By Susan Older
August 16, 2015
I had a good spot in line at Gate F in DC’s Union Station a few weeks ago. I was there early, thanks to Uber. I was headed to New York in a business class car on an Acela Express train to have dinner with my son when I heard the announcer say, “All business class/priority passengers go to Gate K.” It wasn’t as though Gate K was next door, so it put me in a quandary. I looked around to see if other passengers were getting out of line. They didn’t seem to be, but then the same message scrolled across the monitor at our gate. “All business class/priority passengers go to Gate K.”
I felt like a deer caught in the headlights, immobilized by a state of confusion and indecision. And then I did it: I bolted. I rushed to Gate K.
Once there, I found a long line of passengers already boarding. My heart was pounding as I went around the crowd and — unabashed journalist that I am — got the attention of the Amtrak employee taking tickets. “I’m a business class passenger going to New York. I came down here from Gate F when I heard the announcement,” I explained. The uniformed woman looked at me like I was crazy. “I’m a priority passenger,” I said.
“Honey, you’re at the wrong gate. You need to be at Gate F,” she said looking at my ticket. “I came from Gate F,” I said, with an expression I can only imagine made me look like a scared 12-year-old who had never taken public transportation.
“Wilma, help this lady to the train, will you?” she said in the kind of voice you reserve for sad situations – and Wilma guided me to the platform. ”Okay,” she said, “your train is right up there, ma’am. Just go right up there and you’ll be fine.”
I thanked her and — pleased to be boarding ahead of the crowd — I walked up to the business car and took a seat. I put my belongings where I would need them — my backpack in the overhead bin and some things, including my Kindle in the net on the back of the seat in front of me. I was in the middle of a book and I wanted to finish it on the trip.
Now, let me stop right here and make an observation. I was uncharacteristically embarrassed that I’d listened to the mysterious “Gate K” announcement and left my place in line to go to the wrong gate. Even worse, there I was being guided to the train platform by an Amtrak employee.
I tend to think of myself as hip, smart, still quite capable of doing anything I have ever done in my life. I deny all evidence to the contrary. I can’t believe it when I have to scroll down to 1948 when a computer form asks for my year of birth. I think of myself as about 25, even though I have a 25-year-old daughter and a 29-year-old son. I sometimes think my dear daughter and my devoted husband are comparing notes on my aging process, but that’s just paranoid.
I think people look at me and say, “Wow, look at all she’s done in her life; she’s got a great resume. She was a founder of USA Today. She’s so tech-savvy. She started that Displaced Journalists thing. She looks so young, so strong. She’s really got it going on.”
All this hipness, despite the fact that I have had three ankle surgeries and five spine surgeries. I have three grandchildren and I’m in my fourth and last marriage.
For the record, though, I am not “old.” It’s not as though I walk around confused, like a little old lady. I still feel like a kid. I think most Boomers do. Clearly, there will come a day when my perception of myself may need some adjusting — just not today.
Most importantly, I like to laugh at myself. So let’s get back to my story.
I was in my seat when another Amtrak employee came into the car collecting trash. “What are you doing on this train?” she asked. That’s when it hit me. I was all alone. I was on the wrong train. I grabbed my backpack from the overhead rack, my purse and other stuff and sprinted to the business car of the train on the other side of the platform, finding what may have been the last seat on that car. With a sigh of relief, I put my stuff away and started to sit down, only to realize something was missing. My Kindle.
I made my way to the open door. I looked left and I looked right, but there were no conductors. I thought about racing across to the other train, but I knew there was a good chance my train would leave without me. “I left my Kindle on the other train,” I screamed from the entrance to the car I was on, in an attempt to get a conductor to hear me. Like a $79 Kindle was a big deal. I am a diehard Apple fan girl. I’ve even worked for Apple since I left journalism. The one and only reason I have a Kindle is that it allows me to read on the beach and avoid the glare of my iPad.
Finally, I spotted a conductor a few cars down. “What do you need?” he yelled. “I left my Kindle on that other train,” I screamed. “I need my Kindle.” That, I believe, is the single most pathetic sentence I have ever uttered. Thank goodness none of my Apple friends or co-workers were there. Or my children. I would die if they had heard this. I mean, really, who goes to that much trouble to rescue their Kindle?
“You have two minutes. Run, “ the conductor yelled. So I ran — fast. Hell, I didn’t even know I could run like that — doctor’s orders and all. I found the still-empty car I’d been in and the seat I had occupied. I reached for what I had realized by then was an almost worthless piece of technology and pulled it out. As I did, something fell to the floor, something far more valuable than a Kindle. Something that would get me to see my precious son.