Letter From New York April 6, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

In praise of community…

The weather over the Easter weekend in New York was storybook perfect, the kind of days that look and feel like they only happen in movies and while I moved through the splendor of them, I found myself ruminating a great deal about Thursday evening, the kick off to the long Easter weekend.

My train community chose that evening, which was also April Fool’s Day, to celebrate, to throw a party to provide a send off for one of our members, Ty West, who will, for a time, not be traveling the train as often and will be depriving his friends and fans of his constant contact. Ty is a producer and has been working on NOW on PBS since I have known him. NOW is no longer going to be in production. Ty is one of those folks who you think of when you hear the phrase, “salt of the earth.” He is a good friend, witty, clever and can be a little salty at times. He is what is known as a “stand up sort of guy.”

Ty appreciates my martinis so when the call came to declare what we were going to do for Ty’s send off party, I declared I’d make a martini. I do ones for all the train events – my personal favorites were the “babytinis” I did for Kelly’s baby shower, small blue and red drinks in honor of the fact they had opted not to know the sex of their child until that child was in their arms. But instead of doing anything fancy, I opted for a traditional martini – Ty likes the traditional martini.

It was quite a gathering of folks. Even the General came down from Albany for it. The General was a General in the Army who, when he retired from the service and went to work for the V.A., opted to remain living in Albany when his job was in New York, so that his wife didn’t have to move away from her grandchildren. So he rode the train from Albany to New York City every day, year in, year out. Another stand up guy who was once on the front page of one of New York’s daily papers as the man they found with the longest commute. When I started riding the train back in 2005 as a real regular, I discovered the community on the train but you didn’t get allowed into that community unless the General accepted you. I rode the train for weeks, an observer of this close knit world of regular Amtrak riders, riding the long rails into the city day in and day out, coming from the far reaches of the Hudson Valley into the city. I began to think of Hudson as the last suburb of New York.

I didn’t get a toe hold into that world until one day the General, struggling with the Crossword from the New York Times asked the café car in general if anyone knew the answer and it so happened I did… That was my entry point into the community. I had something to offer. Not long after came one of the famous Christmas parties on the train and one day the General marched up to me and wanted to know what I was going to contribute. I said I’d make martinis. And in the midst of shaking up a batch at that Christmas party, the General called me by my name and I was, officially, a member of the train community.

It is a community which has meant much to me over the last five years – we are continuous if not constant presences in each other’s lives, held together by long rides on the rails, a Google Groups list and intermittent events like the one for Ty West – affectionately known as the “Tie one on for Ty” party. As we lumbered north, the General stood in the café car and made a small speech. I heard bits and pieces of it. I was at my post, making another batch of martinis but this is what I gleaned from his words:

We’re a bunch of strangers that have been put together by the need to get from one place to another. Because of the length of our commute we have gotten to know each other well. Sometimes we spend more time with each other than we do with our families in a given day. And so, in a way, we have become family.

So, in a way, these people have become family to each other – and to me. Through the email list we learn of triumphs and tragedies and organize reactions to each. Collection was made for a conductor whose daughter had died in Iraq. Organization has been done for birthday parties and seasonal celebrations and events like “Tie one on for Ty.” We follow the travails of Amtrak, much of our lives depend upon what happens with that organization. We, occasionally, will gather off the rails just to enjoy each other – a large extended “family,” a community born on the rails and held together by the common bonds of our human experience.

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One Response to “Letter From New York April 6, 2010”

  1. Ran Says:

    A great portrait of the camaraderie that can emerge from among a group of strangers. I used to share in that myself aboard Amtrak, on a much shorrter ride. Thanks for writing this up.

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