Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Melon-cholia... will he be a Honeydew?

Bruce Thornton -- 22 months to go, to what?

As I was sitting on one of those old wooden benches at Philadelphia's  30th Street Station the other day, waiting for a train, a man dressed in Amtrak’s signature white shirt and black vest politely asked, “Do you mind if I rest my legs?”
Neither of us is as old as those benches, but Bruce Thornton said his back was bothering him. 
“I have 22 months until I retire,” he said. 

“What will you do?” I asked, wondering about his transition plan.

Straight-faced, he responded: “I’m going to be a honey dew.” 
 Huh?  A melon?  “What do you mean?” I asked.
“Oh, you know, my wife will say,  ‘Honey, do this!’ and ‘Honey, do that!’”

We laughed. But underneath I sensed a hint of concern. Even this far out, the idea of stepping out of the work world troubles Bruce.
“I’ve worked all my life and as it gets closer, I worry about what am I going to do,” he explained in the deep, round voice that distinguishes him as an usher and train announcer.  “In my head,  I think I’m a young boy but a young boy doesn’t retire,” he said, laughing.  He’s thinking maybe he could be a bellman at the Ritz Carlton or continue at Amtrak in another capacity, or pick up more work at USAIR, where he works part time.
“I’m gonna have to do something because I started working at Hy Grade’s bakery, in Pennsville, N.J., when I was 14 years old. I lied about my age. I worked 3 to 11.”
He’s been with Amtrak 29 years, 23 as an usher.
He credits his clear enunciation  to a Pennsville high school teacher  “who saw something in me.” 

 The teacher,  Bruce explained, credited her own manners and way of speech to the African American nanny named Mae Belle who largely raised her.She wanted to return the favor and told him:
 “ ‘Mae Belle helped me out, so I’m going to teach you the King’s English.' ”

Suddenly,  it was time for my train to board and Bruce stood at the top of the stairs, back straight, voice baritone,  announcing:

 "Train 130 to New York".

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