I have taken five train trips in my life. My first trip was as a chaperone for my sister and her friend on a short one way trip from Tucson, Arizona southeast to Benson. The trip took one hour. The friend’s father was waiting at the station to pick us up and bring us back to Tucson. The trip must have taken place on Saturday morning because the eastbound train runs only two other days, Monday and Thursday.
The second trip was with my young son and younger daughter. We traveled from El Paso, Texas to Tucson. The trip was five times longer than my first trip but held enough interest to keep the two young one entertained. We spent most of the time in the lounge car, seated on the observation deck. The track is close enough to the freeway to keep the young ones entertained. Keeping them fed was another great help.
Many years later, my third trip was from Rome, Italy to Venice. The stops along the way, the countryside, the people created a beautiful tapestry. Venice is the end of the line as the train slowly pulled into the station. The air was thick with a sense of adventure. My vision shifted as I left the safety of the train. I carried my bags through the station archway and down the steps to the edge of the canal. The steps offered a perfect place to sit and breathe in the rich culture and history of Venice. The copper-topped dome across the way reflected the rays of the setting sun. This was special for the few of us waiting for water taxis to carry us to our evening destinations.
Here more recently, I have traveled to Fort Worth to meet and spend time with my newest grandchild. I didn’t want to drive, nor spend money for airfare and welcomed the idea of 24 hours of quiet time to work on my manuscript. Mid-December was a perfect time to ride the rail. I checked two bags and I carried a blanket, a scarf, my manuscript, and a drop kit. The train’s movement was more relaxing than I anticipated. The experience wasn’t as romantic as a Hallmark movie, but it was pleasant. I arrived in Fort Worth, rested and none the worse for wear. The return trip was closer to the holidays and space was more limited, but still comfortable.
Taking a trip by train is good for the soul. The pace slows the body and invites the mind to rest. The scenery is different than the views from the highway. The speed is set by others with consideration to freight trains and schedules. Train travel can be an exercise of angst to push for arrival or nurtured to accept uncertainty.
This past week I traveled with my young grand-daughter. This was her first train trip. Besides a blanket, we carried pillows and snacks. We packed books, headphones and playing cards for our trip. As before, the return trip carried more people. There was a gentleman who could not sit still. His eccentric nature made his situation a little more visual. I was concerned that his inability to rest would keep us awake. About 1:00 in the morning, he vanished. He returned to his sit as the sun was rising. He touted finding a place with a bed and room to stretch out. He decided to use the facilities back there than the restrooms for those in coach. That was a mistake because little lights go on when the restroom latches are engaged. He was escorted back to his seat by two conductors who made sure he understood that those accommodations were for those who paid for them, not him. His defense was that there was no sign that said he couldn’t. Then he informed the train personnel that he was an adult and they didn’t need to tell him twice. Thank you, Sir.
I still had hours to observe the way this man boldly lived on the edge. I admired his courage to push limits and personal space. He was as gentle as he was bold. He was as curious as he was confident. He was one of the many wonderful people to meet on the train. People like the young father and son going home to Georgia to be closer to his family because this past year has been so rough. The young man who left California to help his grandparents on their Arkansas farm after his grandfather’s heart attack. The older man going to pick up his work truck left behind as he drove another truck to Texas. He talked about the chemicals and dyes used to produce the colorful packages for chips. He had a great sense of humor and when he talked, he talked with his hands, showing his dye-stained fingers. Young mothers and their babies. Young adults walking from car to car. And the newlywed world travelers leaving their home in Houston to start a new life in San Francisco.
If the intention of travel means is to get to the destination as quickly as possible, find another mode of transportation. As the conductor said, “we may get to the station before schedule, but we will never leave early.” The schedule is based on a network of connections. The philosophy is simple, move from point “A” to point “B” period, and do so in a polite manner. There is no sense to rush, settle into the idea of letting time pass. Besides, there is plenty of time to hear everyone’s stories.