Posted on: June 26th, 2011 Train Ride Out of Oakland
The train was to be four hours late, so I walked back to the bus carrying my bags, the parrot on my shoulder. The bus driver just raised his eyebrows; he recognized me, and sighed, and let me on, even though the bus strictly forbade bicycles, food and drink, shirtlessness and shoelessness, and presumably, birds. The bus chugged along toward the old hotel, where I hoped to get a cup of coffee and sit by the fireplace. My hands were rigid with the cold, my feet tingled, and the parrot and I both sent out plumes of fog as we breathed.
The hotel smelled of Lysol and of the chickens going around and around on the rotisserie. The parrot went wild for the smell, cawing EAT, EAT, EAT in his nasal, rapid-fire voice. The man at the coffee counter looked alarmed, but he didnâ€™t dare ask me to leave: I might have been a lunatic; I might have ordered the parrot to attack his jugular. So the parrot kept up his EAT, EAT, EAT, and I smiled politely at the man at the counter and ordered a coffee and a banana, and then the parrot and I went to sit at the counter, a dirty, sticky counter that looked out on a busy street corner where women in their polyester city skirts strode along the sidewalk, some of them stopping when through the glass they saw the parrot clutching the shoulder of my coat. Before the parrot, no one used to look at me in publicâ€”I was invisible, a rather petite woman of nondescript features, nondescript clothesâ€”but now they all stare at me a little nervously, and the best ones smile at the corners of their mouths.
After the coffee, for me, and the banana, for the parrot, we walk the long walk back to the train station. Itâ€™s warming up. The sun is filtering through the gray Oakland sky. I can hear the train roaring and jangling and hooting its way up to the station. The doors hiss open. The conductor sets the yellow stool in front of the platform so that I can step comfortably into the train. Then he spots the parrot.
â€œMiss, you canâ€™tâ€”â€ he begins, but the parrot breaks in. â€œHANDSOME, HANDSOME, HANDSOME,â€ screeches the parrot, and the conductor, who isnâ€™t the slightest bit handsome, with his stoop and his slack European cheeks, canâ€™t help but smile.
I smile back, and wait.
â€œWell, I suppose it wonâ€™t cause any harm,â€ he says, â€œbut next time, leave the parrot at home.â€
The parrot and I get on the train. We take a seat on the right side of the train because the parrot likes to see the water; he likes to look out over the bay and say â€œFAR, FAR, FARâ€ as the train shuttles past all of the troubled scenery of this place: the graffitied walls and the children standing knee deep in a swamp, rescuing their only toy, an old tire.