I am sitting in the Amtrak station in Cleveland, Ohio. I just bought a brown sugar cinnamon Pop-Tart, and I almost bought a lemonade.
I met two very interesting people tonight. I sat down in the very back of the Pittsburgh Amtrak station to wait for my train. A while later a man sat a seat away from me and asked if they had called train 29 yet. I said it hadn’t been called yet.
Patrick had an unsuccessful undergraduate career where he studied philosophy and fell asleep in every class. He took evening classes, and every night before class his girlfriend would make him a delicious meal, so of course he would fall asleep.
I tell Patrick I am from Massachusetts, so he assumes I am from Boston or Cambridge. He has been to Boston once before, and he thinks it’s a nice area. It’s a funny story, apparently. Patrick’s neighbors were going through a rough time; one of the twin sisters got a divorce, and the twins and the mother needed to move from Pittsburgh to Boston. Patrick took time off from work to help them.
It took them 2.5 days to reach Boston, a trip that should have been no more than 12 hours. They made it some distance the first day and decided to stay in a hotel. The next day they made it to Connecticut and had to stay another night. One of the twins had epilepsy and the stress of the trip triggered seizures. To make it worse, the U-haul Patrick attached to the back of his car left him traveling at 50 miles per hour.
Patrick is an opera singer taking the Amtrak to Chicago for an audition. It has been a while since he's auditioned, so he is a little nervous. I tell him I am studying art. He says I must be psycho. His friend is in graduate school for psychology, but Patrick doesn’t think his friend is meant to be a psychiatrist. Patrick says everyone needs psychology because everyone has problems. But he never took any psychology courses because his undergraduate career was unsuccessful. So he went to graduate school to become a professional opera singer. Patrick says people act so fancy when they proclaim they are opera singers, but he thinks it’s no big deal. He asks me who my favorite painter is but doesn't seem to care about my answer, and then asks me what time period Seurat is from.
Patrick performed in a production of Midsummer’s Night Dream. It was a wonderful experience, but he resents his partner for not loosening up during the kiss scene. It was not like he stuck his tongue down her throat or grabbed her ass; although Patrick thinks maybe she wanted that. But it was still a wonderful experience.
Patrick is thinking about joining a production of Les Miserables. He almost tried out for Cirques Du Soleil – for the singing of course, not the crazy stuff. Sometimes, his voice is too overpowering. He needs to dye his hair brown to look young for auditions. He tells me he was an early greyer. He says that now he resembles Steve Martin, but I don’t see it.
I tell Patrick that I am visiting my boyfriend. He says that as long as my boyfriend treats me well, then all is well. Some of Patrick’s friends tell him that their significant others do not treat them well, and Patrick doesn’t understand why his friends don’t just fucking drop those losers.
Patrick wishes me a lovely weekend and we get on separate cars. I wish him good luck.
On the train I am assigned seat number 26. Seat number 25, the window seat, has some things on it. I prepare myself to meet someone. Eventually a very large man asks if he can sneak in. I get up and he takes a while sitting down. He asks where we are and I tell him Pittsburgh.
Steve points out that Pittsburgh is a big football city: his kind of place. When the conductor comes around and puts Cleveland above my seat, he teases me about changing football teams. I tell him that actually, I am from Massachusetts, so the Patriots are my team. Steve reminisces about how they stepped it up in the 90’s when they got that quarterback. No, it wasn’t Tom Brady; it was before that. I tell him my favorite Boston team would have to be the Celtics, but that it’s too bad they’re not looking good right now. He assures me that it’s ok, because they have a legacy. Steve’s mom is a huge Larry Bird fan. He thinks his next tattoo will be a Celtics shamrock, because he’s also Irish.
Steve has a cousin named Joni. He asks if I’m a bullshitter like her. He says I seem a little tamer; his cousin can bullshit an alligator.
Steve is traveling all the way to California: a 3.5-day trip. He is befriending the train. Steve is from California. He’s leaving a job as a caregiver for a stroke patient. I tell him about my mom being a hospice nurse. He says we’re just trying to be angels. Then he makes sure that he doesn't sound jaded, but that he was adopted. Steve wasn’t aborted, so he’s lucky.
Steve explains what clinical trials are and how they pay really good money. He’s going to do a bunch of clinical trials in California. One of the clinical trials he already did was for a topical cream. The topical cream is supposed to eat bacteria off skin so if someone comes into the ER without having showered in a while the topical cream would eat the bacteria away and then the doctors could take a scalpel and open the body up without chance of infection. Steve is an organ lender not an organ donor, whatever that means. The trials are usually for medications not yet FDA approved. Sometimes the trials are just for toothpaste.
Unfortunately, some caregivers are fucked-up people. Four out of the five patients Steve took care of had previously been scammed by their caregivers. One caregiver took a stroke patient’s diamond that her husband had given to her that his dad had dug up from a mine. Steve hunted down this family and found out they are connected to meth dealing. Steve thinks that people should not try to do good things if they have bad in them. His parents are prison guards and his brother is a cyclist. They are good people and trustworthy. That’s why Steve gets jobs as a caregiver. But nothing lasts too long. Except for the symptoms of a stroke patient, those will last for the rest of your life.
Steve had been living in a homeless shelter for a few days before he left for California. He told them he was a distressed employee who had been scammed. His employers had flown him out to be a caregiver for their son, a stroke patient. They told Steve he would be working full-time, but when he arrived, they told him he would only be working 2 days a week. So Steve could only last 5 weeks.
The homeless center touched Steve’s heart. He volunteered every day he was there. But he had to leave early because the mold was starting to make people sick. One day when he was scrubbing a toilet he pushed the toilet a little and it exposed a hole in the ground, which apparently had been letting out toxic fumes.
While away from California Steve also helped a company build the world’s third largest toy. It was a giant sculpture made out of a ton of toys, sort of like Legos. It was massive – 60 feet tall. They made it into the Guinness Book of World Records. I get to see pictures on Steve's phone.
Steve met his biological mother in Madison, Wisconsin, about a year ago. He went to see her on her birthday to honor her. Steve’s childhood parents worked in one of the nation’s largest and most heavily guarded prisons.
Steve eventually falls asleep and begins to snore. I make it to Cleveland and am now suffering through an almost 3-hour delay with nothing but my MacBook and a brown sugar cinnamon Pop-Tart to keep me company. I don’t like Cleveland. Patrick and Steve are ok, though.