Today was a “Guess what happened to me on the train today” day. Citydwellers know what I’m talking about.
I got on the Red Line train around noon and took it north. I had an errand to run: Daniela, a preternaturally talented esthetician finally cleared up my skin last winter and I had to pick up a bottle of her witches’ brew. (If I found out that stuff is made from the tears of baby seals I’m not entirely sure I would stop using it, that’s how effective it is and how grateful I am to this woman.)*
After transferring to the Brown Line, I got off at Montrose. When I was at the stairs to go down to the street, a man stopped me. He was with his family: wife, toddler, and baby, this last in a ginormous stroller. No one in the group spoke English. Zero. I think “Okay” was the one word he got out and “Okay” is a word that exists in 90% of languages on Earth. They might also have been on the mute side because all of them were clearly spooked and sad. They were lost.
The father offered me, astonishment of astonishments: a printout from Google Maps. I smiled and nodded and took a look. They were nowhere near where they needed to be. They’d have to go back south on the Brown, transfer to the Red, then head back north. The mistake had taken them at least 30 minutes and would cost them another 40, depending on train times. As I looked at the sheet of directions, I shook my head in wonder. The numbers, the stops, the directions, the names of the El train lines — I know them backwards and forwards because I speak English and I’ve lived here, more or less, for fifteen years. But to these people? Gibberish. And they’re trying to get someplace. With kids!
I tried to imagine what I would do if I was lost on the train system in Beijing, for example. The mere thought made me shudder.
We figured it out. I did something just short of an interpretive dance for the father, communicating they had to go down the stairs (I literally did a “I’m going down stairs” pantomime) and over to the other platform (I flapped my arms to say, “OVER THERE, WAY OVER THERE”) and then I said, “Red train. Red.” I pointed to my fingernail polish and said, “Red?” The man understood, nodding vigorously.
The coolest thing ever is that picking up my unicorn serum took less than five minutes. By the time I was back at the Montrose station, the family was there on the platform, waiting to go the same way! I was able to go all the way to the transfer point with them and I made sure they got on the right side, on the right train. It felt great, and I think the woman just about cried she was so glad I was there.
World travelers often say, “Getting lost is half the fun!” I have never understood this. You get lost. I’ll help you. Deal?
*I’m kidding! Almost!