For those of us who rely on public transportation, the painful realization that you’ve missed the train or the bus is akin to the feeling you get when you realize you’ve locked your keys in the car. You can see the keys in the ignition and if only you knew how to pick the lock. For a moment you weigh the options…consider breaking the window…thinking about all the movies you’ve seen where coat hangers and ice picks pop locks and serve as instruments that allow even the most graceful novice to feel powerful and important.
Missing the train is no different. You arrive to the station just as it’s pulling off and you’re convinced the conductor can see you and just doesn’t care. You yell as if your scream can drown out the sound of the locomotive and surrounding city noise. If only you arrived 30-seconds sooner. If only you didn’t have to stand in line behind the person who talked more on their cell phone than they did to the barista before ordering their triple shot espresso. If only the meeting hadn’t run late. If only…
You watch the train leave and part of you believes if you run fast enough that you just might catch it. And the passengers on the train bet against these odds. You don’t consider the baggage you’re carrying, you just throw caution to the wind and take a chance. What do you have to lose anyway? This last-ditch effort is all you’ve got. You don’t consider the possibility of sweat stains on your freshly pressed clothes. You don’t consider the fact that you’re wearing your good shoes. You just run! And you hope that the people on the sidewalk move out of the way and that there’s no ice or water or sand beneath your feet.
You can’t be late. You don’t want to wait for the next train to come. You run for as long as you can. And when you’re winded enough to realize that you can’t catch up, you slow down until you eventually stop running and you begin to walk what seems like the journey of a thousand miles. The embarrassment begins to sink in as you now have an audience of people who were actually rooting for you. The sweat pouring down your face makes your eyes sting and now the bags you are carrying feel ten times heavier than before. And you think, “if only”. Your chest is burning and now you must wait to catch your breath and for your mind to process through the thoughts of denial, anger, and acceptance. You’ve missed the train.
You look at your watch. You check the train schedule. You text your boss. You eye the nearest bench and settle on walking just a bit further to the seat in the shaded part of the station so that you can cool off. Your feelings of defeat diminish as you search for a distraction. You promise yourself that you won’t let this ruin your day and then the image of yourself running flashes through your mind and you begin to feel a sense of pride and satisfaction because you realize that you’re not as out of shape as you thought.
I’ve missed more busses and trains than I care to acknowledge. I’ve come to accept the uncertainty and the unpredictability of public transit; however, when I do leave enough time between connections and in my mind, I’ve done everything right, it feels a bit demoralizing to cancel meetings and appointments because I’m now running too far behind. No matter how much earlier you leave the house or how much time you leave between connections, there is always a chance that the train will leave without you. Some say that it’s better to be late than to never arrive but for those of us who planned ahead, decided to make a run for the train that pulled off too soon, and still ended up getting left behind…it’s hard not to feel anger toward a system that isn’t supposed to fail. So you allow yourself that moment to hate life, to curse the train, to feel sorry for yourself, and to wallow in your feelings of defeat…and then you catch the next train.