"There are things we all do in our lives that afterward we ask ourselves again and again and again, Why? What was I thinking of? What did I imagine would happen? How could I do it, to him and to me? I invent, I elaborate reasons, but the fact of stupidity remains. Stupidity is a great mystery to me, how I can sometimes do something so counter to reason and evidence that it amazes me when I have a little distance from it." Marge Piercy, Sleeping with Cats
So, there was the last great adventure before hitting home and resuming daily life. I was going home and even though I had so many good memories of that trip and had been successful in pretty much everything, I had still a day to go.
I was very excited because I could have bought a flight down and instead, I wanted to take advantage of the fact I was in a different country and wanted to see the people, the landscape, I wanted to go slower and really feel what being 3000 feet above the ground would not permit me to see.
So I woke up early and had a long shower to help me through the day. I was sure there were no showers in the train, so how would I take a shower later? Heraldo had showed me where the fruit and cereal were and told me I should eat whatever I wanted. After I left their house, I went to a convenience store and bought some snacks for the trip. People had warned me that train food was expensive and horrible. Cookies would not be enough to go through the 24 hours but they were a good start. When I checked the watch, I was running a bit late. I calculated and started running to get the subway and was counting down each station. It took me half an hour to get to South Station. I had about 5 minutes to get on the train. Where is it? Let's ask at the ticket counter. "Your train left 5 minutes ago." Shock. "Excuse me, it says here 11:45 and now..." Rolled eyes. "It's 11:45 from Back Bay, not South station". "Do you mean I came 10 subways stations instead of 4, and I missed the train because I didn't realize there were two train stations in the city?!" She smiled, feeling protected by the thick glass. "Well, does that mean I lost the 130.00 I paid to get to Florida?" She checked the computer. "I can put you in another train for you to get to New York. Instead of having 2:30 hours to connect, you are going to have half an hour. It's risky, you have to pray that this one to NY does not get any delays." What-else-can-I-do face. "How much is is?" "118.00" What? I paid 130 to get from Boston to Florida, crossing the country and I would have to spend almost the same amount of money. To get to NY? "OK, let's do it.
So, I would have to be very quick in New York. I had to wait for 40 minutes more or less to get on. A gentleman in a suit sat by my side and I got the window seat. I would try to be calm, I had already freaked out on Facebook, but if I had woken up earlier, if I had taken a faster shower or none at all... Anyway, no use crying over spilt milk.
I tried to have some fun taking pictures of the landscape, after all, that was one of the reasons I had wanted to go by land. To see it, to interact with it. I loved the fact I had a plug on my seat. I was on my cellphone almost all trip long. Especially when it was night and I could barely see a thing outside. I was not talking on the phone. I was just playing my version of Angry Birds. I was playing my game. But the first part of the trip was more to observe and be delighted by nature.
There was no delay getting to New York. I would really have the half an hour to... buy some food and see New York. I got my bags and ran around the station, looking for two things, where I could buy food to take away and where the exit was. I found both but decided to go outside. I was chatting to a friend and he said: "You are going to be in New York and not see New York? Are you stupid?" Don't answer that. Had he known then what was yet to come. So, I went to the sidewalk and was overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of people walking, driving, talking on their phones. I got my camera, took these two photos and got back into Penn station. I had 15 minutes and counting.
I went to a KFC and got some chicken salad and some other chicken stuff, left without the soda I was sure was included in the combo and spotted the line I should be in. Of course I confirmed twice as I wouldn't afford to be in the wrong line and missing the other train. I had apparently learned the lesson and it was with relief the guy checked my passport and ticket and wrote a Jacksonville tag, placing it on my seat plate and I was ready to get some more of what the US could give me. I saw Philadelphia, and was surprised when I got to DC. I had no idea we would go West instead of going directly South, along the coast. I was always keeping track of where I was with my GPS.
I had lunch and dinner and the guy who was sitting next to me and I did not exchange a word. Well, I didn't insist much but I overhead most of the conversation the old lady and the guy were having just behind me. Good stories they were.
As the night fell, we had already crossed Maryland and Virginia. I remember we stopped at a station in Richmond. Then, in North Carolina we went through Fayetteville, but it was too dark for me to see anything. When it was about 2am I decided it was time to start sleeping. I had already got used to sleeping sitting on buses and now on the train. Most of the people in my wagon were sleeping. So, I managed to fall asleep and didn't see or heard anything during the South Carolina part of the trip. When I woke up the sun was rising. I checked and we were already in Georgia.
The Georgia part was pretty much forest and trees. There was no phone or internet signal, so the GPS was not working and neither was my game. I watched the trees go by and I guess I started reading one of the books I had taken to the trip.
About 9am we arrived in Jacksonville and I got off the train. I was tired and had slept only few hours. I wanted to get home soon. But there was still a lot to go through.
The thing is, I had not planned what to do in this part of the trip. Somehow I had imagined I would get off the train and be magically transported from Jacksonville to Gainesville. They were neighboring cities anyway, how difficult would it be to get a bus and get home? Trying to be independent, and in one of the most stupid movements, I saw no information desk, so I walked off the station without asking for information on where to find a bus station. I opened the map on my phone, and decided to walk in one direction until I reached downtown or a station.
I got to a very large and busy avenue, more similar to a highway. I walked and walked and decided I should try hitchhiking. I put my thumb up, my bag down and waited and waited. I was scared and excited. It was the first time I was doing that in my life. No one seemed to care, maybe it was the part of the road. Cars were passing by so fast, they had no way to stop. So I started walking back to the station but I didn't want to look like a loser, so every twenty steps I would put my thumb up, hoping someone would pull over and tell me to hop in.
When I was almost getting back to the station, a guy started shouting to me. He ran a little and caught up and asked me what was going on. I told him I was trying to get a ride home and he asked me where home was. I said I lived in Gainesville.
He said he and his wife could take me to Gainesville and I thought the idea of hitchhiking had been accomplished. Someone had paid attention and soon I would be home. He took me to a motel near the station and I met his big wife there. The room was dark and he started talking about the police and if I had a debit card and if I had it they would be able to take me. I gave him some money for gas and he said they could not leave the city if I didn't have 100 dollars because apparently, if the police stopped us on the road, they would need to have that money to give the cops. When he started talking like this, I should have run but all I did was to think his story made sense. He took me to the car. It was a sketchy van, without windows on the back part, where he made me sit on a tire. There were suitcases and clothes and things scattered all over the floor. I saw some red spots. Was that blood?
Again, where did I get the courage or the lack of self-preservation to enter that weird van? Didn't I remember the urban legends from childhood of clowns taking kids and stealing their organs in the black market?
They took me to an ATM and I gave them the money. I said I wanted to keep it with me, but they said the cops would think it strange that someone on the back was giving the money and would ask me questions and I was not from the US. Bullshit, but I had stopped thinking by then. I gave them the money and now we could go to Gainesville and in case no police stopped us, they would give me the money back.
So he was driving and they started arguing. The woman gave him half of the money and kept the other half to herself, and I thought that was strange. Then he started driving around the city, he would park and leave the car for 20 minutes or more, and come back. Red eyes and weird breathing. He was burning the money on drugs. Meanwhile I was giving the woman some advice on how to strengthen her self-esteem.
I started getting cranky because my body was sore and I wanted to get home. It was more than midday. I started yelling at them. He said he was not taking me to Gainesville, I started shouting I wanted my money back. He gave me 20 dollars back. I was on the verge of crying and hitting him, and started saying I would have no way to get home because that money was all I had.
The left me at the train station. I was so angry and confused, tired. I called 911 and a cop came and I told him my story. He must have thought I was retarded for having kept on going even when it was clear that it was a scam. How could a person be so naive? Even the woman, in one of the conversations we held told me that. People want to hurt you, beware.
I asked about a way to get to Gainesville. I had to take a bus to go downtown. There was a Greyhound bus station. I got there about 2pm. When I asked the attendant for a ticket to Gainesville, she looked at me as if I had called her the worst names possible and said there were no more buses to Gainesville. In fact, there hadn't been that day, maybe the morning one would, but she was not sure.
So I sat on a bench and started thinking, for a change. I was 100 miles away from home. How many hours does it take to walk 100 miles? Google has it, 18 hours without stops. I was not ready for that. There were no alternatives online. So I despaired and started texting my friends in Gainesville who had cars and were available to come and pick me up. I would pay for the gas. No one could. Some were out of town. I felt I wanted to lie down and forget I existed. So, some suggestions came. I took one of them: I could go to the airport and get a shuttle to Gainesville. I walked from the bus station to a city bus terminal. Waited for 30 minutes for a bus to the airport. Got to the airport after another 20 minutes riding. I could try renting a car, it might be cheaper than the shuttle, but I was not emotionally prepared, tired and all, to drive.
So, I talked to the girl and she said the shuttle would be 144.00. I got angry, especially at myself. I should have predicted that. I felt I would have to buy nothing for the next months to compensate for my stupidity. It had been an expensive misadventure. About 6 pm, I got to my house, almost 8 hours later than I would have if I had thought ahead.
And feeling like a piece of trash (let's be euphemistic), I took a shower and went to bed. I promised myself I would never travel again.