Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Race is Not to the Swift

"Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favour to the men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all."
(Ecclesiastes 9:11)

This item was clipped from the January 24, 1996, edition of a local newspaper. Today I can only wonder how many participants can even remember or recall this event.

Kimberly didn't win the event but she was the one whose photo ended up in the newspaper. This in itself may have been the real prize.

The other story the newspaper didn't know about to report was that in Autumn 1995 Kimberly was in and out of the hospital with a strange illness that eventually culminated in surgery... after the medical experts figured out the problem. 

Just being able to return to health and participate in this public speaking event was the real victory.

The Oddblock Station Agent

Monday, June 1, 2015

An Amtrak Vignette

"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."
(Hebrews 13:2)

Abstract from Amtrak's public timetable effective May 15, 1975

For a brief time my Saturdays had become "Amtrak" days. An Amtrak Day to Seattle was long; four and a half hours of train travel to get there, seven hours there and almost five hours to return. Travelling alone and spending a rainy day in Seattle was depressing. 

Daily I prayed to God and begged for a miracle to change the circumstances in my life, so that doing crazy things such as going to Seattle to send letters and hopefully receive mail from her would not be necessary, but nothing changed. I felt as if the louder I shouted toward heaven, the more God seemed to ignore me.

Early afternoon and more than four hours remained until train time; I was using up those hours sitting in Seattle’s King Street station and sporadically reading. A panhandler was shuffling around and searching through the station’s garbage bins. Eventually he stopped in front of me but I did not look up from what I was doing. 

“Do you have any money you can part with?” he asked.

That was a strange way to ask for money because all money was money that could be parted with in one way or another. 

“Here!” I eventually answered and handed him a few dollars, hoping he would go away.

“Thank you.” he replied, sounding very surprised.

Instead of wandering off, the vagrant sat on the bench and began to talk to me. “I haven’t always lived like this.”

I did not say anything. I did not know what to say to him. Truthfully, I did not want to have to say anything to him.

“Where are you from?” he questioned, even though I had remained silent.

“Canada.” I finally answered, trying to avoid a conversation.

“What are you doing down here?” He continued.

"Just visiting from Canada.” I revealed.

“I’m from Mississippi.” He announced.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, aware that Seattle was far from anywhere in Mississippi.

“Couldn’t take it anymore.” He stated, now sounding somewhat agitated.

“Take what?” I wondered.

“All the nonsense, the lies, the crap. I had to get out.” He continued, sounding as if he was repeating to me something that he thought I should have already known.

What he said did not mean anything to me and I did not ask for more details. I really did not want to know any more.

“I quit university.” He added, and then continued, “I’ve been drifting around and trying to find a purpose in life.”

He went on to inform me that his father owned a fishing and hunting resort in Kenora, Ontario, and then began to tell me about the resort and then abruptly stopped and asked, “Have you ever heard of Kenora?”

“Yes, it’s near the Ontario-Manitoba border. CP Rail’s trains roll through there.” I stated authoritatively, certain of this latter fact.

“Yeah, you know it.” He confirmed. 

He then handed me a folded slip of paper with the name and address of a resort in Kenora and while pointing at the paper said, “If you ever visit Kenora, go there and ask for my father. Just tell him I told you to ask for him.”

He wished me well and wandered away and I wondered why he had stopped to talk. I looked at the name and address on the paper and thought, “Why would I ever go to Kenora?”

His comment about quitting university and finding a purpose in life stirred me though and compelled me to question why I was coming here to Seattle every Saturday. Fighting off desperation was my reason. But what was my purpose?

From the internet: Amtrak's Pacific International circa 1976

Amtrak’s Pacific International was a four-car train outfitted with worn-out, hand-me-down equipment from Union Pacific and Great Northern. A dome-observation car on the tail end gave the train an air of importance; not every passenger train included a dome car. Unlike CP Rail’s Canadian, which offered coach seating in their dome cars, Amtrak had turned the dome into a dining area and served meals up top. 

During the return trip I sat in the rear of the dome car and from the curved back windows watched the track racing away into darkness. Occasionally I would puff away on my pipe when the lounge area was deserted. My mind wandered aimlessly as I stared out.

“A smoldering, half-smoked cigarette has been left in the ash tray.” Holmes pointed out after making a cursory inspection of the immediate area.

“Is this a clue?” Watson asked.

“No.” Holmes responded immediately, having already dismissed the cigarette as irrelevant.

“What makes you so certain?” Watson challenged.

“Left by a woman, you will observe smudges of lipstick on the end.” Holmes pointed out.

“Ah yes, but what if our quarry's not alone?” Watson suggested.

“The young lady who left this here was quite alone.” Holmes replied.

“How do you know?” Watson challenged.

“We passed her only moments earlier but you most likely looked at her rather than observe her. She was wearing the same shade of lipstick, slightly smudged as if by…” Holmes started to explain.

“A cigarette against the lips.” Watson interjected.

“Exactly!” Holmes stated, almost sounding like a teacher who had been explaining the solution of a problem to a student.

A yell came from the galley, abruptly awakening me from my mindless daydream.

“What? Another murder?” I asked aloud mindlessly.

“No. Cook fried some fingers on the griddle.” The Amtrak steward replied, having heard my silly question.

A half-smoked cigarette in the ash tray on the empty adjacent table was still smoldering away, and sure enough traces of lipstick were visible; but I couldn’t recall who may have been sitting there moments earlier.

After 41 days without mail the strike ended and Canada’s postal services resumed.

Two weeks later I made my final trip to Seattle to close the mailbox and hopefully, to find a letter or two from her waiting for me...but in spite of my desperate denials, somewhere in the back of my mind was that unthinkable truth, she was slowly slipping away from me.

My Amtrak days were over... and so too were a few slowly dying dreams.

The Oddblock Station Agent