Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Scotland: Queen Street Station

The conductor for the shuttle bus pointed all in the direction of a tiny inlet of asphalt. He rattled off instructions in a high Glasgow tongue and several of us disembarked, stepping uncertainly in the way that he indicated. The small cul-de-sac was actually a car park for cabs, several of which idled there on Woodside Way like oversized bees waiting for passengers. Above them stood a white portico with the words “Queen Street” emblazoned on the side of the grimy overhang. My luggage rattled behind me on the bricked sidewalk as I walked through the automatic sliding doors, which would have closed had their efforts not been punctuated by a steady stream of people rolling out onto the street.

Hiding its bulk behind shops and tiny stone inlets, a cathedral of transportation arched its back above the seven sets of tracks. The sun shone through the frosted glass skin of the station. People sat quietly in bunches or drank coffee or paced or plowed forward with bits of luggage in hand. The spindly ticking of bicycle wheels and the snuffling of dogs mingled with a river of human voices. My nagging loneliness from the long journey was lost in sheer amazement at this grand business of moving people. Men and women of Indian descent stood about pressing the crowds to buy cell phones. A group of German accents congregated jovially and walked through the gate to board a train. The marquee on the wall flashed its heraldic scheduling as the trains all left on time – that is to say, within fifteen seconds of the clock changing to their scheduled minute of departure. It was an impressive showing of punctuality.

I found an automated ticket machine in the breezeway outside the grandeur of the terminal. After retrieving my ticket, I decided that it was high time to get the sound of native speech in my ears again. I walked back and forth down Georges Square looking for a local dive before deciding on the pub right outside the train station. Two women who might have been mother and daughter squeezed out the thin red door under the sign advertising “The Junction Bar.” A tall, well-built young fellow with long dark hair who could have passed for an American manned the bar. A couple of old men stood at a high table working their way through several pints and laughing over business. The quickest reminder of the many tasks and problems at hand was lopsidedly planted two tables down from me. A man whose age had been furthered by drink sat and preached a stream of incoherent cursing at the invisible person in front of him, who, judging by the man’s conversation, was waffling between occasional acquiescence and outright denial. The vibe in the pub seemed to indicate that the drunken man was something of an embarrassment. He was by far the loudest representative of the clientele. I pulled my luggage up beside me at the table and glanced over the menu trying to remember the song and dance of ordering food in a foreign country. After no one came over for a while and I remembered that it is customary, in a pub, to order one’s food in person at the bar, I walked up and asked for the haggis and a pint of whatever local stout was on tap. It is always a puzzling sensation to thank God for beer. My conscience which tells me that I should pray thus also suffers from the erratic spasms and hissing fissures of legalism. But I was glad to have arrived and to eat, and sitting back with a plate of local fare and listening to conversations, I let the sense of the place – what the French call terroir – wash over me.

Taking pictures inside a public train station in a country that is beset by terrorism is not the healthiest of endeavors, but not to be deterred, I forewent dessert at the pub in lieu of finding the right shot. A man in a uniform came up to me and politely informed me that I should not take photos of the station. Understanding his concerns as a representative of the government, I left my post outside the front doors and went to take more covert photos inside the station proper where so many good shots were hidden amongst all that Euclidian architecture and steel framework. Trying to get a finger on the pulse of the country, I picked up a free independent weekly and flipped through the articles, landing on one about a British musician that had moved to Montana to find writing time away from the frenzy of recording and shows. Still, peace eluded me. Often, the Peace of Christ is something I try to find by seeking out instead of resting in. This anxiety causes me to avoid my iPod or anything else that could be entertaining in order to keep from being what Neil Postman called “amused to death.” But, finally, when I got on the train myself and discovered that, unlike in the airliners, I would be alone at my table, I acknowledged the fact that God made me a musician – and that music, to me, is much like a lubricant to the wheels of prayer. I turned up Rich Mullins in my ears and Glasgow rolled away as we entered darkness beneath her streets. The distance and movement was measured only by my body telling me that we were rocketing onward. My face stared back at me from the darkened window until, without warning, we emerged far from the crowds in golden fields of oilseed rape beneath a cobalt sky.


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