I broke free from my ordinary routine and bought a ticket to Chicago. I was going just for the day. I am not a person that plays hookie from work. I haven’t ridden a train since I was six and living in San Diego. I remember this Navy brat childhood—parts and pieces of it—vaguely.

The fact that I am taking a train to Chicago amuses me. After buying that online ticket I found myself wondering: What kind of people ride trains? What do they look like? What am I to expect? Will I have a place to park my car? Where, exactly, is the Amtrak station?

I scope out the situation after Friday morning court. Amy told me basically where I could find it. After some driving around and calling information I finally locate it.

Who knew it was right near the strip club E.K. first took me to. The ticket kiosk was enclosed and smelled of urine. I made a mental note not to touch my nose or eyes after hitting the “print ticket here” button.

E.K. would have had a quip remark about all of that.  But even he won’t really talk to me anymore.  I don’t blame him —I really don’t.

On Sunday, as usual, it’s midnight when I crawl into bed. Monday I woke up late. I left late. I was lucky to get a parking spot at the station. I did not really have a plan B for the car. Turns out no plan B was needed and I would have wasted time creating one.

People that ride trains tend to look rumpled and tired. They have older beat up luggage, student back packs, and soggy, scuffed-up shoes. They come in groups and huddle. They seem to all own and play with some sort of electronic gadget. They text, they have the ipods, they have the lap tops. I have my cell phone and my book. I don’t think I fit this group, at least, not really.

When the train pulls in they all rush out. I am always amazed at this.  Passengers all do this at the airport. All wanting to be first. I am the type that likes to watch everyone else and get on last. I know the train isn’t going to leave with people waiting to get on it. I don’t understand that urge to rush on and be first.

I am sure they have their reasons to be first just like I have my reasons for being last.

I pick my seat and I always look to sit next to a fellow female. It is safer this way. I happened to sit next to a Jotee. She is a teacher. She teaches meditation. This so interests me because I am not sure how one goes about this practice. I have thousands of questions. I get responses but her answers seem mist like. Her practice is still not very clear to me. We talk of all kinds of topics ranging from controlling our thoughts to my passion for books. She confesses to me she was raped. Her words spill like a toddler spills a full glass of milk. I am not really sure how to handle the drippy mess.

Then comes that conversation lull. She falls asleep and I am back on my cell phone calling clients and talking business. The train whistle interrups the rocking clatter of the steel wheels. It got akward again when I opened the bathroom door on a man who was not quite finished. My face flushed pink and just called it as I saw it, “Well, this is so very awkward.”

We rolled into the underground station at 11:30. They fight to get off the same way they got on. I just sit and wait. The word “bussel” is so very cliche and appropriate in describing these underground tunnels. I ask a young woman a question about the shopping district and I ask an older Amtrak woman about my return train back. I should be back at the station by 5:00 and I will need to go to Tunnel E. The tunnel stairs lead me to Adams Street.

I love Chicago like I love Vitalie’s pizza. It’s tangy on my tongue and it fills me up. The wet asphalt has a used scent. Men in suits and ties look more smart and handsome. Tourists hold maps and point. Women in high heels and deep make-up are extra thin. Homeless people are wrapped in plastic and hold desperate card board papered messages. We are all mixed like a cocktail drink and then poured into a tall highball glass made of concrete and steel.

I want to drink this drink.  I want to sip it slow. I want to people watch.  I want to roam and get lost in the streets.

This visit did have an agenda and the destination was lunch. I was exchanging eight hours of travel for 4.5 hours of needed friendly conversation. I don’t feel uneasy here. I am not given ultimatums on this friendship (or it hasn’t happened yet). I don’t feel intruded upon. The banter is easy. I am not sure why I don’t stiffen or tense. I can’t define it. It just is. I am not worried about crossed boundaries. I don’t feel contained and I don’t have to carefully choose my words.  I am so used to rejection I no longer fear it.  I find it odd with this person I don’t anticipate it.

My meal included a mojito.  A few blocks up we find dessert at the base of the Water Tower. I explain to this person that I can’t leave this place without my ritual visit to the Cheesecake Factory. Lemon cake and coffee were served. Then it was off to get a parked car and I was bumming a hurried ride to Union Station.  Several cab drivers helped me find the way.

City time really is quick.

It ended with my running, in heels, to Tunnel E track 20. I only had two minutes to spare. The same ritual applied when I scoped out my return seat. Her name was Jane who informed me that we must have met somewhere before. I am used to this. It really happens to me a lot. I am someone else they know or have met. Sometimes I remind them of a movie star. On good days I am a Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, or a Diane Keaton. On bad days I am Howdy Doody or Angela Lansbury. Whatever it is I draw out some type of chatter. I don’t mind. Jane was nice and her story rolled on like our train. This led me, of course, to discussing more of my books. Her story mirrored that of The Middle Place. She had the book. A friend gave it to her but she couldn’t bring herself to read it yet. I know that her story appears even more desperate and tragic because during that whole chemo mess her husband lost his job. Now he was living in Chicago hence her weekend visits via train. She talked of her God, her garden, her children and how everything just is in the palm of someone’s hand.

I often wonder about all of that.  When I do I can’t help but have visions of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian or The Road.

Jane gets off in Holland. It gets dark. The trees start to take on a sinister dimension. My mood starts to mirror the landscape. Her story reminds me how things going good can just go bad. My thoughts are ruining my mood. I cannot, like Jotee, control them.

All those “what ifs” come out and haunt me.

I don’t sleep well when I get home. The worry of health, death, and loss of money all seep into my dreams. I find my ex-husband there in my bedroom standing next to my youngest child. I feel his hate and hurt.  I am desperately looking for my gun. I wake and the whole scene is gone.

I am left mulling over my day. I mull over my direction and lack thereof. I think of controlling my thoughts. I wonder about my apparent lack of ability to control my night-time dreams. I wonder about broken friendships and broken relationships. I think of ultimatums and how they present themselves. I think of puppets, puppeteers and strings. I think of my grueling day and how I really need to get back to sleep. I think of my girls. I focus on my flaws. I focus on my strengths. I mull over everything and nothing all at the same time. My mind is a movie reel.  I can’t shut the projector off.

But really maybe our life is just one big train. Maybe we really are supposed to go from station to station. People get on, people get off, you go from one city to the next. Some are commuters and discount ticket holders. Others are just one time riders. At times, like the conductor, we find ourselves operating the train. Other times you find yourself taking the tickets or working behind the concession counter. We all have to go though some dark tunnels. There are times we are just finding ourselves sitting next to people named Jotee and Jane. We find ourselves mindlessly waiting for that clean open bathroom or paying $10.00 for that drink and dry sandwich combo. Regardless of route or role we all have our own timeline, station stops and interlopers.

Right now, at midnight, this is all I can think of.  This is the best I can do.  This is all I got.