I was reading “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson on the train Friday night, on my way up to Erik’s house for the weekend, when I overheard their conversation. It came in bits and pieces at first, because I didn’t want to be accused of eavesdropping. But I heard a man say something about which places this particular train was stopping at, and I heard a woman respond with more questions. I tried to focus on my book. Their plans were none of my business.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the man unfold a train schedule. He said something about New York. The woman asked something about those being the only places it stopped. The man, who was sitting across from her, didn’t seem to have a clear idea of how to answer her questions.
“This is an express train,” I said. I told her the names of the towns it stops at. She looked nervous. “Where are you going?” She told me the name of the town. “Yeah, we’ve already passed that.”
The woman’s face looked grim. The man, who was examining the schedule, said something about trains coming back. I offered to look up the schedule on my iPhone. I logged into NJTransit.com and looked up the train schedule going back to her town later that night. It wouldn’t arrive until 10 pm. The woman gasped, “Oh no…”
I asked her if she had someone who could pick her up. She said she didn’t, and that she was supposed to drive home to Maryland that night, which is about a four hour drive from northern New Jersey.
I thought about what other options there were. There was discussion about taking a bus, but the website didn’t show any bus stations in New York, only New Jersey. There was another train line that was about 5 miles west from the train line we were on. I told her that I could take her there. I looked up the schedule.
“There is a 7:25 p.m. train there that will take you back to Secaucus, then you can get on another train. It will get you back a little after 8:30,” I said. The woman weighed her options. I could tell she was concerned. “Do you want me to take you?” The woman said yes, resigned to the fact that she would be leaving so much later than she wanted. The man said it made the most sense, that at least she would be on a train where it was warm. I told her about a time, during my first winter in New Jersey, when I got on a train that skipped my stop as well. I ended up waiting in the dark on a snowy night for an hour until the next train came.
But as we talked, I had this horrible pit in my stomach. You should take her home, a little voice said. Her town was barely half an hour away from the train station stop by car. It didn’t make sense to drive her fifteen minutes to another train station just to make her spend 80 minutes on a train. It made even less sense to have her stay at the first train station, waiting over 2 hours for the next train to come. The only plans Erik and I had were to go home and eat boxed Indian food from Trader Joe’s.
So I made a phone call. I called up Erik and I said, “Can I ask a favor?” I told him about the woman on the train and how she got on the wrong train and needed a ride home so she could drive to Maryland that night.
“Sure,” he said.
I told the woman that if it was okay with her, my boyfriend and I would drive her home. The woman was so stunned, so shocked that I thought she might cry on the train. She said, “Are you sure?” and then thanked me. When we reached the train station, we stood on the platform while we waited for Erik to arrive.
“My name is Alison,” the woman introduced herself. I tried not laugh.
“Me too,” I said. She laughed. We compared spellings, which is how I discovered she spelled it with one L.
The drive down was easy. There was no traffic, so we managed to make it in record time. The woman gave me her business card, and I gave her one of mine. She told me she wanted to send us something to say thank you, but I told her it wasn’t necessary and that we were happy to do it.
We waved good-bye and drove off, our mission accomplished.
I told Erik how good I felt that we had done that. I told him how when I was sitting there on the train I thought that I would feel so guilty if I didn’t do something. There was nothing stopping me from helping this woman and driving her home. The only reason not to help her was if I didn’t want to, and that’s not really a reason.
There are so many times that I have not helped someone merely because I didn’t want to. Not because I couldn’t, not because I didn’t have time or money. I just didn’t want to. That isn’t a reason. That’s an excuse. I’m not going to be perfect at doing this each time, and there may be another time in the future where I really will have something that I need to take care of or do or someone else who is dependent on me. That’s okay. But I think we should all remember that when we are faced with a situation, to really think about what are options are regarding what we can do and what we can say. If you can help, please help.
Erik and I decided to ditch the idea of having Indian food after all. So we went to Chevy’s at the mall. Guess what our waiter’s name was?
My boyfriend, Erik, and I (Allison, in case you forgot my name) met only two people Friday night. Their names? Alison and Eric. Same names, different spellings.
HOW FREAKING WEIRD CAN YOU GET?