Sidetract By Virginia Rees








V. Rees



It was 1980 and summer had come early.



Before the whistle blew, I could feel the rush of hot air sweep across the hem of my skirt,


a signal that the beast was about to arrive. The natives were steamy and restless,


all vying for position, moving cautiously toward the edge of the Jamaica Station platform.



It was Friday night and I was one of theHamptonspack again, ready to pounce as soon



as the train pulled in.  Anxious.  Eyes on the prize.  My horse for a seat.




As the doors opened, I instinctively melted with the masses on the Long Island Railroad.



Among the first inside, I broke free and set my quick pace toward the cooler air of the bar



car, and the tonic for this Gin.




Settling into my spot, finally balanced on my suitcase with cocktail in hand and



magazines at the ready, I sighed “Why do I put myself through this?”  a little louder



then I realized.



Suddenly, I was the catalyst for a debate on the merits of whichHamptonwas really worth



the trip. As if I was the Devil to their Daniel Webster, townie after townie pleaded their case



before me. From Native American Indians and English Settlers to Artists and Aliens,



this merry band of East Enders covered a great deal of historic ground, going tit for tat



for the next three-plus hours.




As the drinks flowed and the miles followed, the rhetoric became as rocky as the ride.



Luckily, things got so heated that eventually they forgot all about the Devil. I could finally



put my head down and disappear into my magazines. It was only then that I noticed the



old man down the bar.




A loud and inebriated model type nudged the white-bearded, rustic-looking gentleman



beside him, pointing to his large case.  “Who are you, Mister?  Tell us your



story and what’s in the big box?”







The old man’s clothes were more country than Calvin. His cowboy hat was well-worn and



pulled down almost covering his eyes, but for his thick glasses.  “I’m a stray photographer



just passing through,” was all he said, patting the box. Disinterested, Mr. Model Type



turned his attention to the pretty blonde behind him who was hanging on to his every



slurred word.





For whatever the reason, I became fixated on the old man. I remember thinking: He



must be in his eighties. Was that his baby, the camera he prized above all the others he



must have used in his lifetime? Did it go everywhere with him? What kind of photos did



he take with it? Bet he developed them himself, probably in black and white.




The questions kept coming. Was he getting off at my stop? Did he have friends or family



meeting him?  Should I be hospitable and offer him a lift?





For a split second, my nosey eyes met his, but his vibe read: Do not disturb. So I contained



my curiosity. Well, almost.




By the time we reached Amagansett, I could see that he was getting off there, too.



As the meet-and-greet crowd cleared the platform, I waited to see if the old man



had a ride. He did.




I thought about following him. But what was I doing? Had I crossed the stalking line?



Eventually, I headed to my beach house and chalked the whole thing up to another instinct



gone wrong.




On Sunday morning, I went into town to get breakfast and there he was, sitting alone on a

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