The Train to Anywhere
“Tickets, please! Everybody, please get your tickets ready,” shouted the conductor as he walked into the train car. He paused at the first seat and punched the ticket with his special hole punch. “Going out west, my lad?” he queried.
“Yes, sir,” the boy replied. “It’s my favorite part of the country. I want learn all about it.”
The conductor smiled at him and moved across the aisle. “May I see your ticket, Madam?”
The woman to whom he spoke held out three tickets, one for herself and two for her children. “We’re going to South America,” she explained. “It’s a homeschooling project."
“Go slowly through Colombia,” he told her. He inhaled deeply and closed his eyes as he imagined the fragrance of dark roasted coffee beans. The deep breath caused his walrus-like moustache to quiver.
He walked to the next row of seats without opening his eyes. The shy young lady seated behind the mother held out her ticket. Her eyes were averted to floor in front of her. Since neither was looking, the conductor’s pot belly bumped the young woman’s hand. He startled and jumped back a step. The young woman’s mouth dropped open and she glanced up quickly, but back at the floor again before anyone could return her glance. She still held out her ticket.
“Pardon me, Missy, I should watch where I’m going,” the conductor said. He took the ticket and looked at it closely. “Well now, going all the way to China, are you?”
The young lady looked up and smiled. “Yes, sir. That country has always fascinated me, but I’ve never been able to afford the airfare. I finally decided I should take this train there. After all, it costs very little.”
“Mostly, just time,” said the conductor.
“Hey!” shouted a snotty-nosed kid a few rows back. “You can’t take a train to China. It’s on the other side of the ocean. Trains don’t go across oceans,” he cried. The kid wiped his shirt sleeve across his upper lip and snorted up whatever didn’t make it to the sleeve. He was not the type of child that usually knew things like China being across an ocean, but the other passengers were not surprised. They knew that children that rode this train knew things that most did not.
The conductor tilted his head and looked over the top of his glasses at the boy. “That may be true of most trains, Son. But this train is very special. You might say it is a magical train. It will go wherever you want to take it. North, south, east, west . . . it doesn’t matter.” He paused for effect and then added, “You can even travel through time on this train or to worlds of which ordinary people don't even dream.”
At this, the passengers became very lively. Everybody seemed to want to rebut the youngster’s misunderstanding of the train. “I’m going to the Middle Ages,” shouted a teen.
“Last month, I took the train to the beaches of Normandy. I escorted the troops to the all the way to Paris!" said an elderly gentleman.
A small, precocious 5-year-old stood on her seat. She wanted to add to the hubbub. "You can go anywhere on this train," she said. "This train is called The Liberty."
The train car erupted with laughter. The conductor held up his hands to quiet the crowd, himself suppressing a chuckle. "While it is a very liberating experience, lil Miss, the name of this train doesn't have a 't' in it. On the Reading Railroad, we call this train, The Library."
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