Two strangers on a train from New York Penn Station heading to somewhere in New Jersey. He is a man in his 40s and she is a woman in her 50s.
She is an executive at an investment bank, he is a sports writer for the New York Daily News.
Both are married to others and both are in a laborious funk caused by life’s middling crises.
He is wearing jeans and a button down shirt; she is wearing a white blouse and a light brown skirt. He looks his age while she looks to be in her late 30’s early 40’s.
They are both seem to be deep in thought – he thinks maybe she is checking him out.
He feels a connection to this lady, maybe it’s lust or…no it’s probably lust. He smiles at her but draws a blank response.
She is concerned that she is late for her dinner date with her daughter, yet she is right on time. She hasn’t even noticed any other person around her but feels a strange vibe from the dude sitting next to her.
She is thinking about her job – she knows that it has run its course and that her termination will be towards the end of August. She is anxious and concerned about her next opportunities, if there are any.
He is also thinking about his job and is sure that a big layoff is coming. He is hoping to latch on with “The Athletic” or another online sports site. He has also been contemplating doing a podcast but there are so many already; “Does the world need another one?”
The train rolls into Newark and they both adjust their seats.
He smiles at her and she smiles cautiously back.
“I’ve seen you before.” He says.
“That sounds creepy.” She says, half smiling.
“I didn’t mean it that way. I meant I have seen you before, today you seem sad.”
“I am not sad. Please don’t try to read my mind. We know nothing about each other.”
“I am sorry. You are a hundred percent right, I must be projecting my mood unto you “
After several minutes she glanced in his direction and asked him what the problem was that was bringing him down.
“I work for the Daily News, I am a sports columnist. A bunch of us are going to be laid off and it’s a very wintery feeling.”
“Ok well you found the right person to project on. Maybe I projected on you as well. I am in the same boat only I work at an investment firm.”
“No need, I was growing tired of the business – sometimes I felt like the grandmother of the place. All these young kids acting as if they invented the business. The Don Draper wannabes drinking and talking down to each other – the young girls with their tough attitude, holding in their smiles and keeping to themselves. I am tired.”
“Yeah me too. I am tired.”
With that they each closed their eyes and fall into a sleep.
Waking up to the conductor announcing “Middletown.” Her head is on his shoulder and he doesn’t dare move. His phone vibrates and she is startled awake.
“Oh, I am sorry, I don’t even remember falling asleep.”
“No problem – I think we both just fell at the same time.”
“What is your name?”
“Billy, Billy Hendrick.”
“I am Joanna Kingman.” They each smiled.
As the train passed by the highways and small towns of New Jersey – they spoke and got to know each other. They were each going through some tough times in their lives. Her daughter was about to be married but she was having second thoughts. Apparently her fiance drank too much and when he did, an angrier uglier side of him was revealed.
“That’s a lot of luggage to bring into a marriage.”
“As if it’s not tough as it is.” She said.
“What are you going to tell her?”
“I am going to tell her to make a decision based on what she feels. If she is scared at any time when she is with him – that is a bad thing. Couples should feel safe when they are together.”
“So why don’t you just tell her not to marry him?”
“Because it’s her decision to make. If I tell her to do something it’s my decision. She needs to understand that whatever direction she is going to choose in life, she has to own it.”
“I like that.”
“Do you have kids?”
“Yes I have three young boys. 11, 9 and 6.”
“I have two boys also – they are easy – she is a tough one. I think she takes after me too much.”
“Sometimes we see each other in our children and it upsets us because we are frightened they will make the same mistakes as we did. I guess it’s all about faith in them.”
“Or faith in ourselves. If we prepare the kids the right way – then they will be ready for the challenges of life.”
“Right, but who says we, as parents are prepared? I know I make a lot of the shit up as I go along.”
“Humans raised by humans.”
“Next stop Red Bank”
“That’s me. Well, you started off creepy but you ended up being a nice man. Good luck with your job and your kids.”
“You too and good luck with your daughter – I hope everything works out for her.”
“Yeah well, a lot of things are not in our control but some things are. We just need to be able to see clearly in order to make the right choices.”
“You should be a advice columnist.” They both laughed.
The train stopped and she walked off. The train pulled out of the station and he rested his head against his right hand. He let out a breath and shook his head. As the train raced towards his stop at Little Silver he looked out the window and thought about his family and smiled. He knew that his career was on a path where change was the only option for him. He had once thought that being a sports columnist was his destiny – he loved it. He loved sports and loved the challenge for spontaneous reporting based on whatever happened in whichever sport he was covering at the moment. He loved working in the biggest sports city in the world and actually being paid to write about it all. But this was not his destiny. His destiny was being a father to his family and earning an income to provide them with their needs.
He already had been approached by a family member about working for her business. It was hard for him to accept the fact that he needed to leave his job and start a “real life” job. But whatever was needed he was willing to do. Like Joanna said, “a lot of things are not in our control but some things are. We just need to be able to see clearly in order to make the right choices.”
He was squinting but knew that he was seeing clearly all the same.
He stood up and exited the train and watched as it rolled away from the station towards it’s next stop.