It takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train to cry. I can’t take credit for this statement (thank Bob Dylan), but the sentiment behind it rang true for me one sunny afternoon this past fall. That was the day we missed our train back home, leaving us stranded in Rockland.
It was bright and sunny that September morning, a day full of possibility. The fella and I decided it was as good a day as any to take the train on the Maine Eastern Railroad line up to Rockland. And so we headed down to the station here in Brunswick and bought two round-trip tickets. The train was being chartered that day by a group coming up on a bus from Boston. However, there were still tickets left for any random Joes such as ourselves who fancied a spontaneous ride on the rails. The lady selling the tickets handed them over with a smile and told us, “Have a great time! Glad to have you with us!”
I love trains – the sensation of the rails ticking away underneath me, the steady, rocking movement of being pulled forward. I only tolerate riding in cars, do fairly well on a boat so long as the waters aren’t too rough, and have yet to fly in an airplane. It’s safe to say that given the choice, I’d prefer to have a train bring me anywhere. I’ve always been a bit nostalgic about trains, even though I am too young to remember a day when they were the revered mode of transportation. Perhaps that’s why I love them – they remind me of a simpler time, a time I somehow miss even though I was never there.
That September day, I settled into my comfy seat in our chosen car and watched as the back streets of Brunswick and Bath slipped by us. It’s a beautiful ride along the coast – views of the ocean, green meadows, evergreen forests, and postcard-worthy coastal towns such as Wiscasset and Damariscotta. The train reached the station in Rockland and the passengers were free to roam the town. We had triple checked the schedule, noting the prompt time of departure. 1:45. Tourist map in hand, we ventured out into the sunshine, eager to explore all we could in just a few short hours.
After a quick lunch at a nondescript diner, we wandered into the Maine Lighthouse Museum. We’d recently endured a PBS documentary about Maine lighthouses (can it really be considered a documentary if the entire program consists of aerial shots of lighthouses set to 90s trumpet music?) and decided it would be worth our while to check out the museum. It’s a great stop. You can see the various types of bulbs and lenses used in each lighthouse, most of which are actually lit, which creates a beautiful play of light and color throughout the rooms.
From there, our goal was to find a bookshop. Having no success with that, we chose the Farnsworth Museum instead, despite the fact that neither of us is particularly artistically inclined. We did find some paintings by Henry Fitz Lane that we both proclaimed as good – our definition of “good” meaning “lacking in excessive artistic snobbery and pretense.” After wandering around through the exhibits for about an hour, it was nearing the time of departure. Though we had twenty minutes to spare, we decided to walk back to the station to get settled into our seats. When we arrived, the train was nowhere to be seen.
“That’s weird. Didn’t the conductor say they idled at the station between arrival and departure?”
“Are you sure it was 1:45?”
“I’m positive. You read it, too.”
Just to be sure, we walked up to the window of the station, where an itinerary was posted. It confirmed what we believed. 1:45, and it was just barely 1:30. The tracks were empty, ghost-like. I half expected a lone tumbleweed to go blowing across them as a hawk cried in the distance. But it was silent. The sound of abandonment.
We headed into the bar attached to the station and tentatively approached a waitress. “Do you happen to know if the train left yet?” we asked.
“Uh…. Yeah. Like, um… half an hour ago.”
“Are you sure?” (As if even the most absent minded person could forget a gigantic train blowing its whistle as it leaves the station mere feet away from where she works.)
“Uh…. Yeah. You guys supposed to be on it?”
“The schedule said 1:45! They left without us.”
“Uh…. Wow. I’ve seriously never heard of that happening to, like, anyone. You guys are the first.”
“Well, we do strive to be original.”
At this point, she took pity on us and sat us at a table, where we conferred over the crisis at hand: How were we supposed to get home? In situations such as these, I can normally rely on my sister and brother-in-law to bail me out, but they were in the County for the weekend. We had no one else we could think of who could drop everything to rescue us. Booking a hotel room for the night and taking a bus home the next morning wasn’t a viable option. And so we settled on the one remaining possibility.
In case you’re wondering, a taxi from Rockland to Brunswick will cost you about $120. If you’re lucky, like we were, you’ll get the pleasure of spending that ride with the sweetest cab driver I’ve ever met, a blond haired, husky voiced woman who reminded me of one of my mother’s best friends with her ample bosom and big, booming laugh.
We lamented our sad fate the whole ride home, though the closer we got to Brunswick, the more we could laugh about it. I’m still not sure what happened – my best guess is that because it was a chartered trip, the train schedule had been adapted and we somehow failed to get the message. In hindsight, we can appreciate it as a good story to tell, something we are sure to never forget. “Don’t say I never warned you,” Bob Dylan once sang, “when your train gets lost.” Guess we should have listened to that tune before embarking.
To add the final insult to injury, we got to witness our train pulling away from the Brunswick station, heading south, just as our cab slowed to a stop alongside the curb. We watched it go, feeling our failure all over again. If a particularly sardonic crew member had been standing on the back of the caboose, I suspect he might have grinned and waved us the middle finger as the train rolled by. Watching the lights fade in the distance, the horn blowing out its dulcet tones, I thought of Dylan once more: “Well, the only thing that makes me laugh again / Is a southbound whistle on a southbound train.”
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