I was standing on the platform, waiting for my train to be announced yesterday, when I heard people - young backpackers, for lack of a better term - talking behind me in an undeterminable language. We made eye contact, I smiled meekly, and went back to gazing at the screen.
The guy approached me to ask a question. I was secretly thrilled. These people! People of my stripe! They know I that I have traveled, but they know that I am native. That I am a wealth of information. That I am young and capable and flexible like them. They know I have stood in train stations gazing at boards with distant, unknown locations in countries unseen, all while locals are going about their lives, not knowing what they were missing. I had been to the other side and yearn for it always. I will not fail them.
While his accent said Eastern European, his appearance said Spain. "Excuse me," he said in heavily accented, but perfectly comprehendible English, "can I ask you a question?" I already had my earbuds out, iPod paused, attention rapt. Where were these two beautiful and anonymous people going? They needed my help! They asked me because I knew! I wondered if they needed a guide. "Which of these," he continued, gesturing at the board, "can take us to Niagara Falls?"
This, unknown to them, was sort of a stupid question. For several reasons.
"You want to go to Niagara Falls?" I said as seriously and kindly as I could, making sure that I got this right, not wanting to send them to upstate New York for a very specific and somewhat outdated tourist spot. "Yes, the Niagara Falls."
"Oh, honey," I wanted to say. It was the cutest thing I'd ever heard.
I wanted to tell them where to go - someplace more fun - have you ever been to the Southwest? You've never seen anything like it! Go to the Grand Canyon before it crumbles under the crushing fist of pollution. Go to a nature reserve in Idaho - near the Snake River - where I was born! Well, not in the river, but close bye... Maybe we'll see wolves! There's Red Rocks in Colorado - always wanted to see that. Maybe you want something more urban. I hear Chicago is incredible - cheaper than New York and beautiful at this time of year. I have a friend there... You like barbecue? We'll go to Memphis. I've always wanted to go to Memphis. We'll laugh at their hats, but secretly want to buy one, because we know that on us, they would look awesome...
Instead, I directed them inside to the Amtrak information center. There was no direct way to upstate NY, that's for sure, but a change-over in NYC... or maybe the Amtrak people would tell them to go by bus... either way, they probably made it to Niagara Falls by 4 AM or decide that it was too much of a hassle and changed their plans.
I'm on that platform everyday if they change their minds.