“Memories of a Slamtrak Vacation” Part 2
“Where The Hell Are We?”
Looking to my right, all I could see were endless train cars being voided of passengers who were being escorted along, heading towards us and the bright lights of flashlights swirling in different directions like the lights at a disco. We began walking to the left following all the other cattle being herded and nervously laughed as hundreds of people both in front and in back of me played follow the leader through a field heading towards what appeared to be the center of a town that seemed to be stuck somewhere in the past. The flashing red, white and yellow, lights from emergency vehicles was a clear indication that something was seriously wrong. More frightening than that was the fact that in the distance I could see more and more emergency vehicles racing towards our direction. My daughter lifted her tired head off my shoulder and in a sweet innocent voice said; “Are we at Mickey’s house?” Gently touching her head, my wife told her that we weren’t at “Disney World” yet and to close her eyes and get some sleep. As if we were having a staring contest, my wife and I searched each other’s eyes for answers that neither of us could provide. We didn’t want to frighten our daughter, but I wouldn’t be too far off if I said that the both of us didn’t have a good feeling about this.
It was really quite a sight to see as five hundred confused strangers marched into Mayberry RFD like we were storming the town in some bizarre war games exercise. The night air was cool and a chill ran up my spine as we made our way into a town that could have definitely been part of a “Stephen King” novel. To my surprise, it looked like the entire population of the town had come out to see a bunch of people dismount a train for a reason that was being kept a guarded secret from us. The locals all brought cameras and video recorders and were taking pictures and videos of us as we approached our creepy destination still trying to get answers to why the hell we were here and “what the fuck was going on?” My nervousness turned to anger pretty fast and I remember quietly telling my wife that; “if we don’t get a reasonable explanation for this epic fail of a train ride when we get to that town, I’m going to rip someone’s head off and shove it so far up their ass that they’ll be able to taste their tonsils!”
We were greeted by members of the fire department who gathered us all together in front of a building that I found out later was the; fire / police, station and courthouse. Once all the passengers were huddled together, we were politely asked to be quiet so the Fire chief could address us and fill us in on what the emergency was and why we had to get off the train. More and more emergency vehicles were arriving on the scene and I wondered how long it would be before all hell broke loose and chaos would ensue. The Fire Chief brought his bullhorn to life and everyone went silent. Without making this longer than it has to be, I’m going to summarize. We had stopped in (I can’t remember the name of the town) North Carolina. I’m pretty sure the city’s name began with an F, it was F . . . ville or something close to that, but anyway, some crazy, lunatic, moron(s) called Amtrak and told them there was a “bomb” on the train. The officials at Amtrak had called ahead to the nearest town/city and an emergency evacuation/possible rescue plan was put into action.
The “bomb sniffing dogs” were on their way as was the “bomb squad” and we would not be allowed to get back on the train until the entire train from beginning to end was searched by the dogs and determined to be safe. Either that or if they actually found a bomb we’d be really screwed! Safe . . . but screwed! I would have to say that probably ninety percent of the passengers, my wife and I included, felt it was just a prank . . . a stupid juvenile prank! However, Amtrak did the mature, responsible, thing to do and followed safety protocols just as they should have. Yes, I was pissed off beyond belief, but it wasn’t Amtrak’s fault. Besides that, my family’s safety was my number one priority and I wanted to make damn sure nothing was going to hurt, harm or take them from me.
I looked around at all the shell-shocked passengers, their faces contorted into expressions of disbelief, anger and fear, wandering around with no place to really go and I realized that I needed to find a payphone (yes, this was before cellphones) and call our friend to let him know what had happened and that we would be extremely late getting there. I gathered my family up and we slowly made our way towards the firehouse so I could ask if they had a payphone. Apparently I wasn’t the only one with this brilliant idea because the line to use the phone was about fifty people long. Well, fifty one now! We had only been in line for a couple of minutes when an older woman with a gentle demeanor approached us carrying what looked to be blankets.
Immediately, I knew she wasn’t part of the Amtrak staff, but more like a resident or FEMA worker. She politely introduced herself as Mary (a resident) and handed us a blanket to wrap our daughter in. Mary was sweet and kind, very grandmotherly like, and she told us that she was part of a church group who were called in to help when any type of disaster occurred. Scanning the crowd, I was blown away when I noticed how many locals had arrived to help in any way they could. It wasn’t long before an announcement was made that hot coffee, tea and juice were available for anyone who wanted it and to form a line at the firehouse entrance. I was still in line to use the payphone, slowly inching my way up and I desperately wanted, no . . . needed, a coffee, but didn’t want to get out of line for my chance to use the phone and obviously my wife couldn’t get it holding onto a small child so I gave up my hopes of scoring a hot coffee.
As if being heard by an angel, our new friend Mary came over to us and asked if either of us wanted a coffee or juice for the baby and that she would get it for us so we wouldn’t have to get out of line. I thanked her profusely and told her that she was an angel sent from heaven. She smiled at me . . . and her smile was gentle . . . kind and sincere. More emergency personnel had arrived on the scene which included the “bomb sniffing dogs,” and part of me was psyched while the other part of me was just a bit frightened that they would actually find a bomb . . . then what? I couldn’t help to notice that more locals had also arrived ready to assist in whatever capacity they were needed. It was the middle of the night for God’s sake and these kind people were giving of themselves to help others. My phone call to our friend was short and to the point, but he said he would just keep calling the automated arrival/departure line to find out when we would arrive. All my wife and I wanted was to just get back on the damn train, get to Florida (safely), see one of our best friends and enjoy our goddamn vacation! Is that too much to ask for. Huh?
Mary returned with our coffees and she also brought apple juice for my daughter, blueberry muffins and another blanket. She asked us to follow her for a minute and without hesitation we did. We were led inside the firehouse and over to one of many cots that were set up in any available space. They were for the elderly, disabled and small children. You have no idea how pumped we were as our arms were starting to feel the burn from passing our daughter back and forth to each other. The cots were filling up fast, but thankfully no one required any medical assistance, just a shoulder to lean on . . . and maybe cry on. I gently put my daughter on the cot and covered her with a blanket to keep her warm as the night air was a little chilly. My wife gave Mary a hug and neither one of us could thank her enough for her kindness and generosity or that of everyone from town who showed up to help. The smile on Mary’s face let us know that she understood that we were truly, sincerely, grateful, for everything she had done for us.
Before leaving, Mary said that if she found out any information about the train, she’d come and let us know. My wife and I sat on opposite ends of the cot eating our muffins, both of us overtired, frustrated and just a tad bit pissed off. Everywhere you looked there were people hustling along, running back and forth performing different tasks as well as wandering aimlessly with empty, exhausted, looks on their faces where smiles should have been. I really don’t think there are enough positive words in the dictionary to describe how incredibly fantastic the local people were and how much their generosity and hospitality meant to us. Well, to at least my wife and I, but I’d be willing to bet that all the passengers felt the same way too. There was nothing we could do but wait . . . and wait . . . and wait!
Three hours later, Amtrak staff members, emergency personnel and what looked to be agents from the FBI or something similar gathered up the five hundred passengers in smaller groups and assured us that the train was perfectly safe to re-board. My wife and I looked at each other and I could sense hesitation in her expression. I winked at her and mouthed the words; “everything’s going to be fine.” I got a half smile out of her as an Amtrak staff member apologized to everyone for everything from the inconvenience to the super long delay. In an orderly fashion, we headed back to the train the same way we left and found our seats. Fifteen minutes later the train gently rolled along the tracks, gradually picking up speed as the small town with all the awesome people faded away into the darkness.
I think it took most everyone a good half hour before they could let their guard down and totally relax from what we just went through and that included us too. But soon enough, everyone was yawning and falling asleep (again) trying to leave the past four hours, well . . . in the past! I’m not sure how long I had been asleep when I thought I felt the train jerk with a large thud and heard this awful metal on metal, unnatural screech. Was I dreaming? Was it a product of my imagination due to lack of sleep and stress? I felt the brakes of the train lock up quickly and it came to a dead, quiet, stop. So much for my imagination huh? “Jesus Christ . . . what now?” I shouted out in anger, startling my wife pretty badly . . .
Coming Soon Part 3
“When Will This Nightmare End?”
If you missed part 1, please chug along over to; https://jamesrsirois.com/memories-of-a-slamtrak-vacation-a-true-story/