Sunday, December 20, 2009
The Decorated Holiday Coastal Express
The village was on hand at the train station Friday night to welcome the arrival of the decorated Coastal Express. DunceRail decorates all the Confederacy’s trains one week before Christmas. The Holiday Trains run until January 2nd.
A crowd filled the station’s waiting room and platforms. The Comprehensive School’s band greeted arriving villagers at the front door by played Christmas Carols. The Kicking Donkey Pub’s waitresses ran back and forth between the station and the Pub taking and filling drink and food orders. The elderly from the Nearly There Home for the Elderly and Infirmed sat in their van. It was too cold to stand outside. Their matron kept them supplied with candy canes. They sang Christmas carols, accompanied by a cassette of Lawrence Welk’s Christmas favorites. Piggly Wiggly served Hot Cocoa and sticky buns on one end of the waiting room. The Red Owl Grocery Store served hot cider and rolls on the other.
I found a seat near a make shift stage near the ticket window. This year's pre-train arrival entertainment was supplied by the village's school children. At 7:25 P.M. the Confederacy Primary School’s Head Master walked onto the wobbly stage. He tapped on the microphone several times then spoke.
“Attention, Attention. Let’s quiet down now." Of course, nobody listened. He tapped on the mic several more times. Each time unsuccessful.
“Come on folks. Quiet Please. Quiet,” he continued. He wasn’t getting any cooperation from the crowd. The train master saw the situation, walked up to the mic and blew his whistle. That got everyone’s attention. The Headmaster thanked the Station Master then read the entertainment schedule. He read a short poem he'd written himself just for the occasion. It was unremarkable and easily forgotten. He received a few grunts and a couple of half hearted "Well Dones," from his Parent Advisory Council members who happened to be in attendance. He bowed then hastily disappeared behind the curtain (a blanket attached to a rope by clothes pins).
Four sixth graders appeared from behind the curtain and walked to the microphone. Each holding a script. Natalie Uppers stepped forward to the mic.
“Hello friends, villagers and countryman. We are the advanced reading group at Confederacy Primary School. You must read on a tenth grade level before you can attend the advanced reading group. I read once that the average adult reads on an 8th grade level. That means that the four of us read better than half of all of you,” she said as she slowly moved her hand over the heads of the audience. The adults in the crowd looked at each other wondering who the children belonged to. Their parents chose a quick retreat and disappeared into the restrooms.
“Tonight we are going to take turns reading excerpts from Charles Dicken’s classic tale of greed and redemption. Can anyone guess what I’m talking about?” She looked into the villager’s faces. Blank stares were returned. She looked quite pleased. She turned and a gave her fellow advanced readers a look of sheer delight. They answered by smiling and turning up their noses a few degrees to show their obvious superiority.
“A Christmas Carol,” I shouted. She turned and looked at me in surprise.
“That’s right, ah.... Good Guess..... ahhh, you must have seen the movie,” she responded.
“No, I read the book,” I replied. "You are the only ones that can read in this village," I added.
“But that’s college level reading?” she said in a shocked, whispered voice. The crowd was silent. Everyone was looking at me. I stood and waved as if I were the Grand Marshall in a parade of fools. I sat back down and looked at the young girl before the microphone. Her eyes shot daggers back.
The girl's embarrassed mother started a brief round of polite applause to break the tension. The girl started reading her excerpt from the book. She read well, with outstanding voice inflection. I gave her two thumbs up for the effort when she finished.
Thirty minutes passed. The third reader was at the microphone embarrassing himself by overacting the part of the Ghost of Christmas Past. He was a small boy with round glasses and mismatched socks as seen through his floods. To everyone's relief, a train whistle was heard in the distance.
“The Train, The Train,” a small midget wearing a white suit shouted from somewhere in the crowd. The holiday gathering surged forward toward the already full platform. I’m really not sure people whether people were pushing to get outside to see the train or to get away from the Advanced Readers. I’m not one for fighting a crowd so I stayed behind to pick up another sticky bun and hot cocoa.
Just after my first sip of vanilla chocolate I heard a tapping on glass. I turned and saw the Station Master waving at me from behind the ticket window. The door next to the window opened.
“Come on,” he said. I didn’t make him ask twice. I’ve known the gentleman for several years, being one of his better customers with my weekly trips between Cloverdale and The Other World. He took me up the stairs to his office. He had a large window overlooking the tracks. We stood in the window looking at the crowd below. The pushing and shoving was getting out of hand. Several of the weaker were pushed right off the platform onto the tracks below. The constables were unable to control the situation. The train was getting closer, blowing its whistle and ringing its bell. I saw the public announcement microphone on the desk next to the door.
“May I?” I asked the Station Master.
“Knock Yourself Out,” he replied.
I picked up the mic and flipped on the “All Call”. I cleared my throat and spoke.
“Attention, Attention. The Station’s Restrooms will close in 5 minutes and The Kicking Donkey would like to announce the extension of tonight’s Happy Hour for the next 10 minutes. It’s discounted Holiday Cheer at the Kicking Donkey. Make it a great night while you can.” With that I put the microphone down.
One forth of the crowd returned to the waiting room to use the restrooms. Another forth left the building entirely to take advantage of the extended Happy Hour at the Kicking Donkey. Of course, my announcement was a lie but it had the desired effect. The pushing and shoving on the platform eased and the Coastal Express pulled into the station on time.
The train was beautifully decorated both inside and out. And then, to everyone’s surprise, Santa emerged from the engine itself. He climbed a ladder leading to the top of a box car and threw handfuls of salt water taffy into the crowd from his red velvet bag.
“What a Great Railroad,” the Station Master said as he admired this new twist to the Christmas Train's arrival.
I turned to agree but before I said anything I was hit by a piece of well thrown salt water taffy on the side of my head.
“Who threw that?” I shouted from the window. Then I saw her. It was the leader of the Advanced Readers from the school. She was making her escape through the churning crowd. She glanced up at me from over her shoulder. I pointed to her then pointed to my eyes, telling her that I had her in my sights. She stuck out her tongue and disappeared.
The Coastal Express stayed for a few minutes to drop off and pick up new passengers. At 8:05 the whistle blew and the train lurched forward to its next stop at Dibley on the Downs. That ended Friday’s excitement. All that was left was a short walk home and bed.
On a side note, I filled my pockets on the way home with unwrapped black licorice taffies thrown into the snow by the village’s children. Their “I hate those” are “My Favorites”.