Carol came to the church last night at about quarter to ten to pick me up. We got in the car, and we both suddenly realized the headlights weren’t on. “I was sure I put them on,” muttered Carol, and sure enough, she had put them on — but both bulbs were burned out. She backed up, back to the bright outdoor lights near my office. I rustled around in the glove compartment, hoping against hope that I had a spare bulb for at least one headlight, but there wasn’t one. I fiddled around under the hood of the car, wishing I had replaced that one headlight as soon as it had burned out a week or so ago. But there was nothing to be done now; we were stuck.

“Let’s drive back anyway,” said Carol, but I wasn’t brave either to drive on brightly-lit roads with no lights, or to leave my high beams on all the time. We found the train schedule on the Web, and had just enough time to walk over to the station and catch the last train home that night.

The train was packed, but we managed to find two seats together. “Was there a game or something?” Carol said. “I heard someone say it was the Sharks game,” I said. Two guys wearing hats with Sharks logos walked into the car and stopped to say hi to some other guys. They jammed themselves into some seats and all opened beers. In Boston, if you’re on a train after a hockey game and a bunch of guys open up some beers, you’d expect things to get loud and you might even worry about fights breaking out; but this being California, all the guys did was stand around and talk quietly and happily to each other about the game.

A thin, young-looking man walked into the car. He was wearing an elaborate headdress made out of balloons. He stopped just inside the door, next to a seat with two children and their parents, and started making a little tiger out of balloons. He talked to a couple of guys standing at the end of the car, talked to people walking by, talked to the children, all the while pumping up balloons and rapidly twisting them and shaping them into a tiger and a turtle. One of the parents gave him some money. He gave each kid a high five, and walked on.

Two young women sitting across the aisle from us stopped him to talk. “I’ll make you a tiger bracelet for three dollars,” he said. One young woman said she guessed she wanted one. “Two for five dollars,” he said, and the second young woman said she guessed she’d take a turtle bracelet. “Put them in the freezer and they’ll last two or three months,” he said. By the time he was done with theirs, someone else wanted a big turtle for his daughter. The man asked him if he did events. “Call my agent,” he said, “that’s my mom. My mom does all my bookings.” How long had he been making things out of balloons? “Since I was six,” he said, “for five years now…” — a pause while he waited for the laughter, then he smiled, all the while twisting balloons together.

At last he left and went on to the next car, and somehow he left some of his cheerfulness behind. Carol said, “He’s good.” I agreed. Carol said, “This was the right train to take.” I felt the same way, and was just as glad that the headlights had burned out so we had had to take the train.

Epilogue: We found an auto parts store open today, got two new bulbs, and everything is back in order now.

5 thoughts on “Headlights

  1. Erp

    Bit of a walk to the train station if I recall correctly but the trains are an interesting cross-section. A few months ago at the Cal Avenue station I saw one where a couple (or their friends) had put up a ‘just married’ sign in a window (with decorations).

  2. gurdonark

    Thanksgiving creates such a wealth of memories. Your experience on the train–and this delightful weblog post–certainly will qualify this Thanksgiving for your personal memory set.

    I was impressed that you hoped that your glove box had a spare lamp in it, because I am certain my glove box would never hold even that possibility.

    There is something fun about bus and train vendors of good cheer.
    I have seen them in Mexico, but never on a northern CA train.

  3. Dan

    Erp @ 1 — “Just married” — that’s sweet!

    gudonark @ 2 — Back in the day, there used to be vendors on trains between Boston and New Haven. Don’t know what happened to them.

    Doc @ 3 — Most cars these days, you can’t just replace the bulb, you have to pay a hundred bucks for a whole lamp assembly.

  4. Jean

    We had to replace the lightbulb in my Honda Fit during our trip back from New Hampshire. And, of course, it was raining. Thank goodness for parking garages. And Sears stores. And a very handy boyfriend who figured out how to get into the seemingly impervious headlight assembly and replace just the bulb.

    And, we got some new socks at Sears too.

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