By Vince Lovato
Interim Production Manager
Contact Vince at [email protected]

[Editor’s note: Vince is taking a paid vacation from Washington State to fill in for Operations Manager Halie Johnson while she is on maternity leave. He wrote this about his trip to get to Idyllwild.]

If I were cast in a movie sequel of “Plains, Trains and Automobiles,” I’d play the John Candy character. No one wants to sit by the Big Fat Dude with the mole next to his nose, a bald spot, a four-day beard, a woman’s set of Liz Claiborne designer luggage and a man-purse.

In my case, it’s been two days of trains, buses and automobiles but there is one plus: Because I am the BFD, I almost always had the open seat next to me. There are advantages to being the BFD in coach seating when the vehicles aren’t packed.

As all personal challenges go, this has been a learning experience. I noticed how sensitive I am to people coughing hacking, sneezing and scratching in an enclosed space. I find myself keeping the restroom paper towel to use as a barrier between my hand, the door knob, and whatever the infected leper before me might have slathered on said doorknob.

I have noticed that since the kids grew up and moved away and stopped bringing all sort of pathogens and scourge from the schools, I have enjoyed almost perfect health.

I seldom get as much as a sniffle and I haven’t been sick enough to miss a day of work since I moved to Chelan three years ago. No more choir performances, volleyball matches and children importing the latest social virus from school.

Now, back to the train.

Every cough, sneeze and sniff seemed amplified as I imagined the air-borne germs and viruses filling the claustrophobic enclosure and landing on or in everything I eat, drink, touch or breathe.

I picture myself as a John Candy-James Bond character ordering at the snack bar: I’ll have a virus-martini, shaken not stirred.

Meanwhile, there’s a college kid behind me with a slack look on his face and ear buds dangling from his supposedly getting-educated face. He props his Vans against the back of my seat, already cramped with 6 feet, 3 inches of height and about that much girth, and regularly pushes to the beat of a silent alternative rock song. His shirt reads “Atomic Shrimp Peelings” with a picture of a tasty crustacean whaling on a lemon-and-butter keyboard.

As he pulls of his buds to return an urgent text to a dude who thought something was “sick,” I catch a line of the tune:

“I want to use my claws
to rip into your shell
then use butter and garlic
after the dinner bell

Your meat is tenderer
than any old fish
Eating your tail
is on my wish list”

Actually, I kinda liked it. It sounded like the B-52s fused with Evis Costello.

Just to prove no deed goes unpunished, I helped an old lady take her bags out of the train. It wasn’t until I schlepped the two ragged sofa cushions to the platform that I realized she had a chronically weepy eye and some sort of fingernail infection that looked like she was holding a funnel cake … with the powdered sugar on it. That would have been tolerable, until she decided to thank me profusely, touching my forearm and telling me how I reminded her of John Candy.

Other incidents occurred, including one involving the handicapped bathroom that looked like someone made boysenberry frozen yogurt on the stainless steel counter top then threw the mixing spoon in the toilet. It was either a mixing spoon or an old sock but my disgust overcame my curiosity.

Last, but not least, I made a weak attempt to get some long-term sleep while sitting up, a feat I have never been able to accomplish. So instead of elbowing the person next to me all night, I went downstairs and found a wide-open room the conductor called the Observation Room. There was nothing in it. Disbelieving my luck, I grabbed my hoody and a few T-shirts, used my shoes as a pillow, cuddled up in a cool, dark corner, and knocked out a good four hours of REM sleep.
That’s not much even for me, but, hey, my legs were straight for the first time in 30 hours.

Of course, if it seems to good to be true, it is.

The conductor nudged me awake to let me know we were in Sacramento and it was time for me to transfer and he did so with a curled lip, like the guy who tells you there’s toilet paper dragging from your heel.

He told me of a refrigerator failure in the cafe room on the other side of the wall and it happened during a three-day layover for maintenance, so a putrid cocktail of rotten food and melted ice seeped into that room and they were supposed to pull the carpeting out of it as soon as it returned to Seattle.

It did explain why I had such a vivid dream about the odors I overcame the last time I changed out a broken garbage disposal.

With my only option being a trip to the aforementioned handicapped bathroom, I decided it would be best to spritz off at the water fountain, cover myself with deodorant and dream of Monday night, when all I have to deal with was an ornery cat and my daughter’s mini-fridge full of seven-day-old … something.