The train was nearly full on a springtime Tuesday. When my previous seatmate got off in Bloomington, Sarah took his place. She was heading to St Louis to visit her husband who landed an IT contract job there. A middle-aged woman with a friendly smile, Sarah remains in my mind as a mystery. She emigrated to the U.S. from Greece when she was a young woman. “We were not exposed to American influences the way kids are now. They listen to American music. Watch American movies. Eat American food.”
Her two boys are grown but she didn’t have any interest in working outside the home. She took a retail job for a short while but didn’t like standing on her feet all day. “I have been sad for 10 years,” she said. The reasons for her sad life piled up like a stack of blocks. She contradicted herself often. Her husband was everything to her but he was also absent to her. Her mother in law was cruel to her, but also defended her. One son loved her but the other did not. She was jealous of her husband’s friends. “I don’t have any friends,” she said.
Sarah was self-conscious about her accent and her face. I barely noticed her accent and admired her big round eyes and pulled-back hair. She positioned a lime green neck cushion against the seat and closed her eyes. “The sound of trains reminds me of Agatha Christie novels,” she said. “I like trains. Driving makes me nervous.” The mood got lighter when we approached the city of St. Louis and its Gateway Arch.
We arrived in St. Louis at dusk. During the 40-minute layover, I disembarked the train and stood on the platform watching the city fade into the night. Sitting on the west bank of the Mississippi River was the Gateway Arch, the tallest stainless steel monument in the world. It celebrates the explorers who opened up the western territory – Thomas Jefferson, Livingston and Monroe, and Lewis and Clark. It was different from other architectural icons in big cities. It did not point to the sky or span a body of water. It arched from and to the ground.
Shortly after pulling out of St. Louis I heard a couple that looked to be in their early fifties, talking. The wife said in a stilted voice, “Who is winning the Cardinals baseball game tonight?” And Siri, Apple iPhone’s personal voice assistant, responded in her robotic monotone, “The Atlanta Braves are winning 4 to 3 in the bottom of the fifth inning.” A minute later, her husband asked, “Who is pitching for the Cardinals?” Siri gave him the answer. Who says three’s a crowd?