The Ballad of Officer Friendly

One year I decided to run marathons on back to back weekends. Back then it wasn’t really a big deal. I had run Marine  Corp Marathon the week before so I was running as tourist. My buddy Kevin and I planned a guys weekend away to run the New York City Marathon. We drove from DC to New York with Kevin’s lovely wife Louise. For me it was a training run, Kevin was running it seriously. We did the usual New York things like eating Pizza, a museum or two and went to bed early the night before the race. The weekend was a picture postcard sparkling pocket of perfection.

We sat out on Staten island the morning of the race and drank a ton of water, Running New York was fantastic and we both relieved ourselves off the side of Verrazano Bridge before the first mile marker.  The  crowds in Harlem were remarkable and running Central Park is something every runner should experience.  For the first time in my life, I felt that I vaguely understood the layout of the city. Kevin ran a really good race and I finished in under for hours. It was a picture perfect New York November day.

After the race our plans were for Louise to drive out to Long Island and Kevin and I were to take Amtrak home. It was a solid plan and we stuck to it. The seats were pretty comfortable despite our sore muscles. The train quietly pulled out and we were DC bound. The weird thing is that nobody asked us for money. We both looked at each other and went back to reading our books. Per our usual, we started random conversations with people we had did not know. It is what we did. It also made the train ride more interesting.

We struck up a conversation with this woman who spoke broken english and that was music to our ears. Her accent was syrupy heavy yet she was easy to understand. I believe she was from Russia or maybe it was Poland. She was bright and bubbly but was not exactly sure how these American train systems worked. The rest of the civilized world had already figured it out. To be quite honest we were not really sure either. From the conversation we learned that she had spent the weekend in New York and she was getting off at a train station in in Maryland. She seemed to have enjoyed her weekend and was not all that enthused about her trip back to Aberdeen.

She asked us when was she supposed to exchange  currency the for the train ride. Kevin and I were not exactly sure and we had not seen any train personnel after the train left the station. She had a bottle of something in her purse and she offered us a sip. She poured us each decent shots into plastic cups. We took a sip and she gave a friendly toast in her native language. We believe it was a toast. We were all in a good mood and did not think twice about it.

About five minutes later a frumpy man in Amtrak gear made his way down the aisles. He did not look like a man who was enjoying the late night shift. He seemed to be annoyed that we were having such a good time on his train or maybe he was having a bad night. Kevin asked him when we were supposed to pay our fares. At this point we could not grasp how the Amtrak system worked. I don’t know how they knew where we had  boarded the train.

The attendant grumbled half under his breath.  “We will be around to collect fares in the next few minutes.”

Kevin replied. “Thank you Officer Friendly”.

I muffled my laugh however our new cabin mate simply could not. She laughed and snorted. It wasn’t all that loud however it seemed to catch the attention of our Amtrak attendant.  She kicked Kevin in the shins. He unhappily, proceeded to do his job as an Amtrak attendant.

He was true to his word and he came back to our seats shortly after. I do not remember exactly how we paid, I know it wasn’t cash. All I remember was that you needed an ID for proof of payment. Kevin and I presented our Virginia and Maryland driver’s licenses and we were good to go. Our friend slowly pulled out her passport.

Our attendant  looked at it for good long time. He handed it back to her and then looked at it again.

“Lady this is not a form of identification we accept. Do you have a valid driver’s license?”

Without hesitating she answered right back.  “I do not drive. Why do you think I am taking the train?.”

Kevin and I explained to him that a passport is a more valid ID than a driver’s license. By this time the other people in the cabin started taking interest in what was happening. One man echoed Kevin’s words back to him. Still he would have no part of it.

“Lady I need a driver’s license to process your payment.”  He stated he needed to collect fares from the other customers and he would be back to collect her payment.

The train headed south through Philadelphia and the other people in the cabin were now aware of the exchange that had taken place. They seemed a little shocked by what happened yet little else was said about the incident. The other people in the cabin were now part of our circle of friends for the night. We exchanged pleasantries and of course we had a common enemy. That always brings people together. They all now referred to our attendant as “Officer Friendly”.

Officer Friendly returned to our cabin once again and stated, in a voice edged in anger, that he could not accept a passport as and ID for payment.

Somewhere somehow we hatched a plan without speaking.  I called Officer Friendly over and asked him just to accept her ID for payment. He said he could not. I told him I saw his point and started to speak with him like I was on his side. He seemed to warm up to that. I told him he should kick her off the train at the next stop.

And that is exactly what he did. He kicked her off the train in Aberdeen Maryland.

She picked up her bag and gave gave a furtive wink to the cabin.We all smiled back.

A few minutes later Officer Friendly seemed to have his spirits lifted. I can’t remember who it was that said these exact words to Officer Friendly.

“That was nice of you to give her a free ride on your train.”

Everybody in the cabin applauded.

If looks could kill.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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