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  • Alexandra Hillenbrand

A Day From Hell

I went to the City this weekend for my friends 21st birthday and stayed overnight in my friend's apartment. My entire family had already gone to the lake for vacation and so I had planned to meet them by taking a train from Penn Station into Albany. It would be easy and painless, I had assured them. Even an idiot could do it, right? I woke up early to get ready for my 11:40 train, or as early as10 o'clock can be considered. I said quick goodbyes to all of my friends before I left and by 10:40, I was out the door and walking to the subway platform. It was pouring rain, by the way, but I honestly love walking in the rain so I felt at peace. Very main character.

The subway confuses me sometimes, especially when I have to transfer from one line to the other. But, I had so much time that it didn't seem to matter to me. I putzed around and called my dad when I got confused between the F and the A. At the time, I didn't understand why he was yelling at me to hustle. "You really need to move it, Alex" he told me. Based on the tone of his voice, I opened my Amtrak app to double check my train ticket. It couldn't be, could it? My train was scheduled to depart at 11:20, not 11:40. I was royally screwed. It was 11:17 and I was still 8 minutes away from Penn Station. I audibly cursed to myself where I was standing in that subway car. "I'm so screwed" I muttered to myself. In classic New York fashion not a single person glanced in my direction.

It was 11:23 when the subway doors finally opened, and I flew right through them with my khaki green backpack on and black carry on bag thrown hastily over my shoulder, practically hanging around my neck. I was running at top speed, the previous night's chub rub the least of my worries. When I reached Moynihan Hall, I checked the boards. By the grace of God, there was an 11:20 train that was on Stand-by. I let out a cry of relief that once again fazed no one around me. The line to board the train started to form and to be safe, I showed the conductor my ticket. "Is this the correct train?" I asked, still slightly breathless from my run. He nodded yes as disinterestedly as possible and I walked on the train with external relief.

When I got on the train, I noticed that everyone had an assigned seat. That was my first red flag, since my ticket just read "coach class", and there was no coach class anywhere to be found. Seems worrisome? Well, just you wait. I call my dad frantically. "I think I'm on the wrong train", I say through panicked gasps of air, "should the next stop be Newark or am I going in the opposite direction".

"Shit," he says, "Newark is the opposite way from Albany". I'm terrible at directions, I always have lacked a singular bone in my body that can tell north from south, east from west, up from down. By the time he confirmed that I was on the wrong train, I am fully sobbing. I have to hang up because now I need to figure out where I'm getting off and how on earth I am going to get to Albany. Additionally, I'm so concerned over how I managed to completely complicate and mess up what was supposed to be a seamless ride.

Awkwardly, a woman was in the same vestibule as me, watching me cry. I looked up at her, and she offered to help me find a conductor. I nod, and cry out "so sorry, this is super embarrassing," but she nodded like she understood. She's either a mom or she's a trained mental health professional. Either way, she has seen a menty b (mental breakdown) before.

We roll up to the cafe car where there are three Amtrak workers sitting. One was a young dude with floppy brown hair and glasses, the other a slightly older guy with a ponytail, and the third a woman with two braids. I walk up to the youngest one. At this point, I have pulled myself together. I hand him my phone and quietly ask, "is this the right train?". Some part of me is hoping that he's about to look at me and be like "duh, this is totally the right train, don't be silly!". Instead, he looks at me and goes, "shoooooooottttt, yeah you're on the wrong train". He did like what I can only describe as a lopsided smile as he watched me begin to have my joker moment.

I immediately start crying. The other two conductors look at me, look at each other, and then look at glasses guy. He explains to them, "she's on the wrong train". All I can muster at this point is, "I'm sorry I know this is an incredibly dramatic response" and force myself to laugh even though there are tears actively streaming down my face. When I tell you these were the nicest people ever, I'm not exaggerating. They told me it was going to be okay, transferred my ticket to the next train out of Penn Station, offered me water, and let me sit with them until we got to Newark Penn Station.

It was comical, really, because I am usually not this inept. The day before I was navigating the subways like I was a native New Yorker (with the help of the Maps app of course). I handed the one conductor my ID so that he could transfer my ticket. I think I saw him physically gasp when he looked at my date of birth and realized I was not at all a minor, but a 22 year old woman literally from New Jersey, the next state over. Aka, I should have known how to navigate NJ Transit at this old and "wise" age.

After 15 minutes of me pulling myself together, we arrived at Newark, and they literally escorted me off of the train and explained to me which train I needed to get on. I nodded and thanked them for everything and then promptly ran away from them and the fact that they had just seen me through a very vulnerable moment. Very importantly, when I saw that had 11 minutes until the next train into Penn station, I got myself a Dunkin iced coffee. I was too anxious to drink it, already experiencing heart palpitations from my previous moments of disaster. Still, the familiar beverage was comforting to hold, and the ice cold sensation was bringing me back to reality in my post-panic state.

It was raining outside of Penn Station, but it perfectly blended out my tear-stained face and soothed my soul. I was listening to "Welcome to New York" by Taylor Swift and I finally felt some sense of ease returning to me. I got myself an everything bagel with scallion cream cheese and walked around Moynihan Hall for the 2 hours I had until my actual train. There was no chance in Hell that I was missing my train again. At that point I might have thrown myself onto the train tracks because my parents might have killed me.

I finally boarded the train with a water and an iced matcha that tasted like dirt. It was a sold out train so I had to ask a random dude if I could sit next to them, but that was my karma for how badly I had screwed up that day. My phone was on 10%, so I had to disassociate and stare into space for the entire 2 and a half hour ride. I also succumbed to sleep, and mouth-breathed in my chair for at least a half an hour.

When I woke up from my nap, I felt way less anxious. I grew the courage to ask my seat partner if he could plug my phone in for me. I don't think I have ever felt more relieved to see someone than I did when I saw my dad waiting for me at Albany station. I was never more ready in my life to be somewhere than I was to get to the lake.

The entire day was a result of my terribly memory and personal mistakes. I should have written down the time that my train departed, especially knowing that my forgetfulness is my greatest flaw. I did, however, succeed in getting myself back on track. I was entirely alone. You know what? I could have given up in my panicked state and taken the train back to my hometown and just never joined my family on vacation. I could have paid for an expensive uber to drive me to Lake George (I would have used what was left of my grad money and last WA check). But, I made it work, acknowledged my mistakes, and let myself laugh about it eventually. At the end of the day, the only person who suffered was myself and those Amtrak conductors who had to hear me cry for 15 minutes.

Anyway, if you heard me curse on the subway, saw me laugh to myself in Penn Station, watched me cry on the Acela to Washington, or saw me open-mouth sleep on the train to Albany, I hope I was at the very least a source of entertainment for you. Not to mention, my shorts were on backwards for the entire day. Hey, just be glad it wasn't you!

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