By Tren de la Fresa
And did he ever return? No he never returned
And his fate is still unlearned
He may ride forever ‘neath the streets of Boston
He’s the man who never returned
So goes the chorus in the 1959 Kingston Trio hit, “Charlie and the MTA,” in which poor Charlie can’t get off the Boston transit train for lack of fare. His wife comes to the station every day to toss him a sandwich so he won’t starve. Why she doesn’t just throw him the required fare is unexplained. But throwing someone food from the platform to the train lives on.
In early 2015 I was enroute from Seattle to LA on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight. Hadn’t ridden it since ’73, when it was the Coast Daylight Starlight; cars were bigger and cleaner, with a lot more legroom than United Clueless Airlines, plus plug-ins to recharge your cell phone. Lying in the sleeper I’d splurged on, I emailed my friend Sheila in Eugene. Will be coming through for about ten minutes around 3 pm. Got any time to say a quick hi? And from Sheila almost immediately: Sure. Need anything? Me: Wish I had some strawberries. Want to toss me some as I go by, like Charlie on the MTA? Sheila: Sure! I’ll be there! With strawberries!
So I sat and thought about strawberries. I’d bought some nearly ripe ones, the way I like them, at Union Station in LA for the trip up, but misplaced them before I boarded the train and was outraged at the thought of being strawberryless for the whole way. Then a small rescue came in the form of strawberries in my dinner salad. Nice but not enough. And it’s funny; they’re not even my favorite berry. Marionberries, the crème-de-la-crème of the blackberry family, are. Ever try a good dollop of stone ground Dijon mustard on Marionberry pie? Ahh!
But at the time I was fixed on strawberries. So I was meditating on having a nice little box of them, and maybe Sheila would have to toss it to me if the train were late and could only stop for two minutes at Eugene Station, not enough time to get off, and I positioned myself by the window in the connection link between cars to see if it was large enough—it was—and if I could get the proper leverage and angle to lean out and catch a thrown box. I figured I could. The window said only Authorized Personnel could open it but I didn’t give that much thought. A strawberry EMERGENCY gave me all the authorization I needed, and what were they going to do, throw a little old lady in steel toed tennis shoes off the train?
So the train pulls in, and Sheila was there, and though we had time she bravely took a shot and I oops, bobbled it, there, got it, no, whoops, AH there! Mine! Mine! A fine box of strawberries, and all mine!
Eat your heart out, Charlie.