March 05, 2004

Choo-choo: Taking the train.

This photo is from Baltimore's Penn Station, on the North-bound track. It was taken on my last trip from Baltimore to Boston via Amtrak's Acela Regional, in June 2003. I thought to post it because of an interesting article I read today boasting 5 reasons to take the train. During the last year of my stint outside of Boston, my distaste for flying made me an adamant rail passenger. I liked the train so much that I rode Amtrak all of the way from Boston, Massachusetts to Houston, Texas when I went to the NAACP National Convention in the summer of 2002. I spent three days and two nights on the way down, and another three days and two nights on the way back. It was more fun than Houston itself. Flying from Boston to Baltimore in less than an hour is most certainly not the way to travel. A narration of the trip from Logan to BWI would sound thusly: "We are tenth in line for take-off...thank you for waiting, folks...we have reached cruising altitude...there is New York to the right...there is Philly...we are beginning our descent into Baltimore-Washington International Airport...thank you for flying with US Airways." There was no sense of how far one had really traveled. It was worse on a flight from Boston to LA that took only nine and half hours. I think I saw the Rocky Mountains, but I'm not sure, since they were so tiny from my window. Why do I like the train so much? There is the obvious getting-to-see-things-on-your-way-to-where-you-are-going reason. After Thanksgiving 2002, we rode along the Connecticut coast on the way to Boston, blowing dusty snow into the water and onto trees. It was the perfect start to the holiday season -- and definitely better than the stress of flying between two of the busiest airports in the US. Then there's the relaxed nature of train travel. You show up a few minutes before your train leaves, stroll aboard, choose your seat, put your feet up, pull out a book, and you're all set. No lines. No always getting selected for those "random" searches (maybe it's because of the members of my family who are in the military that airlines always pick me -- or my scary countenance!). There is better air and more room to walk around. I always feel safer on a train, too. If it crashes, I have a very good chance of surviving to tell a really cool story in a cafe' to someone I don't know. Money was never a good reason to take the train instead of flying. Trains have always been more expensive than planes, no matter where I was going. And train rides are always very good times to get some good writing done in your Moleskine. I have always been rather fascinated by trains. My father always built train gardens and took my brothers and I to see big displays when I was a lad. I loved Boston's subway and commuter rail (which I regularly took to Salem, Rockport Beach and Walden Pond) so much that I got rid of my car before I moved there. I sometimes went to Boston's South Station (once the busiest train station in the world) just to look at the trains. Even in the Heartland, I love to watch the huge trains come through town. And the gargantuan BBBAAAMMMPPP of the trains as chug come through Carbondale at night keeps me feeling connected to the rest of the world while I am out here on the edge of the Shawnee National Forest. It makes me remember hearing trains' horns blasting through the frosty air when they came through Baltimore in the middle of the night when I was a teenager, as I sat near my open bedroom window in February painting or writing. Trains are a reminder in the 21st century for us to take our time when we can, to slow down enough to think about where we are going and to enjoy the trip. I hope that trains never get phased out.

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