It Could Have Happened to Anybody, Really: One Afternoon on the Via Rail Train Across the Canadian Rockies
Family Vacation, Canada, July 2019
I am on a train headed east, somewhere between Vancouver and Toronto in the Canadian Rockies. My wife, son and I just finished another fantastic gourmet lunch in the dining car and are headed back to our berth and seating area to read, play video games, perhaps take a nap. As we are making our way back to our car, I decide I want to check out the view from the dome car instead and let them know I’ll catch up in a little while.
When I reach the dome car, it is nearly empty save for a friendly gentleman wearing glasses, maybe ten years younger than me, sitting at the top of the stairs near the front of the compartment. He does not speak but acknowledges me with a smile as I pass him and settle into a window seat in the rear third of the car.
The Canadian Rockies are spectacular in mid-July: evergreens abundant, landscape a lush green, mountains nearly devoid of snow. Occasionally, it is possible to see wildlife in the mountain scenery as we roll by. One day, during a routine stop to let higher priority rail traffic pass, we even had the good fortune to see a large grizzly bear ramble on by. He was maybe a third of a mile away, completely oblivious to us, but his presence created a buzz on the train and most everyone aboard scrambled to a nearby window to capture a grainy cell phone shot.
Time for a Nap
On this day, there are no stops while I’m sitting in the dome car. Indeed, it’s utterly serene and quiet, other than the clickety-clack, clickety-clack of train wheels on railway joints. As the train moves rapidly along it rocks gently, rhythmically, side-to-side, a giant rolling aluminum rocking cradle. Soon I am sleeping with my cheek and ear pressed against the dome’s rounded glass window.
I’m startled from my siesta by a group of raucous teens clamoring up the stairs and entering the dome car. How long I slept is not clear, though sleep I surely did...and hard, too. I know this because I have to wipe drool from the corner of my mouth with the back of my hand. The teens take no notice of me or my slobber, instead settling into seats in groups of two in front of, across from and behind me, scattered throughout the dome. It’s then I notice the man in the second row is no longer in the car. As I look around to watch the teens pinch one another, laugh in exaggerated, rowdy fashion, knock each others’ ball caps off…and just generally behave like teens and do those teen things we all used to do, I wonder if the man left because I was snoring or because he heard these young folks coming. Either way, he’s not here anymore and I can’t help but think he may have made the wiser choice.
With the change in atmosphere, I decide I will listen to some music while I look out the window and watch the Rockies go by. I pull from my backpack a Bluetooth LG Tone headset my niece gave to me the year my mother died, turn it on, place the buds in my ears. I decide I want to listen to “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd. It’s one of my favorites, a song that reminds me of my youngest daughter, and one I heard in a live performance by our onboard entertainer just the day before.
As the music starts to play, I find it somewhat difficult to hear, so look down and begin fiddling with the volume on my iPhone; one click, then two, then multiple click, click, clicks upward. When I am at last comfortable the volume is about right, I look up and notice that every teenager in the car has stopped talking, stopped roughhousing; indeed, they all have their eyes trained on me. Some of them are smiling, some laughing out loud, one girl uses both hands to point to her ears, then goes through the motion of removing a pair of imaginary headphones. Then she nods and smiles, waves at me, turns to the girls seated next to and across from her and all four laugh hysterically.
Wish You Were Here - Pink Floyd
Now I Wish I Wasn't Here...
Slowly and deliberately, not looking at any of the young folks around me, fearing what I already know is the awful truth, I reach up and remove the earbuds one by one. When my ear canals are no longer blocked, I can hear plainly and clearly David Gilmour singing about lost souls and fishbowls. I quickly press pause on my iPhone then look up, look slowly around, put forth a sheepish smile for my rail car mates. Then summarily scoop up my backpack and leave.
It Could Have Happened to Anybody, Really...
On my return to the berth, I find my wife and son sitting across from each other playing cribbage. I share my story with them, ending with, “...and it could have happened to anybody, really.”
They exchange glances and nod knowingly at each other. My wife says, “I see.” And they go back to playing cards.
I then settle into the seat next to my son, lean in for a look at the scoring board. “Who’s winning?” I ask, and in return receive simultaneous disgusted eye rolls above straight lipped mouths.
“I think I’ll go read a book,” I say, as I rise, grab my backpack and move to the seating section across the aisle.
© 2020 greg cain