2008-11-02

Day 2 of Nablopomo/Nanowrimo!

The Train Depot Makes A Great Afterschool Hangout

After school most kids hang out with their friends at their houses or their friends’ houses, or at after school clubs, or wherever. But I hang out at the train depot.
The Palatine train depot is a grungy place. Other towns around us have turned their own train depots into centers of the communities, with beautiful architecture and fancy coffee shops, giant fountains, and big, old-fashioned clock towers. The Palatine train depot, though, is just the way it was back in the seventies. Housed in a nearly abandoned strip mall on the outskirts of downtown, it’s a boxy room surrounded by greasy, graffitti-streaked windows. You have to pay a dime to go to the bathroom there. I am not sure who is making money off of that!
It’s a dismal place, but I like it. I come here every day after school. I sit on the stairs and read library books or do my homework. I watch everything and everyone, like a fly on the wall. Hiding behind a book, I can people-watch forever!
There are basically four kinds of people that can be found in the train depot. In the mornings and evenings, the place fills up with well-dressed commuters, who go back and forth from the city for work. They move quickly and have their schedules timed perfectly so that they don’t have to waste too many moments sitting around the depot. When they do have to wait a while for their trains, they sit gingerly on the hard orange fiberglass chairs and don’t make eye contact.
There are some people who only ride the trains for special occasions, like to go shopping downtown. They’re even more well-dressed than the commuters. They usually arrive in groups, showing up early and chatting loudly with their friends. Taking the train is a big event for them, just as exciting as wherever it is they’re going to.
There are a lot of people who ride the train because they don’t have cars, or don’t even have driver’s licenses. These are mostly guys, blue collar men who wear work clothes or jeans and T-shirts. Usually they’re not even taking the train all the way into the city, but only going to one of the neighboring town sa few stops away, to hang out with friends, go to appointments, or get to work. These guys, if they come through the train station enough to get used to seeing me there, are friendlier than any of the other train riders. These guys will say “hi” to me as they pass me, even bringing me sodas sometimes. If you ever need change for the payphone or a dollar for some food, thee guys are the ones to ask. They have change jingling in their pockets, and they’ll give it to you, feeling good about being just a little better off than you.
Then there are the people who hang out in the train station all day long,w ithout ever going anywhere. They just hang out, hiding beers and bottles of vodka in bags or under jackets when the commuters are around, smoking cigarettes even though the sign on the wall says not to. They’re there because they’re homeless, and the train depot is one of the few places around that they probably won’t get kicked out of.
Its them that I watch and listen to the most. The older woman with the big collie dog, who always has snacks in her bag that she hands out to the others. The man who looks just like Santa Claus, except in a dirty overcoat and work boots. The younger guys who alternately joke and fight with each other. And the occasional random crazy person who rants and raves about nothing in particular.
Of all the people around the train depot, it is the homeless people who I probably would be grouped in with… the misfits with no place to go. It doesn’t occur to me to be sad about the idea that I have to go to the people among the lowest ranks of society in order to feel like I belong.

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