Aboard, a middle-aged Asian lady chooses the aisle seat next to me. We both get situated. She has 3 bags and a carry-on sized green suitcase that she places at her feet. She fiddles with her foot rest, as she sees mine is raised. I help adjust hers. She nods but does not say “thank you.”
She smells faintly like weed or something more pungent than herbs. At times, I catch a whiff of cocoa butter. She has no socks on, and she displays her feet with plenty of bunions.
She is restless when we leave Chicago. Like most of us, travel makes one anxious. We sleep and do not speak to each other, except when I stood up to go use the restroom. I must wake her with a tap on the shoulder: “Excuse me.” She retracts her feet so that I can jump over her. I wonder if it is age or culture that keeps us from holding a conversation.
For breakfast the next day, I eat a peanut butter tortilla I had packed the previous day. She eats a boiled egg, which I did two days ago before leaving St. Louis. I recalled staying at a hostel in Vietnam where transients packed free boiled eggs in plastic bags.
She arrives at her destination somewhere in Ohio, and the seat is empty for the remainder of the trip.
In Buffalo, we exit the train for a smoke/leg-stretch break. Border Patrol comes on board, and while I take my seat, there is commotion.
Two officers are interrogating an older man. “What country are you from? Where is your passport? When did you come to the U.S.?”
“I’m from Turkey. I do not know where my passport is. I came last year.”
A young female artist, photographer takes pictures or video with a Nikkon E60. Border Patrol detains him.
“I’ve got most of that on film,” she confirms.
Alert citizens are watching you, watching us. It makes me feel hopeful about my generation.
The rest of the ride is peaceful. Power goes out near Albany, and I lose some work I had been doing on my syllabi. The route was by water–rivers and lakes–for several hours: an office I would gladly be stuck in for 8 hours.