“Trans-Atlantic” by Hamish Spiers continues. We’ll be running a new installment each week through summer so be sure to pop back each week.
By Hamish Spiers
Part VI. A Connection
There are plenty of other people who’d be happy to take your place. What an awful thing to say. However, hearing these words in the dining car, I had an epiphany. What Bob had told me was absolutely right. We are disconnected.
People take what the empowered offer them because they fear that if they hold out for something better, then others will take what’s on offer and they’ll be left with nothing at all. But if, to give just one example, everyone unanimously agreed that they wouldn’t sign another one–sided contract ever again, the empowered would have to offer something better.
Now at this point, the worker was obviously having a break down and I felt like slime. My own troubles on the trip paled in comparison to what these maintenance workers endured so that privileged jerks like me could use the tunnels.
“You can’t do this,” the worker said to Mr. Henderson. By then, he sounded tired more than anything else.
Mr. Henderson shrugged. “Don’t see why not. It’s a free country.”
There’s another expression to be wary of. Nobody ever says “it’s a free country” in conjunction with anything good. No one says, “It’s a free country so I’m going to take my kids for a picnic in the park.” Also, since the train was still under the Atlantic, we were technically in international waters so the whole “free country” thing didn’t make much sense anyhow.
“You types are all the same,” the worker replied. “It’s never about what’s good or bad. It’s only ever about what’s good or bad for business.”
As I write this, I keep thinking about Bob. But the thing is, I can’t tell this story without him. He’s inseparable from it. Because my short conversation with him had a bigger impact on me than I realized. People are disconnected. And what that maintenance worker needed in that very moment was a connection.
What happened was this. First, one of the other passengers in the dining car spoke to the worker.
“Hey, buddy,” he said. “Are you done now? Because I’ve got an appointment in New York and I don’t want to be late.”
And then I stood up. The bartender also came to my side.
“Screw your appointment,” I told the other passenger.
Other passengers spoke up too and the man had the good sense to keep quiet. However, I’ll always remember the look of gratitude the maintenance worker gave me. I didn’t do much for him, I think. At least, it didn’t feel like I did. But the way he looked at me, it was as though I had given him everything that was mine to give. It was the power of connection.
Then the worker turned to the passenger who had acted like a jerk. “Yeah. I’m done.” And he left the train and spoke to his fellow maintenance workers outside.
There was a change in the room. Almost everyone felt it, apart from three people. The first was the passenger who had so badly let down his fellow human being and the second was whichever Alliance Airways goon had been keeping watch on me at the time. They both beat a hasty retreat from the dining car. And the third was of course Mr. Henderson, who didn’t appear to have any sense of the mood at all.
“I’m going to press charges against those men,” he said to the dining car at large. “That little stunt was blatantly illegal.”
We all said bully to Mr. Henderson on that one. While the law occasionally coincides with ethics, there isn’t always a clear correlation between the them. And in the case of dispute, I’ll side with ethics any day of the week.
“You’re not going to do a thing to those men,” I told Mr. Henderson. “Because if you do, I’ll go to the press and tell them just how you treat them.” There was a chorus of assents. “Maybe your reputation can take it,” I continued. “But I think you could live without the publicity, don’t you?”
Mr. Henderson shrugged. “Fine. Go and have your little group therapy session or whatever the hell it is you’ve got going on down there. But none of you are allowed to travel with Trans–Atlantic again.”
I shrugged. “We’ll live.”