Last week I posted Don’t rubbish that first draft, and asked readers to share their thoughts on whether they thought the first draft of the train story I had written some time back, was better than the second draft, which is my post today. Please feel free to comment.
Draft Two: The Overlander’s been saved
I reached for the phone. A smile was puckering, forming for the person who would book my ticket. “Our hours are…electronic ticketing is a preferred option, our website is…www.tranzscenic.co.nz…” “Oh.”
I wasn’t a Luddite – I’d booked flights on line, so what if I was a bit disappointed at not being able to share my enthusiasm and nostalgia with Tranzrail staff. An e-ticket, well, they were keeping up with technology and that had to be good.
Reservation: Auckland to Palmerston North. Palmerston North to Auckland. The days were correct, the times appeared to be too…but where did one embark? I must have missed that detail, (friends often referred to their ‘senior moments’, now it seemed I had to admit mine). No, definitely no station mentioned on the ticket. It must have been on the web; no, not a whiff of it there. Okay. Try Tranz Scenic phone number again. I think I got to a real person by pushing 9. That’s all right, I can hold.
“Does the Overlander leave from Britomart?” I enquired breezily, “I’m travelling Sunday.”
“Yep, it does.”
“I guessed it did, and although I live on the North Shore, the news of a new railway station has reached my ears. However, there is no mention of the train leaving from Britomart, either on the E ticket, or the website, and I just wondered how visitors to our country would get on? You know, like when they want to catch the train. Have you seen the website by the way?”
“Yep. That’s right. It’s not on the website.”
“A point, don’t you think?”
The day arrived, up at 5.30, and scarcely light by the time I reached Britomart. Platform 3, jolly good; out in the forecourt, down the escalators. Lots of glass and gleaming steel, high ceilings – impressive. I spot the guard taking bags a bit further on. Damn, I remembered the thing I meant not to forget, cash. I’d need food for the trip. “Do I have time to go up the escalator again?” I asked the man, “or do you have EFTPOS on the train?”
“We have the facilities madam, but I’d suggest you get cash.”
Up, up, across, cash out; across, down, down, up, on, in and away.
I settled back in my seat and spotted a menu immediately. Goody. A selection for breakfast, even my old favourites, toasted sandwiches. Train moving; safety announcements, then – “You will find the menu in the seat pocket. We’re not having that today. There’s a café car at the front of the train, just ask what’s available.” I wasn’t too concerned about the distance between me and the food. I was used to travel, train especially, and what if I was last seat in the back?
But as I watched my fellow passengers lurch through doors only children could open without stooping like Quasimodo, recent travel in Japan flashed before my eyes: sleek trains, sliding doors, and constant hostess service – of the food and beverage kind.
The whip-lash action of the semi-covered coupling between the carriages was a good place to practise surf-board skills. I made it to the café car intact and was about to speak when the assistant said. “Excuse me madam, but it’s time for safety announcements, I’ll be with you in a minute.” (Let’s make that seven.)
I happened to notice someone’s French toast, which had been my first choice and decided immediately to change my order to the cling-wrapped sandwich. With my hunger satisfied, I settled back to enjoy the view, and I did.
Gorgeous rolling green hills, pasture and sheep, the New Zealand landscape I knew and loved. This section was great, for there was an excellent commentary given on local Maori history and sites, by a young woman with superb pronunciation. Good on you Tranzrail, you’ve got something right, pat yourself on the back.
And yes! The mountains: Ngauruhoe, Ruapehu, Tongariro; the three sisters, towering white-capped over National Park station. I couldn’t wait to get off, stretch my legs, and soak in the majestic beauty of the area. Oh. What was this I walked onto? A film set, surely not? Perhaps Peter Jackson was here. Weeds proliferated beneath the grandly peeling station sign. Under the words National Park I could make out smaller print between the peel…‘Where Adventure Begins’.
I looked up to see a deserted road leading to the hills, a perfect example of one-point perspective and came dangerously close to losing mine.
I was now a cowboy in a western approaching the bar room doors. I swung them open to find half the world there, or to be more precise TWO train-loads of passengers from the Main Trunk Line! The café was buzzing, not a ‘railway cup’ in sight. And everyone, but everyone, (excluding me) had a cardboard cup brimming with espresso. For inside this place where ‘adventure begins’ was a super-duper up-to-the-minute, could have been anywhere in Ponsonby, kind of café.
I walked out onto the platform, pulled my hood round my ears and for the forty minutes
left of this windswept break watched a brown and white dog scamper around the crumbling asphalt until he peed on a clump of weeds.
The next bit was easy; I fell asleep, and dreamed blissful dreams until my destination. Lucky that I’d booked a return ticket, because there was much I could have missed in that last stage of my journey.
Reservation: Palmerston North to Auckland: I was awake for all the wonderful plunging gorges and scenes that can take one’s breath away. And this time I’d get that espresso, and cake to go with it, be damned. I waited and waited and waited and waited in the café at National Park, and when the second train did some weird backing thing and screeched to a stop, I skipped the coffee and the dog-watch and clambered back on my train. Never mind I told myself, I’ll have an egg sandwich a bit later on, but on scouring my wallet found the weekend had swallowed my cash. “We take EFTPOS, don’t worry,” the assistant cooed, swiping my card with a grin. “Oops, I’ll try again,” and four times she did, with no success, (no kidding). I looked at my scone, with no pat of butter (no sandwiches offered in this direction) and the bottle of juice sitting on the counter and wondered with a manic kind of calm, the sort that signals a pending storm, if there was anyone out there who’d be willing to rescue me.