(Continued from part two)
The train car in which I was riding, while certainly much better than being outside, was still cold, and I was the only person in it without a heavy coat. Still, this train line, later called the Red Line, was a place where you could see almost any kind of craziness if you hung around long enough. Pretty much everyone on the train had seen worse.
While waiting for the train I had discretely tucked my bag beneath not only my sport coat, but under my sweater and my shirt as well, even inside the top of my pants. I didn’t want anyone to get a look at it and I didn’t want to risk it falling out.
As the train rose from the subway to the elevated tracks, I decided that Belmont would be my best choice for getting off. There were lots of shops there, some of them immediately next to the train station. And so, a few minutes later I jumped off the train and ran down the stairs to Belmont Avenue.
I spotted some kind of clothing store just a few doors down and went quickly inside. I was trying not to look desperate and strange, but then I remembered what kind of area this was. Belmont was a haven for people who didn’t fit in.
The store didn’t have any kind of coat, but they pointed me to an Army Surplus store, less than a block away. It was a cold and difficult run (these sidewalks having lots of snow and ice), but I made it intact, and found precisely what I wanted. Not only did I pick up a nice parka, but I got a pair of winter boots, extra socks, even a hat and gloves.
The sun was setting as I stepped back onto Belmont, but this time I was in a beautiful position. I was properly clothed and I had money. It felt good being back in 1978 this way. I walked to the drug store at the corner and bought all the little things I’d need: Toothpaste, floss and so on.
Across the street from the drug store was a stop for the Number 22 bus. I hustled across quickly enough to catch one that was pulling up.
After clambering into the bus with half a dozen others, I found that I remembered the interior of these buses quite well. They were the same model I took all through high school, and I even remembered which seats had heaters under them. I wasn’t able to get one of them, but I found a seat in the row immediately ahead and felt like I was crawling into a warm bed.
Here I was, safe in 1978 with almost twenty thousand dollars (I made a fast count in the changing room) and knowing what was about to happen in the world. I let my imagination run and saw myself changing buses at Ridge, checking into one of the hotels at Peterson and Kedzie (anonymous but safe rooms), ordering some Chinese food, taking a hot shower, eating, maybe watching some vintage 1978 TV, reading the note from my other-world friends, and stepping back into the world of my youth… living through those years a second time, with all my 2018 knowledge and experience. And with money. I became euphoric.
I looked out the window of the bus and took in the city. The cars, the buildings, the people, the street lights turning on as the sun vanished. It was a magnificent instant replay: I knew it all so deeply, so intimately, but I had been away for so long, never imagining that I’d return. It was a special kind of euphoria, and I had enough experience with such things to be able to soak it in, unsullied by the silly fears of youth that I had on the first run through. An unalloyed euphoria.
* * * * *
Again I looked out the window. As expected, given the weather and time of day, we were progressing slowly. But that bothered me none and my interior revels continued. I even let myself imagine quiet days relaxing and wading slowly through the late 1970s a second time. I had to have been smiling.
Then I half-saw and half-felt some intentional movement to my left. I turned to find an old man standing in the aisle, staring at me. I smiled and went back to my euphoria.
Some number of seconds later, maybe ten or fifteen, I looked back. The man was still staring at me, and he seemed to be getting intense about it. It was almost impossible that he had seen me at the train station, and I doubted that he could have recognized me in my parka and hat, even if he had seen me there. More than that, he was very old, making him no immediate threat. But he kept staring.
I nodded at him this time and looked back out the window. My euphoria faded as I realized it would be a slow couple of miles until I changed buses.
And then, quickly for a man his age, he plopped down in the seat across the aisle from mine and turned squarely toward me.
“You were sent here by God,” he said, “I can tell.”
* * * * *