The Time I Was The Girl (Almost Not) on the Train

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I’m the first person to admit that I’m a hopeless romantic. Not in the sense that I look for love on vacant street corners and skip around with flowers in my hand, but sometimes I don’t have the strongest grip on reality. I think things will just work out for me, and I never plan or prepare for anything as much as I should. I really need to snap out of this mindset.

Many times I’ve had to think on my feet and make things happen for myself not according to the original plan. My dad jokingly calls me Gracie, because in the face of inconvenience, adversity and plans gone awry, I am far from graceful. I stumble my way through life, winging most adventures and hoping they will work out. They rarely do.

In April of my sophomore year, I hitched a ride from Charlottesville to D.C. to visit my best friend from high school, Serena, at Georgetown. Serena and I became friends in high school through theater, spending longs hours of rehearsal together daily. If anyone understands my flare for dramatics, it’s Serena. The two of us enjoyed a weekend of sightseeing around D.C., art museums, good food and endless hours of just catching up. Experiencing the everyday life of a friend at another university holds a special place on my personal must-do in college list. After a busy but drama-free weekend in D.C., Serena gave me a big hug and dropped me off at the bus stop. I planned to take the bus from Georgetown to Union Station where I would board my train back to Charlottesville.

Mistake number one: Do not discredit D.C. rush hour traffic. As an Atlanta native, I really have no excuse for this tragic mistake. I got on the city bus a little before 5 p.m. to catch my 5:30 p.m. train. In my mind, I would certainly make it to Union Station with enough time to spare to get a snack for the ride home. After all, Serena said the bus ride would take about 20 minutes.

Mistake number two: Don’t always trust the locals. Now, I would never blame Serena for the extremely stressful events that transpired after she left me at the bus stop, but she did give me a false sense of confidence about my plan as I boarded that bus.

Humming to myself nonchalantly, I took a book out of my bag and decided I better get some reading done. The minutes ticked by and the bus crawled along through bumper to bumper D.C. traffic. I checked my phone. 5:15. Surely the station was just around the corner. After a stroke of genius, I checked the bus’s current distance from the station on Google Maps. Two miles. Seriously? Had we moved at all? I felt my blood pressure rise and started rapidly glancing around my surroundings like I do when anxiety hits. Everyone else seemed calm. No one seemed surprised by the glacial pace at which the bus moved.

5:18. My train would leave me behind in 12 minutes, stranding me in D.C. all alone with no one to call, and more importantly, no snacks. Okay, I guess I could have just called Serena, but that’s not the point, people. The end of the world approached with each passing second.

Mistake three: Don’t waste your time stressing out. You will only get more stressed. And you might even start tearing up, yikes. 5:21. OKAY. Time to think. Time to act.

“Excuse me, sir,” I called to a random stranger despite everything my parents have ever taught me. “Do you know how close we are to Union Station?”

“It’s the next block,” said the man in front of me.

“Do you think I can make a 5:30 train?”

“No, probably not.”

I can only imagine what my face displayed in reaction to the man’s answer. I have a knack, or perhaps fatal flaw, for plastering my every thought and feeling all over my face. The man stared back into the wide eyes of clueless college girl clutching a pink duffel bag whose face had just drained of all color and all remaining hope. He turned back around in his seat.

I could see the station now, but my phone screen read 5:24. I had no idea where to go once I got inside the station. Surely doomed, I texted Serena, “Going to miss my train.”

“Do you know where you’re going once you get inside the station?”

The man in front of me had turned back around.

“No, I have no idea,” I said, my voice quavering.

“Come on. Let’s get off this bus and I’ll walk you to your platform. Follow me,” the stranger said.

I felt like a lost puppy as I followed the man off the bus, across the street and into Union Station. He didn’t even look at the map as he guided me through the crowded room.

“Go down the stairs at the end of this hallway. Then you’ll be at your train.”

“Thank you so much,” I must have stammered one hundred times.

“You don’t need to thank me,” he smiled. “I’ll count this as my good deed for the day. Next time you see someone who needs help, take time out of your day to help them.”

“I will. What’s your name?” I asked.

“Nick. And you?”

“Molly.”

“Well, Molly, it looks like you have a train to catch.”

5:28. I ran down the stairs and onto the platform. I thrust my ticket into the hands of two police officers who seemed a bit taken aback by my frazzled appearance. Then, I stepped onto the train and sat down in the first seat I saw. Seconds later, the train started moving. I burst into tears—tears of stress combined with relief, gratitude and something along the lines of renewed hope in the state of the world and the general human condition. But that might be a bit dramatic.

As it turns out, missing my train back to Charlottesville wouldn’t have brought on the demise of the world as we know it. But, at the time, it seemed like a situation a person like me would have a lot of difficulty resolving. Had I planned out my trip to Union Station more thoroughly and given myself more time to get there, I never would have suffered from the immense stress and confusion that engulfed me on the bus.

I also never would have met Nick. He might not even remember that day when he went out of his way, literally, to help a confused and distraught girl make her train. No one told him to get off the bus with me when he clearly had somewhere else to go. Would I have done the same if the roles were reversed? I think that was Nick’s point when he left me at the station.

When I retold this story to Serena, my parents and friends from school, everyone summarized this predicament as “so classic Molly.” True, I do tend to get myself into situations similar to this one, and I usually get out of them by asking for help. However, something about the brevity and absolute selflessness of my interaction with Nick made this experience stand out to me. I’d just like to say thank you one more time, Nick, for reminding me that random acts of kindness can go a long way, even all the way back home to Charlottesville.

Molly is a senior (or fourth year, as we like to say) at the University of Virginia studying English and Studio Art. Yes, she's really artsy, and yes, she spends too much time reading and pretending to know a lot about coffee.

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