Normally, I fly. I never drive. If I drive, you’ll never see me again, because I can get lost in my own backyard, no joke. This time, when I took a three-day trip to deliver some speeches, I took a train.
Oh, my brothers and oh my sisters, what a revelation! A train:
You can carry on pretty much anything. Anyway, I took four, count ’em, four bags with me, and I could have brought more. I arranged them all around my feet where I could see them and pet them and know that they are mine. I didn’t have to try and figure out which items I’d miss most desperately if they got accidentally sent to Weehawken, or discern which of my belongings could stand to be thrown with great vengeance and furious anger into the stone cold belly of an airplane. The woman in front of me carried on her dog, whom she says is a service dog. It’s a nice dog, but he couldn’t actually get into the train by himself. I, however, had no difficulty.
I brought four cans of seltzer. I stretched out my (admittedly stubby) legs. I paid an extra twenty bucks and got a smile and a nod toward business class, which was as hushed and solemn as the outer hall of a great bustling place of commerce: you can see the speed, and you can hear muffled sounds of industry as the engine does its work, but here, behind the tinted glass, we just glide and rest and wait. An old man across the aisle snoozed gently into his library book.
No one was shouting at me and then wondering, in a national security kind of way, why I looked so flustered. Nobody was smacking and cracking gum for the sake of their poor tender ears (and what about my tender ears, with that smacking and cracking?) Nobody took my shoes away, patted my torso, swabbed me for explosives, made me expose all my shameful toiletries and meds, or rolled their eyes when I accidentally packed a bottle of water (an $8 bottle of water, thanks). Nobody blared toneless, indecipherable announcements that made me afraid to go pee because maybe my plain was leaving, but maybe it wasn’t, or maybe it’s leaving from a gate three miles away in two minutes, who can say? Nothing of the sort.
The train station (all right, it was a bitsy little podunk station in small-town vermont) was just two little rooms with a desk and some brochures. They had set up folding chairs outside on the gravel, for our convenience, and a couple of industrial spools worked as tables. They didn’t even ask to see my ID. They opened the door and let me find a seat, and later (after we had a swept through a mile or two of golden forest) a genial fellow strolled by and asked where I was going. I said the name of the town and he smiled. And . . . that was it. I was in. I put my ticket back in my pocket and marvelled.
For the next two hours, we were whisking almost silently through the backyards of the world. Goats stood by in amazement. Hello, graveyard. Hello, mill wheel that nobody sees. Hello, halfway ravished field of corn. Hello, abandoned bridge overcome with vines. We’re passing you by on the trestle that replaced you, but we won’t trouble either of you for long. An endless cloud of dry, orange leaves hurried past the window, thrown back in the wake of this godlike train.
After ten minutes or so, I thought, “We’re picking up speed, but we’re not going to leave the ground.” I thought, “I never want to leave the ground again.”
Everyone looks up to see a train go by. And so they should.