AN EARLY TRAIN
The course of events has compelled me for several months to catch an early train at Broad Street three times a week. I call it an “early” train, but, of course, these matters are merely relative; 7:45 are the figures illuminated over the gateway–not so very precocious, perhaps; but quite rathe enough for one of Haroun-al-Raschid temper, who seldom seeks the “oblivion of repose” (Boswell’s phrase) before 1 A. M.
Nothing is more pathetic in human nature than its faculty of self-deception. Winding up the alarm clock (the night before) I meditate as to the exact time to elect for its disturbing buzz. If I set it at 6:30 that will give me plenty of time to shave and reach the station with leisure for a pleasurable cup of coffee. But (so frail is the human will) when I wake at 6:30 I will think to myself, “There is plenty of time,” and probably turn over for “another five minutes.” This will mean a hideous spasm of awakening conscience about 7:10–an unbathed and unshaven tumult of preparation, malisons on the shoe manufacturers who invented boots with eyelets all the way up, a frantic sprint to Sixteenth Street and one of those horrid intervals that shake the very citadel of human reason when I ponder whether it is safer to wait for a possible car or must start hotfoot for the station at once. All this is generally decided by setting the clock for 6:50. Then, if I am spry, I can be under way by 7:20 and have a little time to be philosophical at the corner of Sixteenth and Pine. Of the vile seizures of passion that shake the bosom when a car comes along, seems about to halt, and then passes without stopping–of the spiritual scars these crises leave on the soul of the victim, I cannot trust myself to speak. It does not always happen, thank goodness. One does not always have to throb madly up Sixteenth, with head retorted over one’s shoulder to see if a car may still be coming, while the legs make what speed they may on sliddery paving. Sometimes the car does actually appear and one buffets aboard and is buried in a brawny human mass. There is a stop, and one wonders fiercely whether a horse is down ahead, and one had better get out at once and run for it. Tightly wedged in the heart of the car, nothing can be seen. It is all very nerve-racking, and I study, for quietness of mind, the familiar advertising card of the white-bearded old man announcing “It is really very remarkable that a cigar of this quality can be had for seven cents.”
Suppose, however, that fortune is with me. I descend at Market Street, and the City Hall dial, shining softly in the fast paling blue of morning, marks 7:30. Now I begin to enjoy myself. I reflect on the curious way in which time seems to stand still during the last minutes before the departure of a train. The half-hour between 7 and 7:30 has vanished in a gruesome flash. Now follow fifteen minutes of exquisite dalliance. Every few moments I look suddenly and savagely at the clock to see if it can be playing some saturnine trick. No, even now it is only 7:32. In the lively alertness of the morning mind a whole wealth of thought and accurate observation can be crammed into a few seconds. I halt for a moment at the window of that little lunchroom on Market Street (between Sixteenth and Fifteenth) where the food comes swiftly speeding from the kitchen on a moving belt. I wonder whether to have breakfast there. It is such fun to see a platter of pale yellow scrambled eggs sliding demurely beside the porcelain counter and whipped dextrously off in front of you by the presiding waiter. But the superlative coffee of the Broad Street Station lunch counter generally lures me on.