My mother, who just turned 90, loves to travel. My parents emigrated from India to the US in 1985 and have mostly lived with us since then. After my father’s death, I or my family has accompanied my mother on her travels all over the US, Mexico, India, and Europe. Car travel has been easy; air travel has not been that smooth. But the most challenging mode of transportation has been train.
Guess what? My mom loves trains. Growing up in the state of Gujarat, that’s how she used to travel. Her father was a traffic superintendent and on the train they had their own salon, fitted with a living room, bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen as well as a servants’ room. I also grew up in India. I also traveled by train when I was young but in crowded compartments. After coming to the US, we haven’t had a chance to take a train so we decided to take one from Washington, D.C. to Charlottesville, Virginia.
This is what happened.
A taxi drops us off at Union Station. The station is majestic and magical with stores and restaurants and whatnot. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to stop because we need to walk across this humongous station and get to the right platform for our train. I walk with her, dragging our suitcases. It works well because I am as slow as she is. Our shuffles match. Then we need to go down to the platform where the train comes. Everyone is taking an escalator down. I panic. Mom is fine taking an escalator, too, because she only has her purse with her. I’m lugging a large suitcase, my computer bag, a food bag (which is an absolutely necessity for my mom) and my purse. No way can I maneuver all of that and myself on an escalator.
Luckily, one of the railway employees directs my mom to an elevator. She insists on taking the escalator. I drag her (along with the suitcases) to the elevator and breathe a sigh of relief.
The train is long and we have to pass the business class car, a dining car, a quiet car —almost half of the train – before we can board. The steps are steep and I have no clue how I can get up, let alone how my mom will get on. A conductor helps my mom. As she struggles to climb up the steps, people behind us wait patiently. Finally, she is up. Now it’s my turn to struggle with the suitcases. Mom grabs the food bag and my purse. I manage with my computer bag. Then the conductor helps me get the suitcase up. Another sigh of relief.
I store the big suitcase in the luggage area and then we settle down on the seats. My mom takes the window, she always does.
“Can you take out my iPad from your computer bag?” she asks.
I nod, worrying about how I am going to get her and all the bags down from the train in Charlottesville. How much time I’ll have, if the conductor will help.
I hand her the iPad. She takes out a fresh new game of sudoku.
The ride is smooth until 45 minutes to our destination. Then the train stops. It is getting dark out and we don’t know how long the wait could be. Having lived in Wisconsin for the last 40 years I’m unfamiliar with Virginia and worry about getting home. My mother is busy playing her games. She looks up. “Why have we stopped?” she asks.
“I don’t know.” I don’t want her to worry but at the same time, I have to tell her the truth. I explain that the train has stopped and we don’t know when it’ll start again.
I make a couple of phone calls to my family but then the train moves again.
Another sigh of relief.
When we get to Charlottesville, we have to get ourselves and the luggage down the steps. The conductor is helpful. And unlike big Union Station, the open platform goes right into a parking lot where our family is waiting.
In the car Mom says, “This was fun. We should always take trains.”
P.S. I must admit that since that first ride we have traveled by train over and over again. Once we knew what to expect, it became easier, there was always help and it was fun – particularly compared to the complications of traveling by plane.