Did I ever tell you about the train trip I took in April 2015 from Emeryville, California to Tampa, Florida? Please bear with me. Last night I awoke around 3 a.m., thinking about Donald Trump saying how “appropriate” it was for his supporters “to swing back” at people who had shown up to protest at his rally in Chicago last night. I’ve stayed up thinking about the lines he keeps crossing, lines we never noticed were there. We’re getting a glimpse of what our country might be if he were elected. Would he grab more and more power and call in the police, even the military to silence those who disagree with him, meanwhile urging his supporters on to violence? Would we become a police state? I’m remembering a man I met on the train from Chicago to Washingon D.C., an overnight train. Traveling coach, I was delighted to be assigned a seat all to myself in an empty car. I soon found out why the car was empty when the attendant ushered on two French high school rugby teams, their exuberance and energy overwhelming.
Then my own seatmate joined me, muttering about what a useless waste of time rugby was. He began a conversation, more of a discourse really, which was to last during all his waking hours. He was 68, he told me, and had been at a convention in Chicago. He was trained and employed as a nurse which together with his acute business acumen and superior intelligence would make him a million dollars in the next year. This would be the year. Then he could have any woman he wanted. He admitted not having had longterm success with women. His ex-wife and ex-daughter hated him. I interrupted to ask how it was possible to have an ex-daughter. “She won’t speak to me,” he said, “or have anything to do with me.”
I should tell you how he looked. Dark hair, somewhat dark complected, wearing a suit that seemed much used, polished dress shoes. Of stocky build, he took up a fair amount of space, and when he fell asleep for the night he snored, moderately but steadily. He was half German and very proud of having grown up on the streets of Detroit and being a “street fighter.” He had a rather pugnacious countenance and appeared ready to take on anybody who got in his way. (Except the rugby players.) He was a student of history and told me he had especially focused on the rise of Hitler.
He seemed vaguely amused by me and my occasional comments, questions. He felt utterly alien to me and I’m sure had no idea of the extent to which I was holding back. He never asked me anything about myself. He did exclaim once in surprise, “You know, you’re not stupid!”
This is his plan: to take over a hill in New Hampshire. “You can defend a hill,” he explained. “You can see people coming.” He will settle there with “like-miinded friends,” to create a self-sufficient, well-armed group with a huge supply of water, food, guns and ammunition. They’ll be ready when disaster inevitably comes. They’ll be the ones who saw it coming.
The next day, knowing we were in West Virginia and would soon arrive in Washington D.C., I asked him to please be quiet for a while because I wanted to do my 20-minute morning meditation.”I love West Virginia and hate to miss any of it but I always practice transcendental meditation twice a day.”
“Oh that’s great,” he responded enthusiastically. “I’ve heard that helps a person focus and be more successful in business.”
I closed my eyes. He kept talking. I opened my eyes. “You can’t talk to me while I’m meditating,” I said.
“Oh, are you doing it right here, now? I thought you’d go somewhere else to do it.”
“No, I’m doing it right here.”
The still sleeping boys around us were quiet. When I came out of meditation he said, “You missed a sign that said: “Meditators are missing this.”
It took me a moment to realize he was making a joke. He seemed happy when I laughed.
I’m wondering now who he’s supporting for president.