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Train delay

When drug deals were going down in my car, I thought it was time to tell the conductor

Published: Saturday, March 24, 2012 5:00 a.m. CDT

If you were sitting at a railroad crossing in Normal last Friday and had to wait on the train, I’m sorry. It was my fault. I feel bad about it, but I would do it again.

I was going home from a day in Chicago. The train car was about half full, which meant nobody had to share a seat. Across the aisle from me, a young kid, maybe 16 or 17, tossed his oversized duffel bag into the seat and sat down next to it. I wondered why he didn’t load it into the overheard compartment, but he seemed to want it close, draping one arm over it. Maybe there was something of value in the bag. Maybe everything he owned was in there. Maybe he just wanted to signal to others that he wanted to sit alone. Who knows.

I noticed the kid later in the dining car. He had left the precious bag in its seat and was asking the cook if the train was going to make any smoke breaks. I thought, “Gee, this kid thinks the whole train should sit and wait so he can have a smoke?” I later overheard him ask the conductor for the second time whether the next stop would be a smoke break. This kid really needed a cigarette.

I don’t know why I even noticed these things except maybe because he was the only person I could see between the high backs of my seat and the seats in front of me.

My cell phone was out of battery, so I couldn’t play backgammon or spades or surf the Internet. I didn’t have a pillow or anything I could make into a pillow. When I’m bored, I just observe people around me, especially if there seems to be something amiss, like this kid desperately needing a cigarette and cradling his duffel bag.

After awhile, he placed a phone call. I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop but even over the clack and hum of the steel wheels beneath me, the kid’s voice was clear. My ears perked up a bit when I heard him talking about marijuana and other drugs — not because I have any special interest in street drugs; I just thought it was odd that he was taking no precautions to keep from being overheard.

I heard him tell the person on the other end of the line that he had “some weed and all kinds of pills.” He had unzipped the bag and had one hand inside it rummaging around. “I can’t find it right now,” he said, “but I got it.” He repeated: “I got all kinds of pills and some weed.”

At this point, I was still in the “not my business camp.” “All kinds of pills” seemed vague and I’m not even sure marijuana should be illegal. I say: Regulate it and tax the crap out of it. We’d free up overcrowded jail space, save valuable court time and earn new revenue for the state.

Then the kid started talking about money. The guy on the other end of the call was haggling over the $100 price tag. It was now apparent that this was a drug deal. I moved from “not my business” to “I’m a bit uncomfortable.”

The kid chastised the buyer for always trying to get the price down indicating that this drug transaction was not an isolated event. He told him that if the buyer would pay the asking price, he’d throw in a bonus for another $20. There was a pause and the kid explained, “I got a little coke.”

The conversation had just entered a new realm of delinquency. I was amazed by the lack of discretion. But what could I do? What would you do?

I decided that this was unacceptable to me. My daughter sometimes rides that train alone and I don’t want to have to worry about what kind of den she’s stepping into. What kind of society are we if we allow hard drugs to be brokered openly? If you’re going to buy and sell cocaine, at least have the decency to do it underground where the rest of us don’t have to be a party to it.

I decided to tell the conductor what I had heard. This was a serious crime; a type of crime that can’t be controlled if we think of it as criminals vs. law enforcement. Crimes like this pit criminals against the rest of us. It’s a crime that imprints the fabric of our society.

At the next stop, there were several squad cars and a drug dog waiting. The kid eagerly asked if this was a smoke break.

“Oh, yeah,” the conductor told him. “You can get off the train.”

The dog hit on the kid’s bag, which gave police probable cause to search it and him, but they didn’t find any drugs. Earlier, while I was talking to the conductor, the kid had walked two cars toward the back of the train. He knew the dining car was in the front, so why did he walk to the back? Did he get nervous and dump the drugs? Or did he not have them to begin with?

I don’t know, but without any drug evidence, they put him back on the train. That made for a bit of an uncomfortable ride as the kid incessantly complained about the incident and accused everyone in that car of snitching on him. That was between phone calls where he continued to talk about drugs and told someone that he had just gotten out of rehab for “drug issues.”

The train was slowing down to stop when he got around to accusing me. I admitted it to him and told him he should be more careful who he makes his drug deals in front of. He got lucky this time but it will catch up to him. When he saw that I was not going to cower to his bravado, he quieted down and we had no more problems.

I would have felt better about the whole thing if the police had found the drugs, but I think I still did the right thing. History is full of tragedies that occurred because good people did nothing. I guess we all have to decide between what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. To do nothing toward the unacceptable is to make it acceptable.

(c) Copyright 2012 by David Porter who can be reached at david@ramblinman.us. Find us online at www.ramblinman.us and www.clipcricket.com. Find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ramblinman. All rights reserved and guaranteed drug free. Wait. Are cigars drugs? If so, then never mind.

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