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Page history last edited by rsb 10 years ago

 

There was absolutely no doubt in Shadows mind that this trip was a good idea.

 

He waited in the dim light with the others, a motley crew of middle class Americans.  Rolling suitcases, backpacks, pillows and blankets were either held or stacked upon one another haphazardly, bits falling down and being caught or shoved back into their places under straps and on suitcase handles. 

Shadow traveled light, and felt smarter for it.  A small backpack, the one he used in college, held all his belongings for the trip - one change of clothes, toiletries, notepad, pens, and script. 

Lights on the roof of the narrow rain shelter in-between the rail tracks lit the concrete island where they waited.  The group had been herded there earlier by one of the Amtrak employees - led out of the station building, and across one set of tracks.  "Form a mob." she had said, once they were all safely across the tracks, and returned to the station building.  The midnight train was late.

Shadow tried to get in the mood of the character he would play.  Rex Humbard.  Retired cop.  Boarding the...

Someone hit his heel with their rolling suitcase.  "Oh, sorry." he said, and turned to look at his heel. 

 

Behind him a portly lady wearing a huge coat had stopped to right the unstable pile of beleongings she had balanced on her rolling suitcase.  It had spilled yet again by rolling over Shadows foot.  Since she didn't seem to notice she had hit him, Shadow decided to let that ride - at six foot four, Shadow was used to bumping things from time to time.

Shadow closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and tried to recall what he knew of the character.  "Rex Humbard." he thought, "Retired cop.  Loves his cat.  Taking the midnight train.  Just wants to get to Seattle to see Fluffy."  Good.  That's something any actor can get into.  Love.

Tracy had given him a summary of the play he was to perform in as she drove him from San Jose to the train station.  It was a powerful adventure, she had said, in which good prevailed over evil, strength came from the heart, and the depth of a mans character was tested in the fires of his passion.  The battle within the battle rages on an intellectual level, it's twists and turns each more surprising and thought-provoking than the next.  Shadow would need to summon all his skill, all his experience, every last ounce of his energy and incomparable ability to meet the challenge presented by the lead role in this soon-to-be-classic - "Snakes on a Train".  Shadow had rationalized the speech as she spoke in real-time.  As an actor, he felt he could do that.  Suspension of reality, he called it.

The fact was, Shadow needed a role he could take seriously - and no matter what this script was called, or what was in it, he was taking this script seriously. 

 

Rex Humbard was going to deliver every cheesy line and nail every expression with a level of realism not often seen in a community center.  Why?  Because Shadow needed wins.  Things had not been going well.  And one thing you need when things are not going well, is something, anything, to go right.  An easy win.  This play would be an easy win for Shadow.  It would be his stepping stone to righting any number of wrongs and to win after win in his life.  This play was Shadows Desert Storm.  His Grenada.  His Falkland Islands.

Shadow was excited by the possibilities the script represented, and by this, his first train ride of considerable length.

The train arrived at 12:20AM, and several dozen passengers debarked, pushing the mob of those waiting to board back to the far side of the platform.  The conductors began sorting those waiting to board by destination, calling out the names of stops and directing those who responded to board in this car or that.  A model of efficiency, Shadow thought.  Everyone working together.  He smiled.

Yes, these are the smart people, Shadow reasoned.  Saving money, while traveling in style.  Before they arrived at their destination, they would sleep, eat, see the sights, and get productive work done... 

Two young, tattooed smokers got off the train and immedately lit cigarrettes.  "Dude, I'm still drunk!", exclaimed one.  "Bwah...cough...", replied the other.

...and some of them would be getting productive work done, Shadow corrected himself.  Yes, productivity, sightseeing, and healthy living, all at a fraction of the price of flying.

Once aboard the train, Shadow found his seat next to an older gentleman which Shadow immediately pictured as a cowboy.  Shadow introduced himself to Larry, who sat up to stretch a bit and adjust his pillow, then tried to get back to sleep. 

Shadow was too excited to sleep right away.  He pulled out the script and began to read.

"Thats a pretty high-tech jacket you got there.", said a young man two seats up and across the aisle.  Shadow looked up.  In order to address Shadow, a young man had leaned back and twisted his head into what couldn't possibly be a comfortable position.
"What? Ah, yes, I suppose it is.  Thanks." Shadow admitted.  The jacket was in-fact, a new rainproof one.
"I used to have a jacket like that.", said the young man.
"..."
"I used to have a lot of things.", the young man said.

Shadows mind slowly began to recognize the implications of that comment.  He was about to become involved in a conversation so meaningless that not even suspension of reality could help him.  For in each instant, this young man was bound to say something so pointless, exaggerated, and disconnected from the next phrase, that it defied rationalization or integration into any cohesive fiction Shadows mind could come up with.

"I used to have three cars, two houses.  I played football.  Lots of coffee.", the young man went on. 

If nothing else, people knew Shadow as a nice guy.  As such, he was generous with his time, and relatively poor at extracting himself from this type of useless conversation.  So Shadow listened to the stream of consciousness description of the rise and fall of a young man.  From professional football player, to meth-head sleeping on a park bench, to his present midnight train ride to a rehabilitation clinic.  He nodded politely, said "wow." or "gee." at what he thought might be the right moments, and looked for his opening.  It didn't come.  So fifteen minutes into the conversation, he visualized a general purpose exit strategy.

"So I said, *come* *on* mom!  He wouldn't be whackin' it if you hadn't thrown my phone in the garbage!", Adrian said.

"Exactly.", said Shadow.  "Exactly.  And that's why I want to congratulate you, Adrian.", Shadow continued animatedly as he rose and picked up his bag. "You've been through a lot.  And you're going to get better, and I'm really rooting for you.  And I have to go do my reading, now, but I *will* be rooting for you.  Congratulations, man." Shadow offered his hand. 

Adrian shook it, appearing suddenly less impressed with Shadow.  "Yeah thanks, man.  I'll catch you later.", he said.

---------

The observation car was like a breath of fresh air.  Well lit, with windows from floor to ceiling, seats and tables designed to accomodate realaxation and sightseeing.  Only a few passengers sat among the dozens of seats, one reading, one trying to sleep, one nursing a drink, his head of long gray hair nodding.  There wasn't much to see out the windows at midnight, so Shadow pulled out his script and opened it to his first dialogue scene:

[Rex Humbard is seated in the aisle seat on a train.  He is wearing a sportcoat.]
Sexy Female Conductor: "May I check your ticket?"
Rex Humbard: "Here you go, little lady." [produces ticket]
Sexy Female Conductor: [smiles] "Your going all the way with us, Mr. Humbard."
Rex Humbard: "That's why I brought protection." [winks]
Sexy Female Conductor: [giggles] "Mr Humbard!"

Shadow took a deep breath and attempted to encourage himself.  "It's not Tenessee Williams.  It's not even Carrot Top.  But that's why it's an excellent challenge, Shadow."

"Tickets!" shouted a conductor as he squeezed his huge form through the doors between cars. "Tickets!"  The train had hit a less even part of the line, and was bobbing slightly left to right, swaying it's occupants with it.  The conductor, who manouvoured miraculously for someone of his heft, seemed obsessed with scratching his thin beard as he reached Shadows seat.  "Tickets!" he unecessarily yelled once again, inches from Shadows ear. 

Shadow leaned over his backpack and began to rummage.  Realizing the time he was taking, he looked up at the conductor and gave a weak smile, "Sorry." he said.  As he said that, the train jared left to right, and just as Shadows eyes lowered, he felt the conductors large belly press against his cheek and forehead, knocking Shadows head aside.  Shadow shifted his feet to keep stable and rummaged more desperately, finally realizing that the ticket just might be in his back pocket. 

He leaned back just in time to miss another belly bump to the nose - the conductors shirt came within an inch of his face, though.  Time slowed to a crawl for Shadow as he experienced the sights and smells of the hairy belly that stretched its shirt to its limits, small glistening hairs clawing their way out of the shirt in-between buttons.  "Tickets!" the conductor yelled again.  Shadows ears rang.  He channelled Sugar Ray Leonard as he bobbed and weaved, dodging another belly bump.  He reached into his left and then his right back pockets as he did so.  Working fast.  But focused on that belly.  Finally, he produced the ticket, looking the conductor in the eye.  The conductor glanced down at the ticket, unintentionally bumped Shadow in the head again with his belly as the train moved, and walked on to the next passenger.

Shadow wiped the moisture from his cheek, put the ticket in his back right pocket, took a deep breath, and tried to pick up where he left off:

[Special agent Rock is seated in the window seat, next to Rex.  Rex is wearing a cowboy hat.  The conductor leans over Rex to check his ticket, then moves on.]
Rock: "That one there's a firecracker, Rex."
Rex: "Yeah, I think I'm gonna like travelling by train, pardner."
[Rock and Rex high five]

"What are you doing following me?", said a young lady entering the car.

Shadow turned to see what was going on.  A smiling young lady in a summer dress followed by two young men were entering the observation car.

"Yeah", said the big one in the muscle shirt to the thin one with the mustache.  "Aren't you supposed to be on the short bus?"
The thin man, sporting a bushy mustache and a Dokken t-shirt, held a door with one hand and pointed behind him with the other, which he was also using hold a bottle of whisky.  He exaggerated his slurs, "Oh, I guess I'll just take this bottle back then!"
"You got the booze, but I got the girl!" shouted the big guy.
The young lady protested irresistably and the three made their way to the table next to Shadow.
 
Although apprehensive about his new neighbors, Shadow tried to appear completely absorbed in his script.  It was almost impossible.  The banter between the three drunks at the next table remained consistent in volume and quality.  It was only after the young lady excused herself to the bathroom that the two men became slightly less boistrous and Shadow was able to focus on the script:

[Baggage Car - crate is rolled into the baggage car, marked "CAUTION - SNAKES - THIS SIDE UP"]
Baggage handler #1:[directing] "Slow. Slowwww...don't want to spill that one."
Baggage handler #2:[pushing] "Dang.  This thing is heavy!"

"Hey man, what's up, man?"
Shadow looked up to see the large drunk - a tatooed muscular 20-something - leaning his arm and a bottle over his seat to address him.
"Excuse me?" Shadow looked up.
"Hey, do you have any weed?", the large drunk said.
At that, the man who had been nursing a drink and nodding off, suddenly came alive.  He walked over to the seat across from the drunks, knelt on it, and leaned his forearms on the edge so he could address them more directly.
"Is anyone going to smoke?  You know we can smoke at the next stop.  It's a load of crap that we can't smoke on the train.", said the stoner, flipping his long gray hair to the side.
"I don't smoke.", said Shadow
"Can you believe that chick?  She was ready to go, man.", said the large drunk.
"Yeah, we're going to make that, dude.", said the thin drunk.
"Dude I'm going to get me a blow job in the bathroom.", said the large drunk.
"Man, I've been smoking every day for my whole life.", said the stoner.  "I'm not about to stop because I'm on a train.  Do you smoke?", asked the stoner, looking at Shadow.
"I'm just trying to read this script.", Shadow said.  Shadow knew he had blown it right then and there. 
"What's it about?", asked the large drunk.

Shadow hesitated.

"Yeah, what you got there?", asked the thin drunk.
"It's called Snakes On a Train.", Shadow said.
At that, all three of his drug-addled companions burst into laughter. 
"Dude, this guy brought Snakes on a train! Conductor!  Terrorist!", said the large drunk.
"Amber alert!", said the thin drunk.
"Wait, what kind of snakes?  Is that are you, a gay thing?", said the stoner.
"Fag alert!", chimed in the thin drunk.

Shadow looked at the stoner with concern.  Shadow wasn't a grammar nazi, but when he met someone whose speech was this painful to parse, he mentally ran from the room screaming.  The stoner, for his part, in his more lucid and unintoxicated moments, was in fact an engineering manager at a silicon valley startup.

Doubt began to creep into Shadows mind about this trip.  Shadow excused himself, packed up his bag, and went to the bathroom in the lower level, where he got in queue behind the young lady who had been spoken so poorly of in the level above. 
"Hi." she said, leaning against the wall
Shadow mouthed the word Hello, and leaned against the wall opposite her.
After a few moments had passed, she asked where Shadow was headed.
"Seattle.", Shadow said.
"That's where I'm from.", she said, and stared at the floor.
Shadow sensed she needed someone to talk to.  Since the only other people awake on the train had the functional IQ of a squirrel, and they meant her no good, he made the effort.
"I'm actually headed to Tacoma, ultimately, a friend is putting on a play there."
"You know why people from Seattle go to Tacoma garage sales?", she said.
"No."
"To get their stuff back."
Shadow shared a laugh with her.
"I didn't know it was that bad.  So am I going to be acting behind chicken wire, then?", Shadow asked.
"No.  It's not that bad.", she said, "You might throw some blue collar humor in there.  I hear it's got an art scene."
"Thanks."
Shadow felt he should warn here about her companions intent, but the bathroom door opened, and she squeezed by it's occupant.  When it was shadows turn, they shared a smile and she hurried on her way.

When he returned to his seat in the observation car, she was sitting within eyesight of him.  Adrian, the recovering meth-head, was sitting next to her, also facing him, apparently associating with the drunks.  The two drunks were loudly attempting to entertain everyone, and the stoner was still butchering english with abandon.

Shadow tried to read.  Conviction had evolved from the doubt in his mind.  There were smart riders on this train, but experience had taught them that you don't try to get productive work done here.

The large drunk had secured the young ladies phone number, and was attempting to arrange to drive her home from the Seattle station.  Shadow looked up at her.  He caught her eye.  DON'T he mouthed silently.  As he said it, he realized that Adrian was also looking in his direction.

The young lady excused herself shortly thereafter to sleep.  The stoner went back to his drink.  The drunks went to the bathroom.  Adrian approached shadow.

"Hey."
"Oh, hi.", said Shadow as he looked up.
"They told me about your play."
Shadow just stared back at the script, slightly depressed.
"I bet you could write something better than that.", Adrian said.
"I'm treating it like a comedy." Shadow said.
"Well, you'll be great in it.", Adrian said.
Shadow was taken aback.
"Thanks."
"Catcha later, man.", Adrian said.
"Later."

Adrian went back to his seat and fell asleep.  Shadow caught the sunrise over the mountains, and left the observation car as people started trickling in, having slept all night. 

 

 

 

 

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This work by Rich Bodo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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