My grandson Alex turned six last week. He has a fascination with trains that is amazing. He knows trains. He understands trains. He lives, eats and breathes trains. Are they diesel? Do they use coal? (How does a six year old know coal?) He understands railroad crossings. He knows when the whistles are supposed to blow. He loves couplings. He has trains out the wazoo. What could we possibly give him for his birthday? How about a train ride!?
Sunday morning was bright and bitterly cold. We picked up him and his mother, my daugher Kristin, and headed to Independance, Ohio, to partake of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad tour. A full ninety minutes on a real train! We arrived early enough to stop and have coffee for the adults and chocolate milk for Alex. We got to the train station a half an hour early, as we were instructed to do, to begin boarding. The parking lot was full of others waiting to board, too. We all had to wait in our cars, as the temperature outside was frigid. Boarding didn’t happen on time. Then it didn’t happen past the on time time. We had one very, enthusiastic little boy to control during this wait. This is what excited looks like:
Finally, we were allowed to line up in the cold to start the long boarding process. It was about this time that we realized the coffee and chocolate milk may have been a mistake.
Once on the train, Kristin and I were both thrilled to see a restroom right by the door. One of the trainmen told us to just have a seat anywhere and not to worry about the seat numbers on our tickets. The train began to move and Alex was beside himself with joy.
Kristin was about to get up to go to the restroom when the conductor made what would be the first of many announcements. Let’s just call him Conductor Spaz, OK?
“We’ve encountered a small problem today. It’s four degrees outside and the toilets have frozen. There are no toilets at the other end of the line, either. I’m sorry for this inconvenience.”
Umm…inconvenience? That wasn’t what we considered to be an inconvenience. Kristin looked over at me and told me she was in trouble. She couldn’t wait. I had forgotten that she had the bladder capacity of an amoeba. She was also questioning what was going to happen when that chocolate milk finally hit Alex’s bladder. We knew we were in trouble.
We weren’t allowed to focus on this trouble for more than an minute or two, because now, Conductor Spaz had another announcement to make.
“I’m sorry, folks! But the trainman who told you that you could sit anywhere was wrong! I don’t know what made him say that, but I need all of you to be in your assigned seats. Look at your tickets and move to where you’re supposed to be.”
What? Why did it matter where we were sitting? A few people got up and started looking for their seats, but many of us sat still, just out of annoyance and wonderment. Conductor Spaz came back into the car, again, this time with a microphone.
“PLEASE TAKE YOUR ASSIGNED SEATS! MY TRAINMAN HAD NO AUTHORITY TO TELL YOU TO SIT WHERE YOU WANTED TO SIT! FIND YOUR ASSIGNED SEATS, NOW!”
Kristin looks over at me and says “If I have to get up to move, I’m going to pee my pants.” I was also feeling the same pain, but I chose to keep quiet and not focus on it. I knew her focus would be enough for both of us.
People began shuffling around, while Conductor Spaz continued his rant with the mike. As he walks by us, repeating his litany, Kevin says rather loudly, “What does it matter where we’re sitting, as long as we all have a seat?”
This was the point where Conductor Spaz changed his tune. Now he started apologizing for the trainman who told us this and said we might as well stay where we were, as long as everyone had a seat. I think he apologized and made this statement four more times.
We just stared at each other is disbelief. Kristin said, “Mom, I really have to pee.” I informed her that I didn’t have a toilet in my pocket. “Mooo-oom! I really have to go!” I told her I remembered why I hated traveling with her when she was four. “Mom! I can’t wait!” I asked her what she expected me to do about it. She’s twenty-eight, for God’s sake. I was choosing not to think about my own bladder at that time.
But now, it was Story Time. A loud bell sounded and a woman began telling stories about the area over the PA system. It wasn’t a very good PA system. There was much crackling and popping to assault our ears. Our fellow passengers continued with their conversations, as did we. Interspersed, of course, with Kristin telling me how badly she had to pee every few minutes. She didn’t think it was funny when I offered to make a tent for her out of my coat so she could pee on the floor. Alex was oblivious to everything. He was on a train! He could blow his train whistle at every railroad crossing.
It was about this time that the Annoying Story Lady broke into an accent. She did a very bad version of a southern drawl (Why, I don’t know. We live in Ohio.) and began to tell the story of the Great Flood of 1917, and how the whole area we were in was under water. Water was everywhere. Houses floated by in the flood. Water, rain, flooding, floating…
“Mom! I’m going to die! I really have to pee!”
At this point, the power went out in the train. Kristin used the ensuing confusion to find the kindly, old trainman who first told us we could sit wherever we wanted and flirted her way into a porta potty. Conductor Spaz began running through the cars…well…spazzing. There was no light or heat, but there was also no Annoying Story Lady, crackling and popping in our ears.
That’s when a voice from the back of the car announced, “If I can’t tell you the stories, I’ll bring you the animals!” Kevin said he wasn’t even about to look to see what she was talking about, but morbid curiosity got the best of me. I turned around in my seat to see a woman dressed in a Boy Scout uniform, with a…
“Oh, God, Kevin! She has a dead raccoon over her arm!”
Well, maybe it wasn’t quite that bad, but that was what I thought it was at first. She went from seat to seat, telling tales and showing everyone the raccoon pelt, the coyote pelt and the beaver pelt. They were gruesome, especially to the young kids. Holes where there should be eyes…
The hideousness of the moment got to me and the laughter started. God, I had to pee!
So, our feet are now frozen. Everyones except Alex’s, as he was sitting on his to see out of the window. He continued to be oblvious. The windows were totally fogged over and obstructing his view, so we were getting soaked when we wiped them down. About ten minutes before the ride ended, Alex began announcing his need to pee, also. This was a good thing, as I don’t think we could have gotten him off of the train had there been a bathroom on it.
All in all, I’d only rate this experience a three out of ten. The stories it generated, however, were a wonderful exercise in what to do with a captive audience.