Sometime this month or next month, I'll be returning from my thirteen-year exile.
From 1989 through early December of 1993, I was an Amtrak ticket agent in Elkhart, Indiana. In the early 1990s, Amtrak management closed the ticket offices in dozens of stations, including the one in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which was by then just an office in a strip mall from which buses to trains in nearby Waterloo, Indiana departed. I was "bumped," and I didn't have the seniority to hold a job in Elkhart or South Bend. But because I had transferred from Chicago, I still had seniority there.
From Pearl Harbor Day of 1993 to early December, 2003, I worked at the Chicago call center. I still lived in Elkhart, and did the long commute to Chicago every day. While I was home every night, I didn't see much of my family except on weekends. The Chicago call center closed at the beginning of 2004, so I followed my job to Philadelphia rather than risk bidding for the limited number of station jobs in Chicago. The original plan was for me to work lots of overtime so we could fix up the house in Elkhart, sell it, and all move to Philadelphia. But the post-9/11 recession was still on, and there was little overtime to be had.
By the time the recession was letting up, I had decided I was, in the words of Hamlin Garland, a "son of the middle border," who belonged in one of those three contiguous states beginning with I. In July of last year, I took the swing shift at the Bloomington-Normal station. I could usually get home every "weekend," which meant Wednesday and Thursday.
A few months ago, I learned that one of the station agents in South Bend would be retiring this November. So I put in for another transfer. After several weeks of anxious waiting, I was offered the job. I don't know exactly when I'll be leaving, but I'm looking forward to ending my years of exile. Appropriately, I received my good news during Advent, that season of hope and expectation