We were quite a pair, silently waiting on the dusty train platform inthe late afternoon. Clutching our rolling suitcases, we were unable to speak over the loudscreeches and hisses of trains in Penn Station. There he was, my 80-year-old grandfather with hismassive shock of silvery hair and unruly eyebrows. Dressed in a plaid flannel shirt, which heinsisted on wearing with suspenders, he was a unique sight in the middle of New York City. Andthere I was, a teenage girl in my jeans and t-shirt, armed with an iPod, magazines, and a deck ofcards for playing solitaire. His aged but still clear blue eyes were taking in the scene as Iwondered how I was going to get through the next two days. Why did I ever agree to accompany mycranky grandpa on a train ride from New York to Georgia?
No one else would be the tokenchaperone since my grandfather refused to fly. In contrast, I love to fly since I want to get whereI’m going as quickly as possible. No matter what anyone told my grandfather about the comfortand safety of flying, he refused to book a flight, saying, “It’s not just the trip,it’s the adventure of getting there.”
With my first step onto the train, thejourney was already different from what I expected. The train was modern and filled witheclectic travelers. We settled into the club car, where we could sit at a roomy table and enjoyfood and drinks while watching the scenery pass. I had to admit that the rhythm of the train andthe comfortable environment wasn’t a bad way to see the scenery.
Instead of plugginginto my music, I became a willing audience and learned family history that I had never had the timeor patience to learn. My grandfather’s vivid childhood stories reflected growing up duringthe Depression with immigrant parents. With teary eyes, he told me that going to family events washard for him since my grandmother died. It always made him think about those who were no longerwith us, and for the first time I felt I understood him. Later that evening, as we traveled in thedarkness, he reached for my deck of cards and taught me how to play poker. I gained a newappreciation for our time together as I realized that chances like this would one day be gone.Riding the rails with my grandfather was much better than I had anticipated.
By the time wearrived in Atlanta the next evening, I realized my grandfather’s travel philosophy had somemerit. In this fast-paced world, we often miss important moments. There is immeasurable value inlistening to others who offer a piece of their history and experience, and can offer guidancehaving been on the “trip” of life before you. I may be more open to opportunities thanI previously was because living life isn’t just about the destination, it’s about thejourney.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.