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Hold-Up Man

     I really don't like to bother anybody, let alone to hold up an entire train. But here we were, immobile for two hours so far, and the mood of the people had gone from simple curiosity, to an agitated buzz like a hive of bees that's been stirred up with a stick.
    "Why are we not going?" the people were asking, but no one knew. I circulated among them, going from dining car to coach and back to my cabin, nodding to everybody and listening to their excited murmurings.  If you had been me in that situation, I'm sure you would have done what I did. What I did, was to say nothing.
     No, I hadn't pulled the emergency brake or something stupid like that. I was having a problem, and I was as concerned as everybody else, but for a completely different reason.   

    I was a passenger on that train, returning to Boston from performing a show in Chicago. Thanks to my gracious sponsor, I was traveling in a first-class cabin, and I had been enjoying the restful luxury of it on the return trip. The ride had been like a dream, gazing out the window at the endless miles of factories in the outskirts of Chicago, rolling along under a fantastic sunset.
    The next day, for some reason we had stopped at an unscheduled station in NY state. I had just been thinking of settling down for a nap after lunch, and I was taking off my shoes when I looked out the window onto the platform. There, gray in the drizzling rain, I saw a baggage cart came wheeling by my window, heading towards the front of the train. The baggage cart was piled with luggage, including some very large distinctive cases. They were my cases, containing all my hand-made instruments. This was a very bad sign.
    The cabin I occupied was in the first car of the train, right behind the locomotive. Way back at the rear of the train was the baggage car, in which all my instruments had been carefully stowed. So why is my stuff now being pushed forward on a cart, through the rain, at this unscheduled stop?
    All thoughts of napping were now banished as I feverishly put my shoes back on. I ran out of the cabin and dashed forward down the aisle to the end of the car, unhooked a chain and made an unauthorized exit out the door onto the platform.
    I ran up to the retreating cart, now heading forward past the locomotive. "Where are you taking this?" I panted. "This baggage is supposed to be on the train."
    "We're losing our baggage car here. These will have to be transferred."
    "These cases contain my homemade instruments. It was clearly stated in my contract that these were to arrive in Boston along with me. I made sure of it."
    "Don't worry. These will go out with the next train that comes along."
    What next train? "No." I said, "That won't be acceptable." I had already engaged a van to meet me when the train arrived in Boston, to bring all my stuff home from the city. This sudden development wasn't just an inconvenience; it brought up a vivid memory of a previous trip, in which one of my cases had been misplaced and had been lost for three days. I was never going to risk having that happen again. Plus, it was raining, and I was quite concerned that everything was getting wet. It's a lucky thing that I had looked out the window when I had!
    Meanwhile, the conductor had come out into the rain to inform me, "Sir, no passengers are allowed on the platform."
    "These cases have to come back aboard with me."
    "There is no place to put them."
    "My contract says they have a place. That's what we arranged. Why are we losing our baggage car?"
    By this time, more men had congregated in our little group, and anxious conversations were being conducted into big wireless devices that looked like walkie-talkies from a World War II movie. I suggested that we could bring my instruments into our cabin car; there was enough room. The suggestion was not considered. Soon we were told that another baggage car could be switched to our train from a yard only about a mile away.
    "Sir," the conductor insisted, "you'll have to re-board the train while we wait."
    "Can you please put my instruments under cover? These cases are not waterproof."
    That would never have occurred to them. One man pushed the cart down the platform and under a very scant overhang in a baggage area., while I reluctantly allowed myself to be ushered back onto the train. From there, I uneasily peered back through a window towards my precious cargo, which was only partially protected by the overhang, and still getting rained on. We waited.
    After a while, I sought out the conductor, and asked for a progress report. "We're working on it." he told me. Then again, somewhat later, "It looks like we won't be able to get that baggage car."
    "We have to find a place on this train," I told him. "What will we do?"
    "I don't know yet, sir."
    Meanwhile, I had been trying, in my anxiety, to get back out of the train to go over to the rain-blown cart with my instruments on it, to try to move it to a dryer place. But now I found that all the doors to the outside were locked. I had gone up and down the whole train trying doors; seven or eight long cars with a door at each end. It was in these wanderings through the train that I had heard the people voicing their curiosity and concern at our delay. None of the officials had told the passengers anything about the reason we weren't moving, and that's all everybody was talking about: trying to figure out what was going on. As I mentioned, I certainly wasn't going to tell them.
    Now and then, I could see men moving along the platform outside, sometimes talking into their walkie-talkies. I had made the conductor swear several times that he would not let the train leave the station until we had this sorted out. Everyone was in a fine buzz.
    At last, what they decided to do, was to bring my large cases into the passenger car where my cabin was. That's what I had suggested in the first place; but no, they had said it wouldn't do. Now they decided it would do; although it did mean stowing them in the aisle itself, and partially obstructing it, though not badly. At this point, we had been at this station for over two hours; we were over two hours behind schedule.
    The passengers, seeing these cases coming in to our cabin car, were naturally curious. So was the steward who served my cabin, and whom I had gotten to know a bit. Now he was surprised to notice that as the cases were coming aboard, I was helping to handle them myself.
    "You seem to have some direct knowledge of what this delay has been all about." he ventured.
    "Yes, I do," I told him, as I wiped down the outside of a case with a towel. I felt a bit awkward, but I was greatly relieved to get my instruments out of the rain and safely aboard again.
    "Yes I do; it was all about me."


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