Sometimes all you have to do is sit on a bench in Fort Edward, New York and wait.
You might think you’re simply waiting for the Amtrak train to Montreal. But it turns out you’re waiting for the story. Or more correctly, the story is waiting for you. For you to show up and pay attention.
It comes to you in the form a late thirty-ish man. He is wearing a stained orange sweatshirt, blue Docker-type pants, a carbinger hooked from his belt slides to its mysterious end in his right pocket. He looks homeless with his straggly long brown hair, the untrimmed beard and the hair growing down the back of his neck.
His daughter might be around six or seven years old, wearing long shorts. Her legs are dirty. Her hair uncombed. We used to call girls like her tomboys. She has a fearless self-assurance. Sure of her place in the world.
Soon Grandpa pulls up on his orange scooter. He has thick yellowing glasses the same neglected colour as his toenails poking out from the ends of his cheap black and white slides. He has a large bendy flagpole on the back of his scooter. A torn flourescent-orange triangle hangs listless, almost covered by the large American flag attached above it.
The clouds thicken. The wind shimmers the silver maples, the ash, and other trees I can’t identify. Pigeons, robins, starlings compete with their steady songs. The town of Fort Edwards wears Sunday with a somnolent air. The only movements are the occasional cars and trucks bumping over the tracks.
The man’s voice breaks the wind-thick quiet. He asks me where I’m going. Where I’m from. “Oh. Vancouver…Canadian National. Canadian Pacific…” he continues to list all the trains that come in and out of Vancouver, the cities they pass through, their reliability, the connections.
I ask him if he likes train travel.
“No. I don’t ride the trains. I rode one once and got sick…I watch them.” The grandfather nods as his son speaks, as though this makes perfect sense. The girl continues to focus her gaze down the tracks.
And then he tells me more. “Last Sunday’s train was two hours late. We’re going home to call Mickey to check where the train has gone, to see if there’s engine trouble or what the story is.”
Three-generations of train watchers leave to do further research.
The wind continues to rattle and shake the trees. The town waits. So do I.
To learn more about train watchers and also because it’s a great movie, I highly recommend The Station Agent