Saturday, August 25, 2012

Saturday Musings, 25 August 2012

Good morning,

My droid tablet rests on a wicker footstool. The high note of a sea bird reaches my old ears, penetrating the slight fog of a short night and the ever-present drone of tinnitus. Walls clad in the timelessness of pine surround me. I have arrived at the destination which drove me to work ten-hour days these last few months: Maryland Cottage, Epworth Heights, Ludington, Michigan.

I chose to travel by train. I settled into the wide, comfortable front row on the Chicago-bound train out of St. Louis after spending the night at the home of my brother- and sister-in law, my host and hostess in this land of sand and towering trees. Whit drove me to the station and had a quiet word with the counter-agent to insure my safe passage from the crowded terminal to my seat, a journey made in a narrow tram driven by a relentless woman whose gritted teeth warmed my heart. A sister leopard.

A compact woman dressed in stylish jeans with turned-back cuffs settled into the seat next to me, but after the first stop, she left to find a spot that didn't face the way we had come. She said it made her dizzy. I did not mind. The passing scenery looked the same whether I watched it arrive or watched it flit past. I settled back into the width of the two-passenger seat, alone, undisturbed, finding myself releasing each breath with increasing comfort.

North of St. Louis, industry gave way to small towns with dingy houses and dented cars. My book fell from my hand, landing on my small duffel, its pages briefly rippling before they softly closed. I leaned my head against the glass and watched Illinois slip south.

Towns gave way to farmland, field after field of burnt corn, between which lay long expanses of the green vegetation that could only be soy. The desolate fields of dead stalks brought home the brutal reality of the midwest summer. We stopped in a small station, maybe Granite City, maybe further away, and I raised my cell phone to take a shot of a railway yard filled with rusting cars labelled "Corn Products". They'd become a taggers' paradise, these useless vessels. On the flat surface of one labelled "Corn Starch only", an artist had carefully painted three-foot letters announcing JESUS SAVES.

The dry land gave way to untamed vegetation as we continued northward, flanking the tracks on either side. Through gaps in the woods, I saw neat backyards with above-ground pools, vibrant blue against the verdant green. Church spires rose above the rooftops. An occasional car waited at the crossings, the drivers evident only in the glint of sun on their glasses or an arm dangling from an open window. At one intersection, several people had turned off their engines, and stood between their vehicles, chatting. They watched my window as though waiting for me, and I could have sworn one of them nodded in my direction.

After Joliet, there could be no doubt that we neared Chicago. Trees yielded to the rangey clutches of weeds adorned with discarded rubbish. I saw a long trail of what I took for film stretched in the spindly branches of second-growth pin oak. A movie someone no longer wished to watch; a documentary that disappointed its director; porn filched from the seedy backroom of a video store, thrown over the side of the viaduct. Who could say?

We pulled into Chicago an hour late which I did not realize until I retrieved my suitcase from the rusty tram that toted the disabled from track to terminal. My connection to Michigan still had three hours til boarding, so I hauled my belongings through Union Station and found a sandwich shop in the Food Court. I blew several days' carb allotment on a chicken panini; I went hogwild and did not tell the smiling man behind the counter to hold the cheese. I'm on vacation, I reasoned; or perhaps that was rationalization. Either way, the melted swiss warmed my stomach and brought a smile to my face. Small indulgences.

I sat beside a woman briefing a young man on the niceties of employment at the Corner Bakery. I could not ignore the kind cadence in her voice, or the nervousness in his. She assured him that the many rules which she outlined would soon become second-nature to him; she gave him a little quiz and prodded him along on a few of the thornier questions -- such as, When is it okay to give your friends a discount (never) and what do I do if I am going to be late to my shift (call). I leaned across the six inches between our table, and told her that I had rarely heard someone speak with such gentleness. I gave her one of my law firm pens, and told her to call me if she ever needed a friend in Kansas City.

I watched wild pandemonium for the four o'clock northboard train, and realized that I would be trampled if a similar crowd gathered for the 5:20. I timidly approached the gate agent and identified myself as one of the less robust, and voiced trepidation at the thought of mustering myself to answer the pre-boarding call with a hundred Michiganders chaffing at the bit. She released the long expanse of canvas strapping that blocked entrance to the back waiting area, and helped me roll my suitcase through the opening. I sat where she told me to sit.

A lady resembling a gypsy staggered around the area. By shameless eavesdropping, I learned that she had been found wandering in the station. When approached, she tendered a legtimate ticket, for a 7:30 train. The TSA folks determined that she had some impairment -- possibly neurological, possibly alcohol-induced -- and fetched her along to the gate from which she would later, presumably, depart. As I had been, she had evidently been instructed where to sit, but periodically succumbed to panic and approached anyone who would talk to her, including me, for reassurance. They finally brought two female agents to sit with her. She huddled into her chair, with black hair falling over her lacy blouse, long skirt draping over her legs, a suitcase and a large pocketbook beside her on the floor. I averted my eyes. I have my own moments of folly; I recognized hers, and spared her the stare of a condemning stranger.

As we left the Chicago station, I plugged my phone charger into the outlet next to my seat and activated my wireless hotspot. I logged into my email, and learned that a client's child had been caught in a hotline of her mother relative to one of her half-siblings. I had just gotten temporary principal residence for this client, after his daughter's mother had taken her to California without leave or notice. Now, the Children's Division investigator had cautioned him not to let the child have the visitation outlined in our temporary order until the allegations of abuse of her half-siblings could be resolved. His short email asked what he should do. I phoned him; and followed with a call to the investigator. Then, convinced that I could do nothing more until Monday, I settled back into my seat and opened the Maigret trio that I had brought to read on the trrain.

My eyes drifted back to the window before too long. Now the pin oaks rose taller, and the narrow strip of parkway between the tracks and the frontage road had been tamed by county mowers. The churches seemed more plentiful, as did the above-ground pools. The fields held richer bounty.

My sister-in-law texted, Where are you? and after learning of my approximate destination, told me to watch for the Lake near the town of St. Joseph. I got my cell phone ready, one eye out the window, one on the pages of the Simenon novel. Soon, I let the book alone again, and gazed upon the roadways of the towns through which we traveled. The sun started its drift towards the horizon, bold bright light raising the sky. I shot a few frames of its brilliance, and posted them to Facebook.

The conductor heralded the approach of the St. Joseph station, and I got my camera ready. But still, I missed the best shot, mesmerized by the wide expanse of Lake Michigan and the unbridled kiss of the setting sun on its grey surface. We pulled to a smooth stop. In moments, we left the town of St. Joseph, headed north to Bangor.

A sturdy man in the seat behind me rose to flirt with the young girl across from me. The two decades between them meant nothing in the happy isolation of the train. His jokes did not threaten her; nor did his over-friendliness alarm. The confines of a train have given license to travelers since tracks first laid upon the earth, long before an even greater freedom with the invention of electronic mail. You can be who you like on a train, for hours at a time: shyness yields to daring, a chronic frown melts with the rays of the setting sun.

The man left the car in Bangor, waving, calling out that we ladies should have a wonderful weekend. And then another text, another query, and I said, We are almost there, can you hear the whistle? Not yet, came the answer. I leaned down to gather my belongings.

An attendant helped me down from the train and guided me to the sidewalk. She asked if I was being met in the tone that paralleled that used by the agents to the drunk gypsy. I forgave her; forgiveness comes easier in Michigan. I assured her that someone would come for me, and just then, I saw the broad sweep of Virginia's arm from the curb beyond the station fence.

And now, I am here. The Lake lies in all its splendid permanence a few hundred yards below the porch in which I sit and write. The sun unfolds its sweetness over Ludington. I wear the Vera Wang pajamas broght to ward off the chillness of northern August mornings. I am alone; Virginia stirs on the second floor but she and I are the only people here. Our husbands will arrive next week, shaking the grime of the city from their khakis and throwing on their shorts before striding down to the beach. But for the next few days, I will be accountable to no one.

We will take long walks in this beautiful place, and drive to the charming towns. I will send as few emails about work as I can. I know that some work must be done remotely; I am a bit concerned that I did not get August billing out before I left. But this is Maryland Cottage, the unexpected bonus that I got when I remarried -- the chance to spend a week each year lounging in wicker furniture, sleeping past six, and listening to the sounds of the Lake, which even from this distance fill the air.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

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The Missouri Mugwump™

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I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.