Sidetract By Virginia Rees

 

 

 

 

 

SIDETRACK

By

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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