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short essay, The Night in the Coast Starlight

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The Night in the Coast Starlight

        After a week of vacation visiting my aunt in Seattle in 2000, I was talking an Amtrak train back to San Francisco. This was the first time I had traveled on Coast Starlight. The engine had trouble, and I go stuck at Seattle station for an hour. During a twenty-five hour trip, I tried to kill time any way I could think of: eating my aunt’s homemade sandwich; looking the coast view from the observation deck; being annoyed by kids running around the cars; reading a book; and listening to my CD player. I had tried, but I still felt lonely.
        When the sun dropped, the air that leaked out from a crack in the ceiling got me chilly. Isn’t it supposed to be more comfy than an airplane? I wondered. I could only afford to purchase a regular coach ticket, so I had to spend a night with a bunch of strangers. Unlike San Francisco, most of the passengers were Caucasian and this fact made me feel uncomfortable also. A high school kid was sitting next to me for half of my trip. He often talked to his parents who sat across the aisle, one row ahead of me. He was drawling and playing with a portable Nitendo game. He wasn’t the right person to kill time with.
        Around nine, Henry Iglesias came to my coach and played his guitar and sang. He was putting on a straw hat on his short brown hair. His smiling face was so natural and pure that he didn’t change expression when I took a picture. I usually don’t like when I people smile for their commercial photos. I could tell from his face that he really enjoyed playing music. I liked that about his and took more pictures. When Henry noticed I kept shooting him, he said, “You can send me the pictures.” I thought he might think that I was a tourist just taking pictures as a souvenir. I didn’t want him to misunderstand, so I gave him my name card which said, “photographer.”
        “Oh, you are a photographer then.” He abruptly transformed his smile to be more friendly than ever and he gave me his card in return. He pointed out the card and said, “You can check my website. I am a comedian and an actor also.” I thought he was just a street musician, but when I realized that he was actually a celebrity I became more excited.
        Since I was already one hour behind schedule, I was worried what time the train would arrive at Emeryville, My boyfriend Nelly promised me that he would wait for me there. He worked at Ritz Camera in downtown San Francisco, so I didn’t want him to be waiting. I was so worried and cold that I could not sleep. I tugged up my pink nylon jacket on my knee over my short pants. I finally dozed for an hour and woke up about midnight. When I opened my eyes and turned my body, I caught sight of the guy next to me. The high school boy had blond hair and wore a T-shirts and blue jeans. I saw a similar figure with my unconscious mind. Oh, every Caucasian looks same to me anyway, I thought. Wait, has he grown? He looks bigger than I first saw. Then, I looked at his face. Whoa, it’s a different person. Why is he sitting here? Where is the boy? I was looking at the parents sitting at the same place while I was still lying down on my seat.
        A second thought occurred to me that I should communicate with him and find out what was going on. As soon as I sat up straight and I looked at him, he spoke to me first. “Aren’t you cold? Use my sweatshirt,” he said. He took off the eagle design black sweatshirt and handed it to me. His tone of voice was so strong that I could not refuse, so I said thank you and just wore it. Then I asked him where was the boy.
        “Oh, I got rid of him. I was sitting behind you, and couldn’t sleep and I got bored. I saw you and I wanted to talk to you so I made him go away.”
        Huh? How tempting… I didn’t ask him to come here. He looks cool and tough though. Never mind… I am bored anyway. I completely awoke and started to talk with him. His name was Mac. He worked as a construction worker in Seattle and he was on his way to visit his girlfriend in Los Angeles. He was going to buy a Harley in LA and ride it back home.
        “I don’t wanna see my ex, but she misses me or something. Kinda boring trip,” he said. “I am gonna go to a club with my buddy after that. You can hang out with me and my friend in LA.”
        “I cannot.” My boyfriend will be waiting for me at an Emeryville station and I have to go back to Japan after that.” I didn’t want to screw up the relationship with my boyfriend, so I give him a reason to say no.
        He asked, “Is he Japanese?”
        I said, “No, he is a Filipino American.”
        “Why don’t you marry him, so you don’t have to go back?” I was curious if he really meant it. “Are you cold? I have clean socks. They don’t smell,” he said, changing the subject, hiding his feeling. He grabbed a pair of white socks from his black leather bag and handed them to me again. “Take them. They are really clean. Don’t wanna get a cold, do you?”
        Socks? I have never wore men’s socks! Does he have athlete’s foot or some sort of a foot disease? What a pushy guy, I thought. But Mac was so frank and different, probably because he was a blue collar worker. He acted like Clint Eastwood in a western movie. He used sentence fragments and talked bluntly. He was listening to Metal on his portable CD. While his socks were beginning to make my feet warm, we exchanged our music. We tried to sleep again after that.
        It was five when the sunlight was beating directly onto my face, woken me up. I noticed that Mac was still sleeping. He is kinda cute, if he doesn’t speak. While I was looking at him, he woke up.
        “Do you want a cup of coffee? I’ll get it for you?” He asked me. He was still lying down, blinking his eyes.
        I said no, but he insisted, “I am very sleepy. I need coffee to wake up. You need it, too.” I had not really answered yet, he stood up and walked to a dining coach.
        “He much do I owe you?” I asked when he handed it to me.
        “Don’t worry about that,” he said. I felt uncomfortable with his continuous kindness, but I felt so drowsy that I finished off my coffee. My brain started working a little. Thirty minutes later, he just stood up without saying anything and brought two cup of coffee again. After I drank up second one, he said, “Now you are awake.” He controlled my feeling like a hypnotist. Yeah, right, but my stomach is full of water now. I feel absolutely bloated.
        The sun had already risen when the train reached Sacramento. It stopped for a cigarette break for twenty minutes at the station, so I went out from the train with other passengers and stretched my legs. I ran back to the train to bring my camera and took pictures around the station. When I finished taking them, I was resting on a wooden block. Then Mac walked up to me and asked, “You are a camera woman right?” Take me and sent it to my home.” I focused the lens toward him, making a pose with his hand. When we got on the train I heard the announcement saying, “We are right on the schedule.” Yeah, you keep saying that though, I don’t think I can make it on time to Emeryville. I wasn’t worried anymore. I was satisfied that at least I had made new friends.

        When the train arrived at Emeryville, I started looking for Nelly’s round balloon-like figure. I found him and waved. I walked toward him for a few stemps but I had a second thought and turned back to the train. Mac got off the train and saw me running back to it and asked, “Are you looking for me?”
        “Yep, I was.” I was breathing hard when I reached him. I thought I almost followed him and got back on the train. I felt Nelly’s eyes from far away near the station building and I teetered between the two guys. Finally I decided to go and Mac and I shook hands saying goodbye.
        “All aboard!,” We heard conductor shouting and the train started leaving for LA.

        After I got back to Japan, I sent pictures to both Henry and Mac. I didn’t hear from Mac after all, but Henry replied to my email which I mentioned his natural smile. He wrote me, “You had a beautiful smile too.” I chuckled to myself because I thought that he was the one who had a great smile but he thought I was. I was amazed that he also still remembered that night in the Coast Starlight. I don’t hear from them anymore, but I realized that, “Lonely Planet” kind of trip wasn’t really lonely at all.

                                                          ----------   End  ----------
Tomoe Nakamura 2000


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