By Sandy Ward

Assignment for Writing group at Holyoke Senior Center
April 23, 2006

What do I do while waiting in a waiting room, for instance, at doctor's or dentist's office? Nothing much; those waits are too short. I usually pick up a magazine, thumb through to find something of interest, begin reading, and soon my name is called --long before I've finished the article. Should I take the magazine with me as I'm led to the next room? Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. Last Thursday at a dentist's office, I didn't. Then the real waiting began, waiting for my lower jaw to become numb enough for the dentist to proceed. I was left alone with my thoughts, no magazine to distract me.

There I sat, doing nothing but thinking actively. My mind raced forward (what will this root canal be like?) and backwards (did I select the right dentist?) And forward again (how much will this cost?). As I tried to relax, I shifted my mind to another level and became conscious of watching myself wait. What do I do while I wait? I thought of this week's writing assignment and what a perfect opportunity I now had to experience and reflect on waiting.

My mind wandered over various memories of waiting experiences. The Amtrak station in Sacramento CA came vividly into view. I recall how tired we were and how eagerly we anticipated that midnight train and our reserved sleeping compartment. What fun it would be to travel to Oregon by sleeper car! A new experience for Ken and me. The regular train seats had sold out, and Amtrak offered us a special deal to upgrade to 1st Class (so they could then re-sell our seats). We jumped at the chance. The 12-hour trip would be more pleasant with a room of our own, and beds to sleep in. We were traveling to Eugene, OR, to visit my son Chris on Dec 31, 2003, and watch him play in a band on New Year's Eve. We expected to arrive at noon, and have a leisurely afternoon with Chris and his family. So, we were catching a midnight train in Sacramento after a long day of driving around CA visiting other relatives. Little did we know that the train was going to be late -very, very late.

It was hard to be patient. We didn't want to wait. We were ready to sleep. Ready to hop on the train and settle in. But no train came at midnight. I lay down on a hard wooden bench at the train station and tried to sleep, but couldn't. I looked up at the high ceiling and noticed the ornate decorations of a by-gone era. It was a beautiful old station. I passed the time watching people who like me were trying to find ways to wait comfortably. Some were asleep; many were restless. It was a long wait. Eventually --about 2 hours later-- our train did come and we did enjoy riding in the sleeper. In fact, we thoroughly enjoyed the whole train trip. It was a long slow trip through heavy wet snow, with frequent stops so that trainmen could set signals by hand. (A winter storm had knocked out electrical service in the mountains.) There were additional delays caused by other challenges along the tracks. We were stopped somewhere north of Klamath Falls for several hours; I passed the time playing Scrabble in the dining car with a fellow passenger. A train ahead of us had de-coupled, and awaited repairmen and parts (hard to find on New Year's Eve). We eventually rolled forward and I amused myself looking at the winter wonderland outside the windows. Trees were draped in heavy snow, illuminated by the lights from our train. Very beautiful. We reached Eugene just as the Conductor was counting down to the New Year (2004): 10-9-8-7-6-(the train was slowing to a stop) 5-4-3 (the doors were opening)-2- and I stepped out of the train as he called “Happy New Year!” 12 hours late at this point, but glad to arrive. Ken, a life-long train buff, exclaimed happily that we got an extra 12 hours of train riding for FREE!

These happy memories entertained me Thursday while I waited for the dentist to return. A positive attitude can turn any wait into a fun adventure, as we learned on that 24-hour train experience.