Monday, August 6, 2012

Oh, the Characters You’ll Meet

(or: Part Two of Suzie and Anita’s Adventures and Misadventures)

by Suzie Johnson

Two weeks ago, we updated you on the train trip Anita and I took from Seattle to Anaheim. I wanted to update you soon after that, but I was without an internet connection – one of the misadventures that can occur when traveling. I’m finally home, but not finally rested. Still, I don’t regret a moment of my exhaustion. Anita and I have lots to share with you and today I want to tell you a little bit about some of the people we met because as we all know, people make life fun and interesting. I must add a quick disclaimer and say this is not intended as gossip or disparagement of any individual and I do feel blessed for meeting each of these people and I hope you’ll be able to see that.
photo by Suzie Johnson 
Character number one: No, I don’t mean Disney characters although Anita did get a beautiful close-up shot of Disney’s newest princess Merida as she was kissing a lovely little girl on the cheek… Oh, sorry. Back to the first character I met: Anita Mae Draper! She was waiting on the platform as the Amtrak Red Cap drove me to my passenger car. I recognized her immediately, so we stopped and hugged and I told her to hop on. She didn’t. That should have been my first clue to her stubborn nature. I don’t mean that in a bad way. Stubbornness is a good quality in my opinion; the mark of one who perseveres. Anita is also never without a camera in her hand, and she has a wry sense of humor. We laughed a lot. Truly I am blessed by the time I spent with Anita.
Anita and I have an agreement not to post pics of each other without permission.
If you look carefully, you might be able to see a reflection of Anita holding her camera.
Does this count, Anita?
Character number two: (from here, names are changed to protect the guilty) Ladies, meet Dean! Dean is somewhat of a flirt – an outrageous flirt. At least, that’s what I thought until his wife tried to rein him in. One of the cool experiences on the train, even for shy people like me, is that you eat with other passengers when you eat in the dining car. So Anita and I were seated across from Dean and his wife for our first meal on the train. Little did we know it would be one of several encounters with the mischievous man known as Dean. As the steward was taking our order, I mentioned I didn’t want the meatloaf special. Dean said loudly to the steward, “I want her meatloaf!” The steward ignored him, but as I continued to make my order, Dean continued to repeat himself, growing louder each time. Next up, Anita’s order and a new subject for Dean to focus on: Anita’s camera! Now, instead of saying he wanted my meatloaf, Dean kept announcing he wanted Anita’s camera. I think he even tried to touch it once, but Anita refused to let him. (That’s her stubborn nature again. Me, I would have been so rattled by his insistence, I probably would have handed it to him!)

At one point, while the steward was taking orders from a different table, he turned and shouted, “Dean! Shut up!” Yes, really! And silly me, I thought he was joking. I would later learn that was not the case… And so it went during our dinner with Dean alternating between wanting my non-existent meatloaf and Anita’s non-attainable camera – while Dean’s harried but gentle wife tried to keep him under control.
I can't show you a picture of Dean,
but I can show you a picture of the camera he so deeply coveted!
Oh, and that's Anita's hand holding said camera.
Dean has long gray hair that he wears tied back most of the time. He’s wiry and he has a huge smile. He shared with us that he served in the Marine’s during Vietnam, and that his wife of forty-plus years takes care of him. That was my first insight into Dean’s personality. Where before I just thought he was a jokester, now I realized there was more to the story. Much more, since most of us have a clue to the trauma those veterans suffered then and still suffer from now.

This was not the last of our encounters with Dean. Every time he saw Anita, he asked for her camera. At one point, when I was sitting in the Parlour Car while Anita went back to the room for something, Dean came along and sat in Anita’s spot. He smiled his usual infectious smile then he looked at Anita’s camera sitting in the window. “Hey!” I could see the sparkle lighting his blue eyes and read his thoughts even as he uttered, “Wouldn’t it be funny if I borrowed your friend’s camera and you told her I stole it?”

Um, no…. Somehow I did NOT think that would be a good idea, nor did I think Anita would appreciate the joke. So I quickly snatched the camera and told him I didn’t think we should do that. He laughed, then sat and made small talk until his wife came to fetch him. I learned even more about Dean during that conversation, and my compassion for him grew. I truly believe after that conversation, that Dean has suffered trauma as a result of the war.

The next time we saw Dean was when we arrived at the train station in Los Angeles. He and his wife were waiting for the same train we were, to head into Anaheim. Dean came up to give Anita a hug (while his eye was on her camera) and she told him to stay back. The he came over to me. I was concentrating on sucking down my Starbuck’s iced tea, and not really paying attention until he pulled me into a hug. Then he said, “I really like you, but you know what?” He finally let go and pointed to Anita. “I like her better!” I laughed, but I somehow I don’t remember Anita laughing. Then the Red Cap came to fetch Anita and I, and that was the last we saw of Dean. Luckily Anita’s camera made it through unscathed.

I feel blessed to have met Dean. One: it gave me a deeper insight into the suffering of war veterans. Sometimes the suffering isn’t physical. Two: it showed me an example of a loving woman who stood by her vows “for better or for worse.” Three: Dean made me laugh and he’s a character I’ll remember forever. Four: It was an opportunity to pray for a stranger.

Character number three: Oh. My. I don’t even know how to tell you about this character without scaring people. I have to say upfront that 99% of the people who work on the train are wonderful! The train organization itself is wonderful. But no matter how good a business is there are always a few less-than-cheerful people who slip through the cracks. Enter Chef. (Again, not his real name and if you watch a certain show where people call the screaming man “Chef”, you will understand how I came up with this name.)

Chef was that man I mentioned before who yelled at Dean to “shut up”. Did your mother teach you that telling someone to ‘shut up’ is rude? Mine did. I don’t think Chef’s mother did. But remember, when I first heard him say it, I thought he was joking – until that same night at dinner. Oh. My.
I can't show you a picture of Chef, 
so I thought I'd show you a picture of this lovely restaurant where 
Susie D, Anita, and I ate called the Jazz Kitchen
Our dining experience here was a breath of fresh air!
Wasting no time taking our dinner order, Chef then told us we had to eat quickly. Again, silly me, I thought he was teasing. But he proceeded throughout dinner to interrupt us and tell us to eat more and talk less. Still…well…you know what I thought – until I asked if I could have more iced tea. Before I could also ask for caramel ice cream for my dessert, he disappeared. When he slammed (literally) my tea on the table and started to walk away, I asked if I could have the ice cream. I knew Anita wanted one, too, so started to ask for her, but he was gone. Then I saw him drop my little container of ice cream on the floor. He bent to pick it up, and as he did he gritted his teeth and said to the other steward, “I need them to leave now!” Uh. Oh. I don’t think he was joking. Did he mean us? Had he been serious the entire time? Well…suffice it to say, yes! When he slammed my ice cream on the table (I tried to forget it had been on the floor), and I asked him for ice cream for Anita, he turned and stalked off. Anita called out that she didn’t want any, but he brought it anyway, and I think he realized he’d made a terrible mistake. Anita was none too happy, because she’s much more intuitive than me and knew he hadn’t been joking the entire time.

That was not my last encounter with Chef. I went to the dining car the next day looking for my car attendant to see if she could help me find something. She wasn’t there, but one of the other stewards was and offered to help me. Chef yelled at her as we were leaving the dining car, and she yelled back, telling him to get a life. I immediately felt bad. No one liked Chef. I later found out that is literally the truth. Is that why he was so gruff and unpleasant? Does he have a horrible home life? Is he suffering from some kind of pain that keeps him from enjoying his job anymore?

So how was I blessed by meeting Chef? Again, it was a new insight into another character. Look deeper before you decide someone’s just mean. Is there a reason for it? Thinking through this deepened my compassion and once again I found a new person to pray for. I hope if Chef is ever on the train at the same time as me again, he will be happier and more relaxed.

Oh dear. I think I've used too many words. I have so many more characters to tell you about, but they’ll have to wait for another day. Soon. There are more coming up that you don’t want to miss. Good, bad, sweet, funny, oblivious – all of them a blessing put in our path by God.
Is this Goofy, or Pluto? I can never be sure.
My new challenge: Trying to view people I meet through God's eyes, no matter how pleasant or unpleasant they are. I hope you all will do the same.

Suzie Johnson’s debut novel, No Substitute, a contemporary inspirational novel, will be released by White Rose Press later this year. She is a member of ACFW, RWA, and is the cancer registrar at her local hospital. The mother of a wonderful young man, who makes her proud every day, Suzie lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and naughty little cat.  You can visit her at the following places:


  1. Goofy wears clothes.

    Pluto seems to remember he is a dog.

    oh Suzie, you are so gentle-natured. I think I would have let Chef spoil my day. but you are absolutely right to consider past that gruff exterior to a man who is probably very unhappy and lonely.

    Oh, your photos were a cute accompaniment to the story! Still... I want to see more photos of Suzie, Susie and Anita!

  2. So that's Goofy, then. I'll try to remember. I also don't think Pluto makes appearances like Goofy - or maybe just not as many.

    Pictures soon, Deb. I've just been too exhausted to ask permission of Anita and Susie. Soon, I promise.

  3. Not sure if Plute speaks either. I think he only barks. Goofy talks... I never did understand that one...

  4. Tee hee! Dean and Chef sure were a big part of your train trip down. Anybody similar on the train trip home? We haven't been able to connect much since RWA ended, so I am curious!

    I used to meet some interesting folks on the train.

    Goofy speaks and wears clothes. And his pseudo-girlfriend is a Cow, Clarabell. (I've been informed by my son that they're "in love or something.") Not sure if Goofy's a dog or what?

    I'm anxious to see more pics, too, Suzie!

  5. Wow. You did meet some interesting folks! Sounds like you handled things with grace and kindness. :)

    I want to see Anita's picture of the new Disney princess!

  6. You're a good people watcher. What interesting ideas to include in your writing--with a little tweaking, of course. And changing to the names to protect the innocent. Or the guilty in Chef's case. Sounds like an interesting trip.

  7. Susie, there were no characters on the way home. Either that or I was too exhasted to notice. ;-)

  8. Thanks, DeAnna. That Merida close-up is stunning. I can't wait for Anita to share!

  9. Thanks Barb. I do tend to people-watch a lot. It does come in handy when creating characters, but it also has a way of teaching me valuable lessons. It can also be quite humbling, which I'll write more about next time.

  10. wow. i feel bad for Chef - except if i had been on the train instead of you, i might've been less than kind to him. and then i would've felt guilty when i considered him. he does sound like a person in a lot of pain.

    thanks for sharing about Dean. my hubby is a retired Navy guy and occasionally has bad dreams from his service days. nothing major - but enough to bother him. i think his wife is quite a strong woman. God bless her and Dean.

    you are right to see these characters as opportunity for people who need prayer. that is something i will try to remember the next time i encounter "characters"

  11. Deb H - did you ever get that list of books I sent you to see if you wanted a couple?

  12. Thanks for writing the post and including me, Suzie. Very gracious of you considering you did it all.

  13. Thanks for writing the post and including me, Suzie. Very gracious of you considering you did it all.

  14. Susie, I forgot to ask - does that mean I have permission to post photos of you?

    Did you all know Susie and Tinkerbell have very similar facial features? Susie D is our inky pixie. :-)

  15. Wow, Deb H. I can't even begin to imagine what it would be like to experience some of the things that military members do. God bless your hubby, and you, too.

    Re Chef ... it's hard sometimes to let things like that go - sometimes I stew first. I just wish I could always look at people through God's eyes. I heard a man say one time, "before you go into a store, (or wherever you're going around people) make up your mind to bless someone with a smile or cheerful word - pray about it first and God will put the person who needs it most in your path." I wish I could always live with that philosophy. Sometimes - no, most of the time - I'm the one who ends up blessed.

  16. You're welcome, Anita. You experienced it, too! Next time I'll tell them about Tom the Beach guy, Trolley Car guy, and the waiter who also thinks Susie looks like a fairy princess. ;-)

  17. Debra
    hmmm, i remember a list of books... but i don't know if i returned the email. perhaps send it to me again? apologies.

  18. hmmm, no problem. I'll try to send it again 'cause I'd love for you to pick out a couple to read!

  19. Oh yes, put in the pics, Suzie. I want to see them!


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