(Note: Continued from Part One)
As we settle into our seats I notice a distinct, almost unpleasant smell — one part hospital, one part hotel room attempting to mask the fact that it once allowed smoking.
Benjamin and Shannon sit together while I settle into the seat behind theirs. A few other passengers fill seats here and there. A recorded female voice announces that the train will leave in one minute.
“I hope we go underground,” Benjamin says.
“We might,” I say. “I think there’s a tunnel.”
“I want to face forward,” Shannon says. We are facing north, but the train is going to head south.
“Let’s move,” I say.
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We make our way down the aisle to the next car. It also faces backward, so we continue.
The forward-facing cars are much more crowded, but we find two seats together and fill them. My seat back is in front of theirs, against the window.
I start people-watching.
Across from me a teenage boy reads A Tale of Two Cities. A young, smiling couple sits directly across from Shannon and Benjamin. The only standing passenger is a blind man with a seeing-eye dog. The rest of the people — varying widely in race and garb — sit with poker faces on, some with earbuds providing them with their preferred method of aural escape, others without any distractions besides what their eyes can see and their minds can dream up.
The train climbs as we reach a bridge. We look down on the rooftops of short office buildings, fast food restaurants, and convenience stores.
“Whoa, we’re going way up,” Benjamin says.
I recognize a few national chain names as the nondescript city street passes under us.
“I don’t want to go underground,” Benjamin says.
“It’s okay. We won’t be underground very long,” Shannon says.
Benjamin gets tense before the tunnel. The outside view goes pitch black as we enter. The occasional bright light blurs past as we make our way.
“I don’t like it,” Benjamin says, edgy but not panicked.
We stop at an underground station. Its dim lighting and spare colors make it seem like a secret hideout. A sign on the wall reads, “No photography without permission.” Several people in TSA uniforms head for the open doors on cars other than ours.
Along with this change in scenery came the most ubiquitous thing on our trip — a framed poster for the new movie The Tooth Fairy, starring “The Rock.” Perhaps that familiar element set our son’s mind at ease. Or the presence of people rather than cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers.
“I like the tunnel,” Benjamin announces.
“Good,” Shannon and I answer.
We squint as the train emerges back into the hazy daylight. Cloud cover softens the sun and almost nothing can hide in the shadows. That’s a comfort when traveling through some of the seedier parts of the route.
(to be continued)