“Did trains even go down this far?” I wondered, highly doubting it. And I wondered if the man was a porter at all, despite Mario’s assurances that all those Red Cap guys were there to help with baggage. “You thought he wanted to steal your bags??” he’d asked in amazement. “You should have let him help, so on your return trip, let him! And be sure to tip him!”
So after a wonderful visit home to Michigan, I embarked confidently on the return trip to New York. After all, I was a seasoned traveler then! Until that is, I remembered the upcoming 5-hour layover in Penn station.
And that huge station filled with shady characters, street people, pimps, and drug dealers, had my stomach knotting in fear. And before I knew it, I was worrying. Me, the Brave One, who would fear no more , who never locked the doors of her Bronx apartment, and had even survived being lost in the Big Apple!
“Maybe, ” I thought, “we could take the underground or a taxi. After all, it’s absurd to wait five hours in a train station, when we only need to cross the city!” But I had no idea which subway line went to the Bronx, nor any idea of a cab’s cost, especially with all our bags.
Finally, seeing no way out, I asked the Lord’s protection. And perhaps he’d been waiting for just that, for they soon announced we were two hours behind schedule. Cutting the wait down to three hours! “You see,” I told myself, “the Lord’s taking care of us! Will I never learn?”
So upon arrival, my confidence bolstered, I proudly presented our tickets to the first Red Cap I saw.
Though I’m not sure just what I expected. Maybe I thought trains normally showed up three hours early, just to sit around waiting for passengers. But this Red Cap was a pretty nifty guy. “Follow me,” he said. And whipping out his special keys to make the escalators change direction, took us right where he wanted to go.
“But where,” I wondered, “was that?” For we were going down one escalator after another. Always down, far underground.
Until finally stopping in a dingy, dimly lit room, piled high with dusty boxes. It wouldn’t have surprised me any to see him pull a gun on us, it seemed that much like a scene from a bad movie.
And that’s when I wondered, “Do trains even come down this far? And who is this guy?” certain that he couldn’t be one of those trustworthy Red Caps. I anxiously peered about for a weapon, convinced he was up to no good.
I had no words to ease the terror in my children’s eyes, knowing mine mirrored the same fear. But knowing I’d never find my way out of that labyrinth he’d brought us down, all we could do was sit and wait. And pray. And battle the engulfing fear.
And then he left me even more speechless when, feet crossed on the desk, he fell fast asleep!
So somewhat relieved, I tried to relax. “But what is he up to?” I wondered. How was I to know that he was watching that odd machine on the desk? Surreptitiously peering at it when it wrote with its pencil.
Until finally, two nerve-wracking hours later, it wrote what he was watching for. And he repeated, “Follow me”. What a silent chap! Which undoubtedly made him seem all the more frightening. Did I mention he was huge? Well over six-foot, with shoulders as wide as the doorways? But using his magic keys, he did lead us up and out of that maze, straight to our train!
Only years later did I learn that odd machine was a Telautograph. And that most major railway stations had Telautograph systems installed to relay hand-written reports of train movements. More than likely, the one I saw during that scary year of Bronx living was more modern than that pictured above. After all, it was 1988! But I’ve since wondered: surely there were many such machines around the station. Why take us down there?
I literally collapsed in my seat after he helped us board. A long rest or a nice long cry — I’m not sure which I needed most! And then seeing him still standing there, I turned my angriest glare on him. I’d had about all I could take of him! And then it hit me. He was waiting for the all-famous tip!
“A tip?” I thought. “For giving me the fright of my life?”
“I’ll give him a tip, or two!” And then thought, “But we have taken up an awful lot of his time. But then again, I certainly hadn’t asked to go down there!” I did tip him, of course, hoping it was the right amount. My mind wasn’t working too well.
But in looking back, I think it was surely far too little, for one probably sent by the Lord to help us.
And too little, as well, for the valuable lesson of learning that God is always present, walking with us through any situation — no matter how strange!
We were the first to board that train that soon became packed to gills. Normal, of course, in Manhattan. But how grateful we were to have seats, and to have our heavy bags lifted on to the train.
I’ve also wondered since: Why would he have sat there with us for over two hours? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to seat us somewhere and find others to help? He must have lost a lot of tips during that time. So I wondered, “Who was that guy?” And I still wonder that today…
For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways, (Psalm 91:11).
I’m not really sure what angels look like, but I have since wondered if maybe once in a while they wear red caps…
Remember that God is with you, whatever fear or difficulty you face, and that sometimes his help comes in the most unexpected ways!