This Train Is
Bound For Paoli - A Multiple-choice Essay
by Roz Warren
leaves 30th Street Station bound for New York
City at 10:55 a.m. Concurrently, train 663 leaves
the station, headed for Harrisburg.
are called The Keystone.
If Mark and I
have tickets for train 664 because we plan to
celebrate his 58th birthday with a day of
Manhattan museum-going, but somehow end up on
train 663 instead, how many miles do we travel in
the wrong direction before we realize that we've
made a terrible mistake?
Or, to put it
another way, how fast does my pulse begin to race
and how high does Mark's blood pressure spike
when, as the train picks up speed and we settle
into our seats, anticipating a glorious day in
the Big Apple, the conductor comes on over the
loudspeaker and welcomes us aboard the train to
How loud do I scream upon hearing this
announcement? (Keep in mind, we're in the quiet
Train 664, the
Keystone, heads in one direction. Train 663, also
the Keystone, heads in the opposite direction. What
could possibly go wrong?
the thing is...
When we first
arrived at the station, we checked the
information board to see what platform train 664
would leave from. It said platform 7. Of course,
Mark wasn't wearing his glasses. I was wearing
mine, but I've got cataracts. So who knows what
it really said? It could have told us that Train
664 was the Hogwarts Express, now boarding from
platform 9 3/4. Or that train 664 was the Peace
Train and Cat Stevens would be our conductor.
The world can
be an uncertain place when viewed with middle-aged
Just to make
sure, at platform 7, we asked the Amtrak employee
checking tickets: "This is train 664, right?"
glanced at our tickets, then ushered us onto the
If your entire
job consists of making sure nobody boards a train
who doesn't belong on that train, and you let a
couple with tickets for one train get on another
one instead, can we safely assume that you are:
2. suffering from sudden onset dyslexia.
3. just another Boomer with cataracts. The
dude was our age, and if his eyes were as bad
as mine, there's no way he could actually
read the itty bitty numbers printed on our
So there we
were, intending to spend the day in New York but
speeding toward Harrisburg instead.
birthday," I said to Mark. "I hope this
isn't an omen."
conductor appeared to take our tickets, we didn't
shout at him because:
1. we were
in the quiet car.
2. our being on the wrong train wasn't his
3. shouting at people is no way to celebrate
our plight, he told us to get off at Paoli and
grab the next train heading back toward Manhattan.
So we did. But we had an hour to kill in Paoli,
so we checked out a nearby Japanese restaurant.
The food was terrific.
Even though we
got to Manhattan later than we'd planned, we
still had a great day, because:
1. it was
2. we have each other and we have our health,
so what do we have to complain about?
3. we're 58.
matter of destiny
And what we'd
concluded, after feasting on sushi, then boarding
the train that would actually take us to our
destination is this: If you're on the wrong train,
it's better to be 58 than 28.
If you get on
the wrong train at 28 it can change your life.
Right is on train 664, but you board train 663
and fall for Mr. Wrong. Or perhaps some aspect of
your train 664 journey would have inspired you to
quit your job or change your career or move to
Cincinnati. So much of your life is ahead of you
that a lot can turn on each choice you make.
But by 58, you
are who you are. Board the wrong train and it may
delay your trip, but it probably won't change
could discover a really good place for sushi.
Mark and I aren't the kind of couple who get
angry and blame each other when things go wrong.
We're a couple who can appreciate how ridiculous
it is to be stuck on a train that's going in the
We get along
so well that it's likely we'll still be together
when it comes time to celebrate Mark's 59th
our tickets before boarding the train to
2. boarding, ask the conductor "Is this
train going to New York?" "Really?"
"Are you sure?"
3. before the train starts to move, ask
everyone sitting nearby if they're planning
to enjoy a day in Harrisburg.
On the other
hand, maybe we'll just go to Paoli for Japanese