Thursday, February 26, 2009

Brian and Dave

Last Friday evening was one of my more interesting commutes.

We were about halfway between Porter and South Acton when the door behind me opened up. Slowly a man came through the door to sway next to me.


Actually, I didn't know he said this, as the train sounds coming through the door made it impossible for me to hear him clearly, but subsequent discussion among my fellow commuters revealed this to me.

A few people hesitantly offered the advice to continue on to the front of the next car, directly behind the engine. I say hesitantly, because as they looked up from their respective distrations, they quickly came to realize that the man was blasted.

Blotto. Three sheets to the wind. Bombed. Stoned to the bejesus. Wasted. Drunker than a skunk. Higher than a kite.

"Ah fuck", he muttered, and started to topple over on top of me. I started to recoil, almost crawling into Todd's lap (he was seated next to me), but the man caught the handrail and steadied himself.

He then proceeded to stagger up the aisle, frequently swaying and almost falling into the laps of many of the commuters. I kid you not, it took him almost 10 minutes to traverse the length of the car. Since I was facing him and the usual crowd wasn't, I gave them progress updates every few minutes.

Once at the other end, I saw him brace himself for the task of negotiating the vestibule between the cars. He took a deep breath and literally squared his shoulders before staggering through the door.

I continued to give updates, as it took him about the same amount of time to negotiate the next car. When I finally could see him no longer, I announced that he was either face down in front of the bathroom, or he had made it in.

I went back to the conversation with Todd, but it stayed in the back of my mind that the guy was going to add some interesting elements to the disembarking at South Acton if he were in the aisle when we got there, but that stop came and went with no sign of him emerging from the bathroom. We figured that he had passed out in there.

Halfway to Littleton, I looked up and noticed that he had re-entered the car and was about 1/4 of the way back to us. He was holding onto a bench seat and was blinking slowly at the person below him, clearly trying to engage the person in conversation, but being rebuffed. Somewhere along the way, he had produced a cigarette and had placed it behind his ear. He did make the stop in Littleton a little interesting for some, but eventually he sat in an empty bench and let
the people go past him to exit the train. He then stood up and proceed towards us again.

As he got closer, he started to bellow out an unintelligible song. Looks of horror crept over the faces of my fellow commuters. He came to a stop in front of me and struggled to focus on me.

"Whas your name?" he slurred as he extended his fist to me for a fist bump.

"John". I gave him the fist bump.

". . . BRIAN", he barked out after a long pause. "How long?"

What? The question must have been apparent on my face despite not speaking.

"HOW LONG?", he insisted.

"How long to Fitchburg? Where are you..."


"Oh, about," glancing around at Todd, "twenty minutes?" Todd nodded in the affirmative.

"Oh fuck; I'm going to missh my meeting."

About this time, I notice that the train has quietly come to a stop. So does Brian.

"Where are we?" he asks.

"Somewhere between Littleton and Ayer."

"How long is this going to take?"

"I don't know; I don't work for the MBTA."

He reached up and grabbed the cigarette. "Think I have time to...?" and he gestured at the door with the cigarette.

I just shrugged. He went past me and disappeared into the vestibule. Just then a conductor came into the car from the other end to tell us that the engine was having mechanical difficulties and that we would be stuck here for an indeterminate amount of time. He paused briefly to answer questions from the people immediately around him ("No, I don't know how long we'll be here.") and proceed to go to the next car to continue the announcements.

As the conductor entered the vestibule, it was clear to me that he knew about Brian's condition from his tone and volume.

"NO SMOKING ON THIS TRAIN. If you light that cigarette, I will have you put off this train. Go back into the car and sit down, and NO SMOKING!"

Brian re-appeared from the vestibule and staggered up the aisle, collapsing into a bench, eliciting a look of panic from the man sitting there. But Brian didn't look at him, just sat there cradling the cigarette, maybe even talking to it.

He was quiet until the conductor came back a few minutes later, heading back to the engine. Brian took the cigarette in hand and gestured at the conductor.

"NO SMOKING. You cannot smoke on this train. It is against the law. If you smoke on this train, I will have you put off the train."

Brian gave up, blowing out his lips and slowly blinking his eyes as he returned the cigarette to behind his ear. Just about then, the train started to move. A collective sigh of relief came from all around. I let out a "Yay!".

He was largely quiet for the rest of the way to Ayer. As I got up to exit, I wished Todd luck. "After all, you now have an empty seat next to you; he may decide to come over and chat."

"I'll sit next to Steve if that happens."

Brian didn't even look at me as I passed him.

As I exited the train, I heard Jim telling Harry the conductor (a different conductor) that he may want to call ahead to the North Leominster police and have them pick the guy up before he tries to drive.

I continued on to the rail trail parking lot. As I approached the near end, I saw a boy running toward me along the rail trail.

"DAVE?" he called out. "DAVE?"

As he came into the pool of light from the streetlight at the end, I could see he was about 12-13 years old, and was carrying a boomerang. He stopped as he reached the sidewalk to the parking lot, just as I did as well. He looked right at me.


I shook my head at him.

He leapt to his right, into the parking lot, and looked down the length of the parking lot, essentially back the way he came.

"DAD!" he called out and took off after a man from the train who was ahead of me. The boy reached him and tugged on his sleeve. From the man's reaction, he didn't know the boy. The boy shook his head, and continued running up the parking lot, calling out, "DAVE?" as he reached each space between the cars. He rapidly disappeared into the darkness.

I said to myself, "I'm going to have a very large, very dry martini when I get home."

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