Caltrain Candy Man and the Best Compliment


Photo by Julie Michelle of i live here: SF

Ed. note: Silvi Alcivar of The Poetry Store told this story on stage at Muni Diaries Live! last Friday. If you missed her and her beautiful typewriter at the show, here is her story. She was also featured on SFGate this week. Oh, and yes, we take Caltrain and BART stories, too! You can find the rest of Caltrain stories on this page and on our @caltraindiaries Twitter feed.

I was having a terrible morning. Not only did I have to get up at 6:30am after about a week of way too little sleep, I had to get up and get on my bike, to get to Caltrain, to go to Menlo Park to get my boobs squished in a machine. Why did I have to go all the way to Menlo Park for my annual mammogram? Because I’m a poet, and poet’s don’t have health insurance, at least I don’t, and the free breast screening program I’m enrolled in meant I had to venture out of the city if I wanted to make sure my boobs were cancer free.

Not only did this feel like a hassle, I was also so broke that I almost couldn’t justify paying $12 for a day pass. I thought maybe I could get by without one, but I didn’t want to chance it, so I dished out $12 I felt like I didn’t have.

Thanks to the timeliness of Caltrain, I arrived at my appointment proud of myself for being half an hour early. I’m never early. Ever. When I went to lock up my bike, crap! I didn’t have my lock. I walked in, bike in tow, and a man appeared out of nowhere and started ushering me and my bike out. “No, no bikes in here, just leave it out there.” He pointed to a far away space not within easy eyeshot of anyone, let alone me, who was going to be in another room, getting her boobs squished in a machine. “Look,” I told him, “this bike is worth more money than I have right now. I can’t risk anything happening to it.” He gave me a look that told me he obviously was not a bike commuter, or even a bike commute appreciator. I begged the receptionist and finally she let me leave my bike right outside the door.

When I went to check in, sure enough, they had no record of my appointment. In fact, the receptionist informed me, “But we don’t do mammograms here.” A phone call or two later it turned out I was sent the wrong paper work and sent to the wrong place. A woman on the phone told me, “Your appointment is actually in San Mateo in 10 minutes.” “I’m on my bike,” I told her, “and on Caltrain, there’s no way I can’t make it.” She offered to pay for a cab. I was so frustrated and disappointed I couldn’t even talk because if I talked I was going to cry. She asked if I wanted to reschedule and I choked out, “Not. Right. Now.” Then I retrieved my bike from the place it remained perfectly safe and I headed back to Caltrain.

Of course, when I got there, I had just missed the SF train and had to wait. When finally I got on, all I wanted to do was close my eyes and disappear. Lucky for me, no such thing happened. It was about 10 a.m. or so and the bike car was virtually empty, but of course, some guy decided to sit right in front of me.

When the ticket guy came around, he looked at my ticket and said, “Geez, that was a short day trip.” I almost told him, “Thanks for rubbing it in!” Instead, I said, “Well, sometimes you don’t end up where you’re meant to be.” He replied, “That good, huh?” And I said, “Yep,” wanting the conversation to end right there because I was feeling like I might just cry again.

Then he reached into his pocket and said, “I think I have something that might make you feel better.”

For a split second I was so creeped out. And then he handed me a piece of chocolate. And I felt like a little girl being comforted by her oh so loving father. And I almost cried again.

And then, because I believe in proper expressions of gratitude where they’re due, I wrote the candy man a poem.

Directions
for the Cal Train Conductor/Ticket Guy

Somedays people send you in
directions you are not meant to go.
These days,
you need strangers
who offer you candy.
Of course you eat it,
forgoing age old advice,
trusting kindness
sets the right direction.

When I gave the conductor candy man the poem, he almost cried, folding it into his pocket, telling me I made his week. Meanwhile, the guy sitting across from me had been watching this whole thing, and you could tell he was kind of wondering where his candy was. So the candy man gave him some. And we were all happy. And I thought that was the end of it, so I closed my eyes, finally, but then, the guy started talking to me.

It was small talk, I’m talking to you on public transit kind of talk. He asked me what I do. And I said, “Well, I’m a poet.” And without even a little pause, and so much enthusiasm, he said, “You mean, like a genius?”

I didn’t know what to say. That was the best compliment I’ve probably gotten from anyone, especially on Muni.

So, I went home that day not knowing whether or not I had cancer, but at least I knew I was a genius.

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