“Merry Christmas, Perry!” chirped Rose, the always smiling front-desk receptionist.
“See ya. Rose,” Perry responded as he headed to the elevator. “Merry Christmas, indeed,” Perry’s sardonic inner voice said as he faced his first Christmas alone after Patty and the kids moved back to Boston.
The crowd on the elevator carried Perry through the ground-floor lobby and on to the Orange Avenue sidewalk. With the exception of Perry, almost everyone seemed in a hurry to get an early start on Christmas Eve.
Instinctively Perry checked his watch. The northbound SunRail train would arrive at Church Street in 15 minutes. He knew he would be would be there with time to spare. He was right, and the platform was crowded – mostly suits, some skateboard kids and a group of 20-something techies.
At the sight of the arriving train, the crowd groaned. “With a big crowd like this and the train only has two cars,” complained the usually smiley pixie blonde in the gray business suit. “I don’t believe them!” Perry could feel fellow commuters agree.
The crowd surged aboard the train. Many scampered upstairs, but Perry preferred the lower level. With no place to hold on in the crowded car, Perry balanced himself as the train rolled on. At Church Street the crowd shifted as a few people got off. But many others came aboard, including a young guy play rap music on his smartphone. No earbuds. Nice.
The suits, including Perry, looked at each other and shook their heads in disapproving of the way Smartphone flagrantly violated SunRail’s posted rules.
Perry forced himself to ignore the music and the automated voice announcing the stations as the train rolled on. By Longwood the crowd thinned out and Perry got a window seat on the right side of the train. He daydreamed about happier days on Christmas morning watching his kids eyes fill with excitement as they opened their gifts.
The daydream ended as the train lurched to a stop. After 5 minutes the conductor announced. “We are stopped due to a signal issue We apologize for the inconvenience.”
Five minutes later the conductor announced: “We are stopped due to a signal issue We apologize for the inconvenience.”
The conductor repeated the announcement four more times at 10-minute intervals. Perry’s fellow passengers were fed up.
“Gee whiz, tell us something new” groused the pixie blonde.
“I need to get home to get started with my cooking,” complained a plump grandmotherly woman whose gray hair had a weird green tint.
By now it was dark outside the train that was stopped opposite an abandoned cement plant.
Smartphone dude was now playing some classic NWA for all to hear.
A burly guy wearing a heavy canvas Carhartt working man’s jacket, looked directly at Smartphone dude. “Yo, bro, can you knock it off with that?”
Smartphone smirked, shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Chill man, it’s just music.”
“You call that music,” Carhartt man shot back.
“That’s NWA, isn’t it?” Perry quickly chimed in as he could see the situation was headed for an angry confrontation.
“See my man here knows music,” Smartphone responded with a comfortable smile on his face.
“I grew up listening to NWA,” Perry admitted. “But I was wondering if you had anything on iTunes with a little more Christmas flava.’”
“Flava,” Smartphone, repeated as he mimicked Perry’s hip-hop pronunciation.
“Look,” Perry explained, “I don’t mean any trouble. It’s just that this is my first Christmas without my wife and kids….” Perry couldn’t believe that he just shared such personal information with these SunRail strangers. Tears started filling his eyes.
“You cool,” Smartphone replied. “I like me some Christmas music too. He fiddled with his phone for a moment and the next sound they all heard was the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performing “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.”
By the last line of the song everyone in the train car realized they were singing along with the choir. What’s more, they hadn’t noticed that the train was moving again. Moments later the doors opened in Lake Mary. Nodding farewell to the other passengers Perry stepped off the train and walked down the platform to the ticket validator where he “tapped off.”
“Hey what’s your name?” Perry heard a voice behind him ask.
Perry turned to see Carhartt man. “My name is Perry.”
“Listen I heard you say something about spending Christmas alone.”
“Me and my big mouth,” Perry said with an embarrassed expression on my face.
“I remember when my Mom and Dad went through that,” Carhartt man said with understanding in his eyes. “It was a rough time for all of us….But listen, me and my family are having a big Christmas Eve get together. Sure wish you would join us.”
“Thank you. Thank you very much,” Perry said gulping back an audible sob.
“Merry Christmas,” Carhartt man said.