The Wrong Track
By Stephanie Lynn, age 24, Massachusetts
Recently a good friend told me a true story from his time in Japan, and I wanted to relate it to you. The international airport serving Tokyo is actually located about 45 minutes outside the city by express train in Narita. The express train costs about $30 each way, but there is also a slower local train that takes about 70 minutes, but only costs about $10. I know about this because I've been there.
Always the frugal one, and in no hurry to go to the airport, my friend who lived in Japan some years ago often used this local train. One time, after buying his ticket and noting that the local train to Narita departed from tracks 7 and 8, served by the platform between these two tracks, he quickly jumped onto the first train to arrive, only to sit for about ten minutes because Ueno station is its terminus. During his wait, a train arrived on the other track, and also waited. It was marked NARITA - AIRPORT in English.
Soon both his train and the other train left Ueno station in Tokyo, and he could occasionally see the other train running along the parallel track to the right. They sometimes stopped at the same stations at the same time. At one station there was a three minute delay, both trains at the same platform. It was only a 15 foot walk from the door of one train to the other. My friend thought to himself, "Why are two almost empty trains going to the same destination at exactly the same time? Am I really sure I shouldn't be on the other train?" He stared at the NARITA - AIRPORT placard on the other train, and considered hopping over to it. He considered stepping out to check the placard on his own train. He could have changed trains in less than 10 seconds, even with his bags, and he knew a warning alarm would sound about 15 seconds before the doors closed, so he had plenty of time. But he decided he was comfortable in his seat, confident that his train was also headed in the right direction.
Shortly after this stop, the track his train was on gradually turned to the left, while the train on his right peeled off to the right. He would not see this train again, and soon the towns and stops began to have unfamiliar names, and he became concerned. Still, he did nothing for several more stops.
Finally, he realized that he might be on the wrong train, and at the next stop he stepped out to ask the stationmaster. To his shock, he was not headed for Narita Airport. He asked the stationmaster in his best terrible Japanese, and the stationmaster replied in his best terrible English that he needed to return to the station where the trains had sat for three minutes, and there change trains.
The only problem: there was now a lengthy wait for an inbound train, and then another lengthy wait for a train to Narita. Now it appeared he would miss his plane, the only flight to Singapore that evening. He calculated his remaining time - 45 minutes to takeoff. It was impossible. He would arrive less than ten minutes before the scheduled departure time - past even the final boarding call - and he knew that departing Narita airport was a 90 minute ordeal.
He arrived at the airport exactly nine minutes before take-off time, hoping beyond hope there had been a flight delay. Escalator after escalator. He looked up at Departures. Unfortunately, there was no delay. His flight was flashing FINAL BOARDING.
Then a strange thing happened. After a quick call by the Japanese girl at the ticket counter, he was told that if he hurried there might still be a chance to catch the plane. A bright faced Japanese girl about 20 years old appeared, and he was whisked to the front of the line and through customs in seconds, with the girl in her airline uniform and three inch heels carrying one of his bags as she sprinted through the half-mile terminal, while he ran at top speed trying to keep up with this amazing athlete in heels. Every 200 feet she glanced back, urging him, "Please, hurry!" He was certain it was all in vain, until he arrived at the gate, handed his ticket to the attendant, and was hustled aboard the 747, hearing the aircraft door close directly behind him. The jetway was retracted and the tractor was pushing the jumbo jet back even before he'd found his seat. The punctual Japanese crew had held the plane three minutes for him, which meant that he had accomplished his exit, from basement Narita train station to waiting 747, in exactly 12 minutes - perhaps a world record for this or any international departure.
Right about now you're probably wondering if there is any point to this story, beyond my friend's amazing dumb luck (emphasis on dumb). Ok, here it is: Sometimes quite innocently we get on the wrong track in life. We made assumptions; we made dumb choices. We didn't conspire to do evil; we just fell into wrong. Then come a handful of opportunities, perhaps numerous chances, to get back on the right track. At first we don't notice some of them. Some we think over, but we don't act, preferring our comfortable seat on the train running on the wrong track. We don't fully realize we're on the wrong track yet, although, if we're honest with ourselves, we do have an uneasy feeling.
Then the other track turns to the right, while ours suddenly veers left. Things are starting to look bad. But we stay the course, convincing ourselves that everything is still alright. But soon it becomes apparent that everything, in fact, is not alright. We are in trouble. Our life and our future is in jeopardy.
Finally, we must face the fact that we're on the wrong track, even though it means change - going in a very different direction, with no certainty of outcome. We think, "It would have been so much easier if I had just changed tracks when I had the chance, when it was just seconds away. Why didn't I?" Now we have to try and fix it the hard way. And "the hard way" is very hard, maybe impossible. Now the right track comes at a price.
Then, just when it seems there is no hope, hope appears. We are given a second chance - not easy like the first chance - but a chance nonetheless. We take it and run like the wind. Friendly faces are there to cheer us on every 200 feet along the way. We feel like our heart is about to explode, carrying 50 pounds of baggage at a sprinter's pace. But at least now we're running in the right direction.
It was almost too late. If we had waited just one more station to turn around, it would have been. But somehow, whether with the aid of angels above or supportive friends below, or perhaps both, we turned it around and got on the right track.
I won't say "it's never too late" because there comes a point when is too late. All I'm saying is we're alive and young, and it's not too late now.