A Short Story About a Man in the Lobby and a Missed Train

The Man In The Lobby

I’ve always been a curious observer of hotel lobbies. They’re an exciting place. Daily newspapers. Free apples. Smartly dressed customer service folks. The bustle of moving bags. And that man in the lobby. We all know him. That guy, who at 6 p.m. on a Monday evening sits comfortably in one of the dozens of empty loungers that adorn the polished marble floor. What makes that guy remarkable is not so much what we see about him, but rather, what we don’t see.

We don’t see urgency. We don’t see baggage. We don’t see panic or anxiety or an insatiable need to act. He sits calmly, reading a book or typing on a laptop. He is oblivious to all around him. No deadline to meet. No meeting to make. He looks like he’s out of work, except he’s dressed nicely and looks like he’s in charge.

There are others sitting about, but their cursory glances at their watch or the door seem to indicate a preoccupied mind. Not the man, who sits undisturbed by the periphery of life.

“Where does he find the time?” We ask, as we move by in our own state of harried hurry. Places to go. Things to do.

“I would love to just unwind like that, but I have all of this.” As we sweep our hands over our luggage, our kids, our appointments, our busy-ness. We pass him by, moving to our next stop, but unable to completely bury a shade of envy—however slight.

How To Miss A Train

In our lives, we all encounter moments of slight inconvenience. Red lights. Bad weather. Headaches. We’ve grown to accept these little ordeals as our mandatory payment for life’s tremendous bounty of blessings. However, they still suck when they happen.

One of those moments happened to me about an hour ago.

A combination of poor planning and arrogance led to me missing my 5:38 pm train home from L’Enfant Plaza in Washington, DC. I didn’t just miss the train, either; I missed the train. Meaning, I literally ran up the flight of stairs to the platform and the door closed in my face. A straight-up sliding doors moment. Two seconds that shaped the rest of my night.

I stood alone on the platform, with every Dick and Jane staring at me through the train’s windows with a smug “Better Luck Next Time” grin on their face. The next train was a full 40 minutes away. It would be literally impossible for somebody to wait longer for the train that what I waited tonight. To pile on, it’s dark, cold (41 degrees), raining, and—in another genius move—I neglected to bring a jacket today.

This, my friends, is a classic fork-in-the-road moment.

Holiday Inn

My options were limited. Knowing that standing purposelessly for 40 minutes in the cold was not a good idea, I started a brisk walk under the dark and drizzling sky.

My normal train-missing routine is to walk to the Capitol. But, due to weather and wardrobe considerations, that was not an option.

Less than a block in my search for an oasis I find a Starbucks. Salvation? Nay. I have this mild aversion (some may call it a deep hatred) toward $5 lattes.

But, hold on a minute…a hotel lobby! A beautiful Holiday Inn Express Lobby fully equipped with the 3-W’s: Warmth, Wi-Fi, and a Waiting Area. What more could a lonesome traveler ask for? I enter.

Still dressed to the eights in my collared shirt and slacks, nobody bats an eye at the backpack-bearing businessman who is most certainly not “staying with us tonight.” I sit myself comfortably in a large leather armchair. After two or three minutes of people-watching, I pull out my laptop and begin keying this little ditty. One thousand words from my hand will now forever exist because of that missed train. What’s more, I’m relaxed, the 40 minute nightmare has quickly gone to a 10 minute vacation, as the moments pass faster than I thought possible. Before I reach the conclusion, the horn of the next train beckons me home.

A Lesson In Life

You could call Retire29 a financial blog, but financial independence is but a stepping stone toward the greater goal: total happiness. Perhaps the greatest element of happiness is that the potential for it exists entirely within our own selves. No assembly required.

As we can all attest, life is not all sunshine and moonbeams. A lot of life happens between the photos in the album. However, our attitude toward those less-than-stellar moments is what will define our happiness. You can call it making a negative into a positive, turning lemons into lemonade, or making the best of a bad situation. If you’re reading this blog, then I would imagine you already try to practice this in your life, so I only ask of you today: Keep it Up!

Oh, and the next time you see a guy totally relaxed in a hotel lobby, come say hi—I got 40 minutes until I need to catch my train.

Thanks for reading, as always.



  1. Very nice post 29. I been every person in this post at one point in my life but it is the man in the lobby who I am most looking forward to become. My wife and I are at that stage in our lives where all of our friends are getting married. Our bank accounts become smaller due to the hotels/travel/presents/etc but every time we travel and stay in a hotel, I am that man in the lobby. I love weddings and all but there is something about sitting in a hotel lobby with not a single thing to do all day people watching and truly relaxing with not a care in the world. I almost look forward to that peaceful time more than some of the weddings. I see people years older than me hustling to their destination, screaming at kids, stressed out and I can’t wait to NOT be one of them. Early retirement will definitely reduce stress and the hustle and bustle of life.

    I’ll be sure to say hi when our paths cross in a hotel lobby. Till then, keep the good posts coming!

    American Dividend Dream recently posted…Recent Buy – Universal Insurance Holdings Inc. (UVE)My Profile

  2. Coincidentally, I was sitting in a lobby waiting for a colleague who ended up being 40 minutes late, and read this post on my phone while I was waiting!!

    I love the message here Eric, and am working hard to create more moments like this whenever I can. One small thing I’ve been doing more is not checking the times for my trains to and from work, which means I’m never rushing out the door in the morning to catch the next one – I spend as much time with my family and saying goodbye to them as I need, and just take whatever the next train is after a leisurely walk to he station (fortunately the waits are never close to 40 mins!).

    I’m sure becoming financially independent will seriously help with becoming more relaxed, but it’s a great success to make some of this happen while you’re on the journey.


    Jason @ Islands of Investing recently posted…A Warped Perspective of ‘Normal’My Profile

    • Jason,
      That’s actually a very novel way of approaching a morning. I hitchhike most days now to work, but in the days I took the VRE (which I still sometimes do), hitting an exact train time was of paramount importance—which led to a lot of needless stress.


  3. I think there’s something we learn as we retire early — how to slow down. I never really thought about it until I retired but then I started thinking “what the hell am I rushing about for?” I have plenty of time, nothing pressing, and I can plan my day as I wish. That’s what’s cool about early retirement.

    By the way, I mentioned your website in an interview that was posted by the FINANCIALLY AWARE website today — http://www.financiallyalert.com/financially-alert-friends-interview-1-steve-miller-we-retired-early/.

    Thanks for your excellent posts.
    Steve Miller recently posted…How to take Control of your FutureMy Profile

  4. yeah one of those moments.. I’ve had a few from missing the bus… problem is where I travel there are zero amenities.. It doesn’t seem possible in today’s world, but they do still exist..

    I tend to walk around and if the weather is challenging.. suffer while waiting for the next bus. I wish there was a Holiday Inn or Sbux near by but no such thing exists for over 25+ miles… Welcome to life in the desert. 🙂

    • I took the subway every day for a couple years. Whenever the train would be more than five minutes away, I would walk up and down the steps in the subway station. It was a little way of turning a wait into a workout. Sounds like you did that with the walking.


  5. People struggle with relaxing (as evidenced by the hustle and bustle of the lobby) so congrats on making good use of the time. I like “just” sitting around and thinking. I’m always surprised where I end up when I let my mind wander. I enjoyed taking the 40 minute bus ride at my last job for that very reason.

    On a side note, Marriott has been improving the lobbies in their hotels to convince more locals to use it. Come and buy a coffee and do some work, grab a bite to eat, etc. I’m sure IHG has a similar thought so you are likely welcome any time you miss your train. Just avoid the expensive coffee and stick to the free cucumber water.
    Mr. Benny recently posted…12 Tips to Save Thousands on Holiday TravelMy Profile

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