After delivering a car in Charlotte NC, I went to the the train station to catch Amtrak to Miami. It would be a 24 hour ride, and I'd much rather fly, but the plane fares were prohibitively expensive so the choo-choo express was my only option. Other than Greyhound, which would take twice as long as the train for the same amount of money. And I don't do Greyhound anymore.
When I got my train ticket at the counter, I was told that we'd be heading north to Raleigh on one train, then get off and get on another train headed south. After the announcement was made to board, I went out to the platform and climbed onto the train. I chose an aisle seat, and then pulled down the tray table in front of the empty window seat so I could quickly arrange my things before we got rolling.
Once we were moving, the conductor came down the aisle asking for tickets. He was a short, stocky man with a slight limp, and when he got to me he said "Sir, you need to move your things out of that seat so that someone else can sit there."
"I'm just arranging my stuff on the tray table, I'm almost done."
"You will move your things right now, you are preventing someone else from having a seat."
I looked around the train car I was sitting in, and it was only 1/4 full. "I will remove it immediately if someone wants to sit here."
He suddenly jutted his head towards me rapidly, so that our noses were almost touching. He seethed as he spoke to me menacingly. "Tell you what, you will move your things immediately this very moment or the police will be waiting for you at the next station to drag your sorry ass off of this train."
I shrugged. "OK, but why so hostile?"
"Because I don't like thieves. You are committing a crime, it's called loss of revenue. You are taking two seats and therefore preventing Amtrak from selling that other seat. Are we clear?"
I nodded sheepishly. He seemed a lot angrier than was necessary, as if I was a repeat offender troublemaker. I quickly moved all of my things off of the tray table. I made a few phone calls, and then got my writing tablet and began working on my new book.
After a while, the conductor came by again and said to me, "Don't think you are out of hot water yet. I've got my eye on you." He really left a bad taste in my mouth, I had never received such treatment on Amtrak.
When we got to Raleigh, I noted that there were already a lot of people waiting at the train station. They were getting on my second train, only Raleigh was their point of origin. I saw two men on opposite sides of the station both with seeing eye dogs. I assumed they were blind, as they each had a white cane in addition to the dogs.
I sat next to one of the blind men, and he introduced himself as Tim. The dog was a beautiful black lab called Dudley, and he reminded me so much of Paulie, the dog I rescued in Texas when I first met my friends Tom and Jenny. Tim told me that he had never traveled by train, and he was a bit nervous about it. I offered to help him out in any way that I could. When the station manager called for all passengers to go out to the loading platform across the street, Tim did not budge. He said he had been told to stay put and someone would come and get him. "Would you mind very much staying with me?"
"No not at all, it would be my pleasure." We talked and he told me what it was like to be blind, and how he could sense things about people that sighted people often miss. And he said that he loved to read. "You read? How do..."
"Audio books. The U.S. Library of Congress has a great program, and send me books to read. Well, technically to listen to."
Time ticked by, and I began to get concerned. "Maybe we should head out to the platform, I'd be happy to help you."
"Thanks, that's very kind of you. But I was told to wait here and that's what I should do."
"No problem, but it's been a while and I want to go out and check to be sure they don't leave us behind."
He seemed disturbed by this idea, and nodded at me. "Maybe you should go check, that is very nice of you."
I went outside and crossed the street, and saw that nearly everyone had boarded the train. The station manager saw me and said, "Where have you been, you nearly missed the train."
"I'm here. I was just keeping Tim and his dog company in the station."
"They have already been boarded, and it's time for you to get on as well."
"No ma'am, they are still in the station."
"Sir, you missed something somehow, because I personally got the blind man and his dog onto the train."
She turned and walked off, and the conductor asked for my ticket. I tried again with him, saying "There is a blind man and his service animal in the station waiting to be escorted onto the train."
He held up a hand to calm me, and said, "I heard what you were telling the manager, and I can assure you that the man and his dog are already on the train."
"Yes, the man with the white dog. This man is Tim, he has a black dog."
He seemed amused. "You telling me there are two blind men and two dogs? Climb on board sir, we have everything under control. Please get a seat, we will be pulling out in less than one minute."
I took a step onto the train and then turned back. "Listen to me, I am begging you to have someone check inside the station before the train leaves, just to be sure."
"We are sure."
"All aboard!" yelled the conductor.
I got on and found a seat in the front row right next to the exit door and restroom. We sat still for a few minutes, and then I saw the station manager bringing Tim and Dudley on board. They sat right across the aisle from me. "Where is my friend Bill?" asked Tim.
"I'm right here, buddy," I replied.
"Dudley and I owe you a debt of thanks. I heard that the train almost left me, but you insisted that they check on me. I am deeply grateful."
I reached over and patted Dudley on the head, and he licked me. I settled back in my seat hoping to get some sleep on the long ride ahead.