Waiting for a train, the coldest night of the year, and other things

It's time to climb into the wayback machine, boys and girls! This time, we’re revisiting a significant event in my professional history as a writer.

On December 7, 2000, I lost my second wife to cancer. I have remarried, and have now been married for a longer time than with my late wife, but thank you anyway. This piece isn’t about that issue, though it does have a part in the story.

After my wife died, the grief took a while to set in, and when it did… WHAMMO! The upshot was that I lost my ability (or ambition) to write for several years. Even though I went to work full time all the while (had to pay the bills, after all), my “imaginary friends” weren’t talking to me. The urge to write didn’t stop nagging me, but I couldn’t write. I wasn’t lazy, I was in a deep depression.

With the help of therapy, I climbed out of the depression, but the Muse wouldn’t come back.

Then one day, I was in a session with a wonderful career counselor (take a bow, Beth Ann Wilson), who was advising me on careers involving writing. I mentioned my block to her (this was after quite a few sessions), and she gave me an assignment.

I’d told Beth Ann that I was going to attend Philcon that weekend, and she suggested I write a story about my experience there. Philcon, in case you don’t know, is an annual Science Fiction and Fantasy convention held in (or around) Philadelphia, PA. She didn’t tell me any more than, “Write me something about Philcon.”

As they say, “When the student is ready the teacher will appear.” I had taken the train into Philly. When I left on Friday night, the connection worked well. On Saturday, however, it wasn’t so good. For some reason, I got on the wrong train. Instead of taking a train to Jenkintown, the station I’d departed from, I took a train to Trenton, New Jersey.

On the coldest night of that year.

I only realized my mistake when the train took a turn I knew it shouldn’t have taken. Then another rider showed me his schedule. “BUM-BA-DUM-DUM” time. If you’re of a certain age, you’ll understand that one. If you don’t, please ask a Boomer.

I exited the train at the first stop, which was in Bridesburg, a neighborhood in Northeast Philly. From my house, it’s a twenty-minute drive. By train, you have to take a train back into Center City, then another one to the right destination.

At 11:00 on Saturday night, the trains run HOURLY. So I had to find somewhere inside to wait for a ride home. Which brought on another problem, because my wife was to pick me up in Jenkintown. She was there waiting for me. Asleep. And she’d misplaced her cell phone.

Fortunately, my brother-in-law from my late wife’s family (Thank you, Jeff Kodroff) was willing and generous enough to drive down to Bridesburg and rescue me. He then drove me to Jenkintown where my wife was waiting. And we all lived happily ever after…

My point in telling you this is to praise the people who helped me that night, that unknown fellow rider and my brother-in-law.

I also owe more than I can express to my career counselor and friend, Beth Wilson. I wrote the story, only marginally about Philcon, but mainly about my wrong train adventure. I have not stopped writing since. And I owe a great deal to Beth.

By the way, I have taken trains many times in my life, especially the line that runs from Philly to my Ambler home. Jenkintown is a stop along the way that’s a junction for four other lines, so it has a lot more trains. Unfortunately, it’s not on the line that goes to Trenton.

They say nothing happens without a reason, even if we can’t figure out the reason at the time or ever. I realize now why I needed that appointment with Beth that day, why I attended Philcon that year. And why I took that wrong train. All little events that have led me to here.


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