Friday, April 3, 2009

Chapter 3: Rip Van Smith

I was beginning to worry about Margaret.
It was mid-afternoon on Thursday and the stifling heat was beginning to take its toll on all of the passengers, especially Margaret.
“You don’t look so good,’’ I said to her. It must be better than 90 degrees now and riding in a poorly-ventilated railroad passenger car offered no respite from the heat. The little top windows were open, but the air that entered the car was no comfort, a stale hot breeze, like what you get when you turn a blow-dryer on high.
“Maybe you should go lie down for a while,‘’ I suggested.
“Margaret nodded. “It’s just so very hot,’’ she said. “What I wouldn’t give for a cool bath. I’d be fine if I could just get cool.’’
‘Come,’’ Sarah said, rising abruptly from her seat. “We’ll go the observation car. Perhaps we’ll get a little breeze.’’
Margaret rose unsteadily to her feet, smoothed her dress and leaned on her mother as the women left the car.
Doc and I sat silently for a few minutes, staring vacantly across the farmland that dominates the Ohio landscape.
“How long till we get to Chicago?’’ I asked.
“Probably another 12, 14 hours,’’ Doc said. “The schedule says we’ll be there by 6 in the morning.’’
“Tomorrow morning, huh? We’ll, we’ve got some time on your hands then…I wonder if this train has a bar car.’’
Doc gave me a strange look. In fact, he often looked at me with a puzzled expression.
He laughed,.
“A bar car, huh? ‘’ he said. “Well, that would be a nice treat indeed.’’
“What’s so funny? Trains usually have bar cars don't they?’’
“Not in the last 10 years, they haven’t,’’ he said.
“Oh yeah,’’ I said. “Prohibition. When does Prohibition end? I can’t remember.’’
Doc laughed again.
“I love how you are always seeing the future in past tense,’’ he said. “Very interesting.’’
We sat quietly for an hour.
“I think I’ll go to the wash room,’’ I said, excusing myself.
And it was there that I made a unsettling discovery: I didn’t have a wallet.
As I was contemplating that disturbing fact, I surveyed myself in the wash room’s small mirror and I had to chuckle. There I was in a light gray seer-sucker suit, a stray hat - the kind guys in a barbershop quartet wear, I thought - pushed down firmly on my head.
“Who am I?’’ I asked the mirror. “How did this happen? What the hell am I gonna do?’’
It was as if I had gone to sleep and woke up and the time had backed up a couple of generations, as if I were Rip Van Winkle in reverse.
All I knew is I’m on the train with Doc, Sarah and Margaret. They seemed to know me quite well. Somehow, I was their guest. Am I a relative, maybe? I couldn’t say.
When the train stopped in Washington, the Doc and I left the train to get a cup of coffee and a newspaper, the women deciding to stay on the train during its short stop. The Doc bought a copy of the Washington Post from a newsboy at the station - for a nickel.
In the diner, Doc pushed the paper over to me.
The news I was looking for was found near the masthead - Aug. 7, 1930.
“Is this a joke?’’ I said aloud.
“How’s that?’’’ Doc said.
“Is this the right date?’’
Doc peered over from his side of the small table.
“Yes. It is August 7.’’
"I'll be damned,'' I muttered.
So there I was, standing in the wash room of a train heading to Chicago, taking a quick personal inventory. Let’s see: One suit, one sweat-stained cotton shirt, shoes, a ridiculous carnival barker’s hat. No wallet. No money. No ID. I didn’t even seem to have a train ticket. What if the porter comes around asking for tickets? And if I don't get thrown off the train, what happens when we get to Chicago?
I went back to the passenger car pondering these questions.
Doc was still staring out the window.
“Uh, Doc?’’
“Well, I’m sorta in a tight spot here,’’ I said sheepishly. “I can’t seem to find my wallet. I’m afraid it’s lost, which means I'm broke.’’
Doc did not seem at all distressed with this news.
“Not to worry,’’ he said. “It’s not as though you’ll need any money, but if you should, I have funds available. Just let me know.’’
“I can’t accept that,’’ I protested.
But Doc just waved off my protests.
“It’s all taken care of,’’ he said. “Part of the arrangement.’’
“Yes,’’ Doc said. “After all, you are my patient. You are going to make me famous, I suspect.’’
I didn't have an answer for that.
Journal Entry:
Arrived in Chicago early Friday morning, Aug. 8th. Registered at “The Sherman House.’’ Had nice cleansing and refreshing baths. Entirely too hot to take any sight-seeing trips so as Margaret was ill from the heat that she spent the day in bed.

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