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TRAVEL PORTRAIT 58: February 5, 2017

Out of the Wilderness [one | part two | three | four | five | six | seven | eight] [listen]

FICTION

I

Towards the end of the month, Frank phoned Brian at his place of business to find out what is the best weekend for a visit in the next.

"I'm glad you called, Frank. I'm somewhat swamped right now. Hold on while I check my calendar. Looks like the third weekend is best, I believe. How does that work for you?"

"The twenty-fifth? Is that correct," inquired Frank.

"Ah, yes," confirmed Brian, double-checking.

"Works for me; I've jotted the weekend."

"Fantastic."

"I'll take the train in the morning. I should arrive at Penn Station around one o'clock."

"Sounds fine. Here's my cell number. And let me give you my apartment address. Take down my home phone number just in case you can't get me on the cell."

Frank asked Brian to repeat , then he read the information back.

"Call me as soon as you arrive. Okay?"

"Okay, no problem."

Brian began to get a bit frustrated with the conversation.

"Look. Things are really busy around here. I have some fires I have to put out, you know? In this business, you can't get to frazzled--even with 'Or else' deadlines."

Brian paused for a few seconds to let Frank respond. He continued.

"I could really use an assistant. I mean really. We'll talk later."

"Right, okay," Frank replied cautiously, noting to himself the number of times Brian said the word 'really'.  "Catch up with you later, Brian."

"The twenty-fifth," pondered Brian out loud to himself trying to remember something.

Frank disconnected the call. He forgot to give Brian his cell number because his Caller ID was blocked.


II

The Friday night before he was to travel to Manhattan, Frank packed for the weekend. He thought to be more fashion conscious this time round given what Brian wore to the gallery reception: a navy suit, a pale blue shirt (open collar), and a pair of cognac brown brogues.

Frank thought business casual would be appropriate. He would not base his attire on what he wore to the gallery reception: frayed jeans, faded hoodie, a down vest, and a pair of well-worn walking shoes. He did not want to make another understated appearance again. He put into a small duffle bag a pair of navy loose-fitting twill jeans, a button collar sky-blue shirt, a gray Shetland crewneck pullover, toiletries, extra socks and underwear. He would travel wearing a new pair of denims and a maroon long sleeve polo shirt beneath a dark gray half-zip sweatshirt.

Frank thought his black rubber-soled chukka boots would be best given the transitioning Spring weather. Given the uncertainty, he thought to bring his brown waxed cotton jacket. The jacket was light enough to carry around with him if the temperature rose above sixty-five degrees.


III

Frank was glad he purchased his New Jersey Transit ticket to New York Penn Station in advance when he heard the announcement from the Regional Rail train conductor that there would be a slight delay before arriving to the Trenton terminus because of track maintenance. The train was routed to platform five instead of platform one.

What that meant for the passengers making a connection to New York was that they would have to scramble up the escalator and take the overpass to the track three stairway. The glass double doors to the platform opened inwards. Once down on the platform, passengers would then have to get to the sixth train car because the preceding ones were closed for future use. This scramble to get on the train had to occur within five minutes, not enough time to make pit stop, if anyone needed. If the connection was missed, passengers would have to wait in the small but crowded terminal for an hour and a half before the next departure.

Frank tried not to nudge his way up the escalator, nor throw an elbow while being shoved at the top before making a sharp right towards the track three stairway as he had witnessed a couple of aggressive passengers do. Someone stepped on the heel of his chukka. Frank was glad the high-top boot protected his achilles, else the tendon might have been torn by the force of the other person's stomp.

Directly in front of Frank was this dude who seemed hopeless without his bros. The dude lost control of his wheeled suitcase trying to make the second right to get through the door to the platform. As he pulled the handle to the closest door, the suitcase swung wide. The far left door had not closed all of the way. Frank was able to scoot past before the luggage spinners spun out, twisting around the hapless bro, the jackknife causing a bottleneck at the top of the stairs.

Once on the platform, Frank counted as he passed each passenger car to the eighth coach. The eighth coach always stopped at the stairwell to the upper level of the Penn Station Concourse. He boarded and found a two-seater. He pulled the seat back to face the direction the train would be traveling. Frank placed his duffle bag on the window seat next to him. Sitting along the aisle with the duffle beside him would hopefully deter anyone from wanting to sit next to him. The train usually did not start to get full until Rahway or further. If someone needed to find a seat, he would have the person take the window seat, which would prove unnecessary.

Settled, Frank heard the final announcement for passengers to board the "New Jersey Transit, Train #7830 to New York, scheduled to arrive at 12:44PM. All aboard. Watch you step, please. Watch the closing doors." Suddenly Frank heard a "Yo, wait up." A man dashed through the closing doors and quickly took an available seat without thought of the direction the train would be going. Headphones were situated around his neck; the cord plugged into his cellphone. EDM Techno House music began; a treble buzz pitched similar to a tinnitus hum was accompanied by a synthesized base drum and cymbal pulsating a repetitive one-two, one-two rhythm slowly getting faster as the pitch reached higher frequencies before the arrangement crashed into an undecipherable musicality. His chin jutted to the rhythm of the music. Frank pulled a paperback from the side of his bag and tried to read.

The ticket taker entered the coach. "Tickets," he demanded. When he got to the EDM-Man, the ticket taker gave him three choices: 1) put the headphones over his ears; 2) turn the music off; or, 3) be forced to depart the train at the next stop. He chose the the first option. Without incident EDM-Man placed the headphones over his ears, while his ticket got punched by the taker. While he waited for the authority to exit the coach, EDM-Man put a piece of bubble gum into his mouth; afterwards he returned to his chin-jutting. Then he began to smack the gum, somehow mimicking the electronic dance music. And then he began hamboning.

Frank looked around to see if the ticket taker was coming back as well as to see if anyone else was becoming irritated by what he thought to be an impromptu performance. There was another passenger seated across the aisle and a couple rows back.

"Good thing he didn't bring his air guitar with him this time. Jeez!" The passenger waved to EDM-Man, who returned the greeting. "And to think, he doesn't even ask for money! Practically unheard of these days," he chuckled.

The next stop was Princeton. EDM-Man grabbed his belongings and exited the train with little fanfare.

IV

Frank had not realized that he dozed off until he heard a cacophony of female laughter. A group of graying women were seated together facing each other. Further up, sat a few more women, fully gray. They were also part of the group. They were as excited as teenagers who were going to the Big Apple for the first time unsupervised by an adult. However, unlike anxious coming of age girls, there was a tone of relief in the women's boisterous voices. Their rowdiness was celebratory. Frank confirmed this observation when heard the most senior person in the group shout to her ladies,

"I'm so glad we left our husbands at home. Now we can finally enjoy dinner and a show!"

Instead sitting proud at the cheer of a masculine 'Hurrah!', Frank cowered into his seat at the bellow of the feminine 'HOORAY!!!'

They were so raucous that the ticket taker made an entrance to discern the commotion. Upon doing so, he was immediately browbeaten by the gang of scowling women. He became courteous instinctively as he collected their tickets.


V

The train finally pulled into Penn Station. Frank positioned himself at the exit in order to be the first person off the car. As the door began to open, he darted onto the platform, and climbed the stairs to the upper concourse. He made a beeline for the men's room. He was cautious in his dash: a civilized pace that would not draw attention from the security guards roaming around the immediate area. Frank flexed his core muscles; the tension impeded the pending flow of water. He swung his arms swiftly to help propel him forward more efficiently.

Once relieved, Frank walked through the waiting area, walked past the restaurants and magazine shops--down the hallway towards the Seventh Avenue taxi stand.

Above ground, Frank tried calling Brian's cellphone, which went straight to voicemail. He tried calling the apartment. No answer.

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Copyright © 2017 by Edward K. Brown II, All Rights Reserved.