To celebrate high school graduation my parents paid for a trip to Washington, D.C. so I could visit my favorite first cousin Janet who I had grown up with and adored like a sister.
Janet lived around the block from us and I literally not figuratively spent every available waking hour at her home rather than mine whenever possible. I also spent nearly every available sleeping hour there too!
I tried to emulate everything I thought she was from the basics like hairstyle and clothing to the more meaningful like positive attitude and career choice.
One year older than me, she had started college to pursue a degree in Sociology and had her own apartment off campus.
With eagerness bordering on elation I packed my suitcase planning for a summer to remember.
Since I had yet to overcome my fear of being 24,000 feet in the clouds with someone else in control, I opted for a train ride with the hope of finishing a book and catching up on sleep.
Arriving on the train station platform I did the requisite kissing good-bye of the parents and the requisite waving and smiling gregariously as they headed back towards their car.
When the train pulled in I lugged my “supposed to be easier to maneuver cause it’s on wheels” piece of luggage which was zigzagging through the concourse like a drunken reveler on New Year’s Eve.
Not certain which car to choose, I decided to go with the one that had the restroom compartment since my bladder and travel were somewhat incompatible.
Lifting my belongings over the gap, I felt a tug on my shoulder and stopped mid-movement. I turned and came face-to-face with a gentleman in a light blue cap with a red stripe (the conductor I presumed) who motioned me away from the car and pointed with gentle authority to another car four down from where we stood.
I hesitated and then followed his lead as he assisted me with bringing my luggage on board.
When I went to place my laptop in the overheard bin, he shook his head and placed it down in front of my seat.
I had yet to question him though I planned to once I was situated.
The whistle blew and before I could settle we were on our way.
“Tickets please. Everyone have your tickets handy.”
I had my ticket at the ready and when I handed it over I looked up into the eyes of the conductor wearing the light blue cap with the red stripe.
He smiled and said, “Make this a memorable trip and don’t sleep away the first part of the day.”
I thought him a bit presumptuous to advise me how to enjoy my time, however I did not have an appropriate comeback so I smiled instead.
Mom had packed a lunch bag for me which meant a survival kit containing enough food to feed all the passengers and then crew.
I chose a cheese stick and a Yoo-Hoo and sat back to immerse myself in the surrounding countryside passing in blurs of green and gold.
It was not long before the sashaying motion of the train began to lull me into light slumber.
I woke abruptly to the sound of the conductor reminding me not to fall asleep.
Feeling argumentative, I sat up with conviction to give him a piece of my mind and he was gone.
I decided I’d contact someone in charge and report the conductor for being something less than stellar, yet I was not sure what he was except perhaps too much of a busybody.
That did not seem like a federal offense, only an annoyance.
The train shook and my book flew off my lap and I heard a woman scream.
Glass shattered and steel bent and gravel crunched below us.
Wheels squealed and the train lurched forward and then came to a dead stop.
I was on the floor amidst all the laptops and coats and baggage that only moments ago had occupied the overhead bins.
Chaos and crying and people climbing over one another in a frenzy like a stampede is how I described the scene when the first responders arrived.
My ankle was severely sprained and I was bruised in every visible place, yet I was alive to tell my story.
We were told that two cars had derailed coming around a curve.
Car 3 which contained the restroom compartment had completely detached and was lying on its side.
By the grace of God, no one lost their life that night.
We were disbursed to numerous hospitals and after being bandaged and taught how to negotiate my crutches, I was discharged home.
When interviewed by our local news team I thought about mentioning the conductor in the light blue cap with the red stripe who initially came across as a nuisance and ended up being a hero.
The following morning the train crash was on the front page of our local newspaper along with pictures of the crew and commentary.
I searched for the conductor with the light blue cap with the red stripe.
I wanted to get his name so I could thank him.
Since I could not find his picture, I contacted the station I had embarked from.
To this day no one has been able to identify the conductor who guided me away from harm.
I take that back.
I’m sure God could because he knows every angel he dispatches and the miracles they are asked to perform in his glorious name.