I got on the wrong train.
Today I flew into EWR, which has a train station right in the airport. My train was leaving at 6:04 p.m so I waited on the platform until a train pulled in at 6:03. A sign lit up with my destination front and center, and several other passengers waiting for the same train hopped on board with me.
It was very crowded and I shoved my suitcase through the doors and stood jammed in the aisle with a lot of tired people on their way home. About 20 minutes later the conductor came through punching tickets and informed me I was going the wrong way! Apparently the train just ahead of mine was running late, and so was my train, so the train I was on was the one that should have departed at 5:54 p.m. "Don't worry. This happens to lots of people everyday on this train." (Maybe there's a problem here???) When I asked about the sign at the station he said, "The signs don't mean anything. They're usually wrong." Well, now what? "You'll have to get off in two stops, cross the tracks, get on the train to Rayburn, cross the tracks and get on your train."
The conductor gave me a nod when we reached the right stop and I got off. There were 8 other people who got off, too, having made the same mistake. We were suddenly fellow wanderers, standing on a platform with no station, no train personnel, and no direction. It was fun to see how quickly we bonded.
All of us had people that needed to be notified. Immediately we were sharing cell phones and stories of the flights we'd just arrived on, where we were coming from and where we were expected. One young man was just coming from Paris to interview at a university. He spoke very little English. There were 2 sisters from Singapore, one of whom spoke French and she became the translator. Another woman was originally from England, but had just flown here from Perth after visiting family. A wedding photographer was returning home after attending a big society wedding in Chicago, which we heard all about.
We waited about 45 minutes and finally our first train came in. When we got off at Rayburn 30 minutes later we found the station completely locked up. It was dark and we all wheeled our bags down the stairs, across the street, and back up to the track. There were some scary looking people hovering around and we all commented that we felt safer because we were together.
While we waited I talked to a man who had just flown in from Toronto. He teaches Greek and Latin at a boys prep school. He had spoken recently at a conference on the Classics in Montreal. It all seemed pretty out of my league. He mentioned that he was originally from the west, had done undergraduate work in California and Montana, and had lived in several states. As we continued talking he referred to Judge Memorial High School. I commented that we have a high school with the same name. It turned out that was his high school! He grew up on Panorama Way, the street next to mine!! He was much younger than I am, but we knew some of the same families in the area. What a small world.
Suddenly a young girl (about 18) discovered she had left her purse on one of the trains. She had been extremely upset by the whole experience anyway, but this was the crowning blow. She was close to tears. One of the Singapore women quickly put her arm around her, and the other found the number of the police on a poster. She called and reported the loss, and told the girl how to follow up.
The Perth lady needed to find a restroom and the photographer said she'd go along so she wouldn't be alone. The Panorama guy volunteered to walk with them and stand outside because he was concerned about the scary men in the hoodies.
Finally our train arrived and we rode to our different stops. As each person got off, there were goodbyes, and handshakes. One woman even ended up offering another woman a ride to her final destination, because her connecting train had already left. We didn't exchange names, but I think we'll remember each other. We'll be part of each other's stories.
When we're on the wrong track there are always people who can help us find our way. When we've lost something precious there are people who can comfort us. There are people standing guard, watching out for us, who understand us; sometimes we don't even know their names. We are fellow wanderers, and there's an instinct we have to help each other. I think when it comes down to it, most of us are coming from the same place.