing, stupid or dangerous. Sure, some of you are spending your money on a mortgage, car payments, and pharmaceuticals from foreign lands. Still others are saving up for their next plastic surgery. (A crueler term than staycation is “elective.”) You have great memories of that time in Bimini where a shot glass, flame retardant gloves and a hobby horse were all the elements you needed for a good time. Thanks to the economy, a walk to the mailbox is considered a hike in the great outdoors, going to the grocery store is your chance to mingle with tropical fruits, and the only place to wear your snorkel gear is in the bathtub.
In the interest of finding just the right blend of adventure, novelty, and the necessary act of movement, this columnist decided to spend one week on a Western United States journey. It was a week of fun on this city’s new Metro Light Rail. It was not long in terms of distance. It’s twenty miles from end to end, featuring such entertaining stops as the airport, the unlit unmanned parking lot, and the trauma hospital. Still, you never know what can happen when strangers travel together.
Day One: At the second stop, a transit worker was arguing with a non-paying passenger. You could tell the transit worker was deeply upset over the loss of $1.75. Learned later that fare evasion was a $70 crime. The transit worker told me he busts ten people a day, thus adding $700 towards the daily air conditioning bill. (The city is already in trouble because keeping the train 78ºF/25.5º C was a lot more than they expected. The solution is to make the trains less comfortable and running them less often. A train fully packed with sweaty people does sound more fun than comfort and personal space.)
Day Two: A woman keeps looking at me and smiling. I’m reading a psychotherapy textbook, which perhaps was not the best choice in public. The smiling and staring were just a little bit creepy. After five stops, she asked me for money, specifically $2.00. I politely said I had nothing. So she asked the rest of the train. Someone loudly asked why she needed it. “For food.” No one bought the story, so she left, still smiling. I switch to a book on US Healthcare Policy. A stranger wants to debate about the merits of healthcare in Japan and Britain and pretty much everywhere else in the world. I put that book away and took out one about vampires. The other passengers let me read in peace.
Day Three: I’m having a fun discussion with a few mental health professionals about the most disgusting item a client ever swallowed. Doesn’t occur to me that other passengers might not enjoy this conversation. Vagus nerve stimulation, electric shock therapy and the consistency of fresh dead brain were brought up, but once the conversation got to elephantiasis, the passenger next to me got off. (Look it up; some of the photos look like a guy is on a Hippity Hop.)
Day Four: On the evening train, a man is wearing a hospital mask, clutching a bag of medication. He looks sick, and quite possibly infectious. Two homeless people get on the train, a heavy-set young woman with many tattoos and facial piercings and a grimy rail thin guy who appeared very drunk. The infectious man got up and moved away from them.
Day Five: On the way to the train, a gentleman solicited me for money and/or cigarettes. This request was politely declined. So he spit at me. On the plus side, both his aim and velocity were poor. Once aboard, I noticed a woman in wearing a sleeveless blouse, the better to show off her elaborate train tattoo. I was enjoying the graphics when I noticed the words underneath: Train Wreck.
Day Six: A young woman approaches our group and tells us she is just $5.00 away from raising the funds to cure Cystic Fibrosis. (“It’s a bad disease,” she said, thus exhausting the sum total of her knowledge.) A dollar is passed over to her. She tried to offer a tax-deductible receipt, but it was refused. When she walked away, we all voiced the same thing: “Tweaker.”
Day Seven: The same homeless pieced/tattooed woman from three days ago wobbles on the train. I invite her to sit next to me, only to be squeezed a bit as she took over part of my space. At the next stop, a gentleman gets on with all his life’s possession carted on a wheelchair. He’s tall, dark-skinned, and has long, grey, magnificent dreadlocks. The woman reaches up and very slowly tries to touch his hair. The man turned around wildly and said, “Don’t touch the dreads. Didn’t your parents ever tell you not to touch strange men?” (I have a feeling she missed that life lesson.) She asked me where I was going. “Home.” Where is that? “I’m not telling you,” I replied in a singsong. It’s nice that she has both money for the train and the alcohol that fueled her behavior.
Next time I’m bringing my hobby horse, the flame retardant gloves and a shot glass.
Copyright © 2009 by Pamela Miller
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Copyright © 2008 by Pamela Miller