UNITED STATES—A muffled announcement came over the loudspeaker, “This is Garden City, Kansas. If this is your stop, get off here. This will be a brief stop. This will not be a smoking stop.”
The tribe of smokers on board groaned. As the groans subsided, the Southwest Chief clanked into forward movement again and Raveendran’s mouth watered as the deserted train station fell away from view and revealed a McDonald’s. The luminous yellow arches were surely wearing away his resistance to things thoroughly unappetizing and contrary to his ravenous desire for an apple.
Raveendran stared out the observation-car curved glass at a new day dawning over the cornfields. He heard a voice near his ear, “Can I sit down here?” and he caught his breath.
“I’m going to Bakersfield,” said the man. When he sat down he occupied the full width of the observation bench for two. “They can have Bakersfield. The traffic, the noise, everything overpriced. Give me Garden City. California is madness; I wouldn’t trade it for Kansas.” He took off his baseball cap and scratched his dark wavy hair.
“Bakersfield is getting as bad as Los Angeles. You couldn’t pay me to go there. You can keep it. I wouldn’t go there for all the rice in China. My doctor says, ‘Go on a plane, you’ll come back in a casket.’ I’m the only one in my family who didn’t finish college,” said the monumental man.
“I was going to be a lawyer. I wunner if the snack bar is open yet. People are taking the stairs down. I was going to be a lawyer, but I had a friend at San Pedro who was a longshoreman. They’d work hard for two hours and then they’d take a two hour beer or whisky break. They’d go back to the parking lot and drink it out of the bottle in their cars. They were union. And they really only worked four hours a day, and the four hours a guy could whittle down to two if he knew what he was doing. That was the thing for me. I figgered who needs another lawyer. A lawyer is dime a dozen and they’re all crooked.” After a couple more sidelong glances, “You know I’m going to go downstairs and see if the snack bar is open yet.”
The morning mists hung over the cornfields. I was not corn for people but for pigs, he overheard someone saying in the night while he tried to sleep but couldn’t. Wall after wall corn stalks passed by the speeding train. The unsoft kernels were said to be tough enough to break one’s teeth, and they were not sweet. Seeing the stalks made Raveendran start plotting a break from the train. The Amtrak police would find him sitting in the cornfield devouring it from the cob and spitting out his teeth.
The man came back up the stairs from the snack bar, his huge arms loaded with cardboard take-out boxes. He came over and handed a Bud tall boy to Raveendran. “Take some peanuts too.”
He pounced on the peanuts and ate them gladly.
“Drink up,” said the man. “You only live once.”
Raveendran smiled diffidently.
“Where are you from?” the man asked.
“From India,” Raveendran replied.
“Are you sore about what Columbus did to your country? Naming it India?”
“Hee hee hee. We are Indian,” Raveendran said. “We are the original Indians.”
The man chuckled. “Well, I guess you can see there was a reason I didn’t became a lawyer . . . So I did the longshoreman thing while my kids were growing up. It gave us a good life. Then one day a whole container of sneakers from China fell down on top of me. I held it as long as I could. Then it went and my fifth vertebrae was crushed. I had to be in a wheelchair for six weeks and then I had a stroke. One thing and another. A friend said ‘Lee, if you didn’t have bad luck you wouldn’t have any luck at all.’ I was on the mend and then, whammo, the heart attack. I had five stents put in my heart. On top of that I got type three diabetes,” Lee said.
“I haven’t heard of that said Raveendran.”
“Well I found out about this thing disability from my doctor. I don’t usually trust these guys; they’re usually quacks and crooked. I did right by him. ‘Lee,’ he said, ‘with all your health problems, we can get you on disability.’ So here I am living the life. I get to travel Amtrak and see my kids in Bakersfield. I wish I’d found out about this job years ago.”
“You can work if you get disability?” Raveendran said.
“I don’t work, but I get a paycheck every month,” he said. “I like to get up early and drive to the Indian casinos every day. I usually lose more than I win, but it’s fun.”
Go ahead,” the man said to Ravendreen, extending a brightly wrappered candy bar. “Take half. Go ahead. You only live once. Unless there’s reincarnation.”
To be continued..
Humorist Grady Miller is author of the humor collection, “Late Bloomer,” available on Amazon. Please reach Grady at firstname.lastname@example.org.