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  • Writer's pictureJohn M Donovan

Sorry I'm Late, But...

I’m fairly punctual as a rule. I prefer to be unfashionably early, in fact, and back in college I tended to arrive at a classroom long before the previous class let out and then spend 20 minutes reading the same things I’d read on the English Department bulletin board two days before. I also once missed a final exam because I thought it was scheduled for the afternoon instead of morning, but that has nothing to do with running late and everything to do with a lapse in reading comprehension.

This last week dropped my punctuality average considerably.

I was helping my mom move from Indiana to an independent living community in Clive, which was going to require renting a truck, hiring people to pack it, and driving it to Iowa. Since I couldn’t drive two vehicles at once, I came up with the brilliant idea to take Amtrak to Chicago’s Union Station on Monday and have my college friend Tim drive me down to Crawfordsville. Tim had an even better idea: Get off the train in Princeton, Illinois and we’ll not only get to C-ville quicker, we won’t have to deal with Chicago traffic.

I liked this idea. I had already purchased my ticket for Chicago, but didn’t see that as an issue. I figured we’d get to Crawfordsville around 5 (early enough to pick up the U-Haul truck). I’d estimated two hours for packing the truck on Tuesday, so I thought we’d be on the road by 11 Iowa time and pulling into Clive by 7.

My expectations were way optimistic.

So, for those of you who are perpetually late and running out of excuses your employer or family hasn’t heard, I offer these at no charge:

1. “Sorry I’m late, but I did not disembark the train at my intended place of disembarkation.”

2. “Sorry I’m late, but I accidentally hired two of the Three Stooges to pack a U-Haul truck.”

Let’s start with the first one, just in case you want to punch up your story with some details. I had not traveled by Amtrak since 2002, when I was in the process of being actively catfished by a woman who turned out to be a cocaine addict. Long story, not going into it here, but the point is that when you only travel by train every 19 years, you aren’t up on all the arcane mysteries of train travel.

For instance. When you get on the train, the conductor hands you a slip of paper with the abbreviation for your destination on it. You are supposed to put this slip of paper in a little slot above your seat, but on this particular morning the conductor did not hip me to this information, which is why I put the slip of paper and my ticket in my back pocket. Somewhere around Mt Pleasant, Iowa, a different conductor came by and asked me where I was originally sitting. I replied that I had been in this seat the whole time. He said I couldn’t have been and asked where I’d boarded. I told him I got on the train in Osceola but did not point out how ridiculous it was that Amtrak doesn’t go anywhere close to Des Moines—the freakin state capital—because I didn’t figure he had anything to do with that decision. He asked me where my slip of paper was, so I pulled my ticket and slip of paper out of my back pocket. He asked why it wasn’t above my seat; I told him nobody told me what to do with it. He asked if I saw other slips of paper above everyone else’s seat; I said sure, but nobody told me what they were for. He laughed snidely and said “Your back pocket’s a real good place for it.” He said that snidely too. He was a snide guy.

Anyway, nothing makes travel more pleasant than being made to feel stupid by the people facilitating your travel. That one was on them, but the next one was on me.

My college friend Tim was waiting for me at the Princeton station. I texted him when we were just a few minutes away, and when they announced our arrival I grabbed my backpack and went to the same door through which I’d entered the train. That door didn’t open automatically, as I expected. No one came to open it, which I hadn’t expected at first but which I thought might happen when the door didn’t open automatically.

The next thing I knew, the Princeton train station was moving away. I found a conductor and explained that I was planning to get off at Princeton. He wanted me to show him my ticket and when I did he said “You’re getting off in Chicago.” Yes, I admitted, but that plan changed. He said I should have told somebody. Well, I thought, I did tell somebody. I told my college friend Tim, who drove 3.5 hours to pick me up. I told the truck rental place so they’d know I could pick up the truck before they closed at six. I told my mom so she’d know when to expect me.

None of these were on the list of people I should have told, of course.

So I learned the hard way that one of the arcane mysteries of train travel is that unlike NYC subways, Amtrak does not automatically open its doors at every stop. And not only did I feel even stupider than I had after being berated about the slip of paper, but I had to stay on the train for another hour, rent a car in Naperville, and drive in Chicago traffic. The last time I drove in Chicago traffic I said the next time would be too soon. I was right. It was 7:30 before I made it to Crawfordsville.

Tuesday would be better, I believed. I had arranged through the U-Haul website for two movers out of Indianapolis to pack the rental truck. Two hours ought to do it, I thought. They said they’d be there around ten, but at 9:30 I started loading packed boxes into the space above the cab. I had 35-40 boxes in the truck before the packers arrived, which was fine because we really just needed them to handle the heavy stuff—desk, sofa, mattresses, etc.

They set to work. Larry didn’t say much but Moe was fairly talkative, advising us to relax and assuring us that everything was under control. They carried all the two-person stuff out, and let me tell you, these guys were good carriers. If I ever again need something carried, I wouldn’t hesitate to hire these guys. They carried with the best of them. Man they were good carriers.

Where they fell short was in actually packing the truck. An hour and fifteen minutes in, Moe said “Well, we got all the two-person stuff.” There were still a number of boxes and lamps and miscellany left, but Moe said they’d left plenty of space in the truck for it. He and Larry drove on to their next job, and I went out to check out the truck.

Moe was right. They had left plenty of space in the truck.

Unfortunately the space they left was in the middle.

The front of the truck had all the boxes I’d loaded, then the dining room table, then two pairs of mattresses and box springs, then a sofa, then a whole bunch of empty space. A foot from the end of the truck was a computer desk, a coffee table, and a recliner, all effectively keeping anyone from reaching the empty space in the middle.

At this point I realized that I was more qualified to be a professional mover than these two knuckleheads. Clearly, we had different ideas about what they’d been hired to do. I thought they’d been hired to pack all of Mom’s stuff into the truck so we could close the door and drive away; they thought we just wanted to pay them to get some exercise.

I spent two hours repacking the truck by myself. We pulled into Mom’s new apartment complex at 10 p.m. When I crawled into bed that night I told Cybil that I would like one damn day without an interesting story to tell at the end of it.

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