There is never a dull moment in this manic adventure we’re co-creating out here in the Ozarks. It’s taxes season and Pilgrim’s got to head east for a number of days to take care of business back home and to see his step-granddaughter grow a year older. A couple of days ago we were standing on the front porch of RB in the snowy sunshine and he asked if I could deliver him to the train station about two and a half hours away in Arkansas to catch a train that left at 1:41 in the morning. Of course, I didn’t hesitate.
Pilgrim is family now–part of this tightly knit and wonderfully complex group of people dedicated to VIS and living it daily–and I’d do about anything for him. I was a little nervous about traveling back by myself at such an hour, but Bean joined the trip to keep me awake.
At ten last night we started off: Pilgrim, Bean, myself and a friend, Mike who we were dropping off to begin an unplanned journey to New Orleans. The company was good and the coffee was hot and we didn’t notice when we had passed a poorly marked turn that would take us to the train station. Raucously we stormed along enjoying each other and that last bit of time together before we parted ways. When we hit a town that looked big enough to be on our map but wasn’t, we got nervous.
Fortunately, it was a better spot to leave Mike to start his journey south so we hugged goodbye and got back in the car to fly north, trying to outpace the train. I’m on the phone with Amtrak waiting for someone to tell me the train, like all Amtrak trains, was running late. Unfortunately, when Robert came on the phone he told me the unusual news that the train was running on time as we were running out of time. Perfect.
Of course it would’ve been no fun if we hadn’t gotten lost again. By around 2:15 in the morning, when we’re certain we’ve missed the train, we pull into a gas station, not certain where we are but knowing we’re tantalizingly close. We go in and ask for directions only to find out we’re in Walnut Ridge (our final destination) miles from the train station. But we’ve admitted defeat and instead we make a B-line for the closest motel.
We ring the bell a couple of times and out of the back comes the elderly proprietor looking a little groggy at 2:20 in the morning. As Pilgrim and I are inside filling out the paperwork to get him a room, I hear a train whistle blow somewhere nearby. And then the train passes right in front of the motel and Pilgrim and I exchange an incredulous look and wonder aloud if it could be. The man behind the counter asks where Pilgrim is headed and when we answer Chicago–in unison–he tells us that’s our train.
Pilgrim and I fly out of the building and yell at Bean to get in the car as Pilgrim slams the trunk closed. Bean, totally oblivious to what we’ve just discovered, plays bad movie scenes in her head, wondering what we’ve done to the poor old man in the motel. I put us in reverse and scream out of the parking lot–chasing the train down the middle of this tiny town at 2:30 in the morning, hoping to god we can catch it.
With ten seconds to spare we shove a sentimental Pilgrim onto the train–he wants to tell us he loves us, to take a picture. But there’s no time and the grumpy conductor is threatening to leave if he doesn’t get on. As the train pulls out of the station Bean and I do a little victory dance in the parking lot and, exhausted by the adventure, slide back into the car to drive three hours home.
We stop for gas where, maybe 15 minutes before we’d stopped for directions and I notice an Arkansas police officer pull in as I’m pumping gas. I’m probably visibly agitated, recalling my mad driving of moments before, hoping he hadn’t followed us here. But nothing happens and we get back in the car, Bean in the driver’s seat this time. Not far down the road, we notice head lights behind us and Bean gets nervous. She asks me what the speed limit is and travels five miles under. Another mile down the road the blue lights start flashing. Now it’s like a bad dream.
The cop harasses us for awhile–he’s from the drug unit, bored at 3:00 in the morning and having fun with two totally exhausted travelers. He asks us why we’re nervous; he can somehow tell from outside our window that our heart rates are elevated. We try to explain–lots of coffee, almost missed trains, but he won’t back off and we sit there for nearly fifteen minutes waiting to see what his move is. But he’s got nothing and finally let’s us go. We’re on edge the rest of the way back, but we pull into East Wind–after driving passed the poorly marked turn onto county road 530–at 5:30 in the morning.
We brush our teeth, wash our faces and fall into bed, exhausted but not quite able to fall asleep. We’d done it–against all good sense, we got Pilgrim onto his train and we made it back alive and unticketed. And as I recounted the story this morning, this afternoon, I guess, a friend asked me if anything good had happened on the adventure. And I was surprised by the question. Because the answer seemed obvious: every bit of bad luck we had was actually good luck. We got lost the first time and found Mike a better starting point; we got lost a second time and found a motel on the train tracks and watched our train race towards the train station; and even the cop, who’d threatened to give us a 250$ ticket didn’t, in the end, because he had no right pulling us over in the first place.
It’s funny, I travel and work and play with this pack of chosen family and even when everything’s looking like it’s working against us, it turns up. The part I left out was that yesterday had been a terrible day, all of these cracks started surfacing out here at East Wind and I was at odds with even my best allies before I took a late night trip to Arkansas. And then I was reminded of the strength of our team, of the depth of our working and personal relationships and that, when you’re trying to do the right thing, even the bad luck hides good intentions. I couldn’t have been reminded in a more perfect moment.