Scaring Children and Discovering Witches: Excerpts from a recent journey

Travelogue: Galesburg, IL

I never have a book to leave on the “Leave One – Take One” shelf at the train station. If I did, I wouldn’t be perusing the shelf in the first place. I don’t know why I bother. Though the books are different every time, the themes are not. I scan the shelves thoroughly, however, knowing that hidden amongst the thin paperback romances, the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, and books about the Christian God, there will be a hidden gem somewhere. Last time I was here that gem took the guise of a large print novel about a modern retelling of the Arabian Nights. I don’t read large print normally, but my no line bifocals are proof that I should probably start. This time, the book I take off the shelf is a memoir written by a local man I’ve never heard of who uses words to paint a sepia photograph of Illinois in the 1950s. I wasn’t born yet, so I have no choice but to believe him. I still have another two hours to wait until the Southwest Chief comes in from Chicago.

Travelogue: Amtrak train, somewhere in the middle of Northern Missouri

Across from me in my lower-level seat sits a man about my age and an older woman. I take them for a couple, though an odd one. I learn they are snowbirds and that he has a bad back and that he used to work for BNSF and has a radio in his bag that lets him know everything that’s going on with the trains. He knows everything about the trains, just listen to him, he’ll tell you. She uses a lot of “we” statements, solidifying my assumption they are a couple. Later, just before he falls into a medicated, blissful sleep on the outskirts of Kansas City, I learn she’s his mother.

Travelogue: Oklahoma City

The last part of my trip is on an Amtrak charter bus, with seats smaller than a child’s booster seat. I say the f word in front of three young children and their parents as I’m trying to put my backpack on in the narrow aisle. I feel guilty for a second before I realize they’re in public and bound to hear things. Besides, I haven’t pissed since Newton KS, which was 3 ½ hours ago, because the driver didn’t see fit to tell us there wasn’t a bathroom on board. So, I’m in a hurry. I head into the station, forgetting where the bathrooms are, finally finding them down a rabbit hole. When I’m finished, I stand in the middle of the room dripping and annoyed. That is, until a frightened child, a different one, silently points to the dryer on the wall before she leaves the room.

I walk to my hotel, which is just around the corner from the station, tired, bedraggled, annoyed, hungry, and not feeling so fresh. The man behind the counter says he’s not sure if he can get me into my room before 3pm. It’s eight in the morning. I say to him, “Sir, I have been traveling over twenty hours, I’m tired, hungry, and I need a shower. What can you do for me?” Turns out he can get me into a different room, this one with two queens instead of one king for the same price. I say, “Book it,” and hand him my credit card. He hands it back a moment later with my room keys and three cards for free breakfast in their dining room.

Travelogue: Galesburg, IL

My layover at the Galesburg train station is much shorter this time, only an hour. Out of boredom I peruse the bookshelf again. Some new ones have been added. Among them, three Time Life picture books about magical beasts and legends, as well as two books on witchcraft. Quite different than what is normally there. I retrieve the memoir from my bag that I never got around to reading while in Oklahoma City, finding Golden Girls reruns and a Pawn Stars marathon more enticing. I put back the book I had taken before and pick up the Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft. It looks interesting. Something might come from it.