Wednesday, March 11, 2009
All Aboard the Coastal Express. Our Train of Dreams
Some days when I need time to think, I escape my obligations and take a walk to Cloverdale’s train station to ride the Coastal Express.
As I approach the ticket window I hesitate a moment to give Mrs. Della Bumble time to make her prediction. Mrs. Bumble has issued tickets at the Cloverdale Train Station for the past thirty-five years. Her greatest talent is guessing where you want to go before you speak. As you approach the window she holds her hand out to stop you from talking. She looks deep into your eyes while catching a quick glance at your hands for luggage. Once she is ready, she thrusts her finger at you through the bars of the ticket window and gives her prediction. Mrs. Bumble is gracious in defeat. If she is wrong you get a Double Stuffed Oreo from the open package kept beside her desk for snacking.
"Strawberry Junction!" Mrs. Bumble says while waving a finger in my direction.
“One ticket to Cloverdale,” I say to Mrs. Bumble. She gives me a confused look and always gives the same answer.
“Mr. Williamson, you’re in Cloverdale. Look around. Are you daft?” She adjusts her reading glasses so she can see me better through the ticket window.
“And a good day to you to Mrs. Bumble,” I answer with a smile. “I know where I am and I still want a ticket to Cloverdale.”
“You want to buy a ticket to go to a place where you’re currently at?” she says looking for sense in a senseless statement.
“Mrs. Bumble, I’d like to take a day and just ride the Coastal Express. Now correct me if I’m wrong. It leaves Cloverdale and goes west to Dudley in the Dale. After a brief stop the train continues to Tamworth on the Tide.”
“Correct,” she answers.
“From Tamworth on the Tide it follows the Coast of Despair northward to Strawberry Junction.” she nods her head again as I repeat the train’s itinerary. An itinerary she knows all to well. “From Strawberry Junction we travel east to Fernwood on the Moor.”
“Yes, Yes and Yes. You’ve got the schedule memorized and that is the end of the journey,” Mrs. Bumble says while slamming her hand down on the wooden desk for emphasis.
“Oh, not so,” I correct her while pushing up my glasses. “The Coastal Express takes on fuel and water and if I’m correct prepares to start the circle again.”
“Yes, its picks up passengers coming in on the electric train from the Other World,” she says pointing to the map and the track connection between The Confederacy of Dunces and The Other World.
“And, pray tell where does the Coastal Express go after leaving Fernwood on the Moor?” I ask.
“Why Cloverda......,” Mrs. Bumble stops in mid sentence. Her eyes grow large with understanding. “You want to ride the train in one big circle knowing it will take up most of the day and into the early evening?”
“Got it in one!” I shout as I slam both hands on the counter top.
“Well, it is a beautiful journey through the prettiest countryside on God’s good Earth,” she answers while calculating the cost. I hand her my credit card. She swipes it and opens her ticket drawer pulling out a series of tickets. Each one is stamped with a destination and pushed through the window. I gather the tickets and my credit card, thank Mrs. Bumble for her time and walk toward my chariot for the day.
"Stop," I hear Mrs. Bumble shout from the window. I stop dead in my tracks and spin around to see what I forgot. I see her stick her hand through the bars, open it, and there is my reward sitting in her palm - a Double Stuffed Oreo. Thanks to Mrs. Bumble, this journey of imagination through the lush green countryside was starting on a sweet note
Join me on my next journey. We will pack sandwiches and make it a day of clickity clack along the railroad track in the Confederacy of Dunces's Coastal Express.