Snapshots from the Train

In Travel on March 6, 2011 at 5:18 pm

Last week I took a train ride down to Charleston for work. The trip took 18 hrs. Sure, I could have whittled those long, lonely hours down to about ninety minutes or so in an airplane but a. I don’t belong up there and b. I love trains. In fact, I love trains more than the average six-year-old boy. I believe that has something to do with the past life I spent in St Petersburg, a story for another day. I especially love the Carolinian, or, as I call it, the Soul Train. In DC, at the Union Station, the Soul Train switches out the electric engine car that it uses for NorthEast travel to the heavy, hard-hitting diesel it uses for the south. The passengers, equalized by time and miles,  shake off their guise of business travel, pull out the travel sized containers of Grey Goose and Jamison and meet up in the cafe car for a party on wheels. You don’t even need to bring a book on board the Carolinian. It’s that much fun. But before the reward of the party train, one must endure long, bitter, Russian accented northeasterly hours. The following are microbursts of description from my last trip.  

~I sleep from Boston to New York City (thanks to my hypnosis playlist) But I awake beneath the city in the frigid guts between 7th and 8th avenues. Left to stagnate, undigested, with the doors open and welcoming the coldest air on the planet to settle in beneath my purple peace sign Snuggie. The reddest of red-eyed travellers stumble aboard up too late or too early. I am too cold to sleep. This is an act of terror.

~The outskirts of New York City are blanketed in amber lights except for a single, red cross rising above.

~Even as I sleep I am aware of the train as if I have become part of it. I can sense the uphills and the reckless, out of control downhills. Sometimes the train crashes over places like we ride on steel thunder. Pennsylvania.

~They are not as nice in Business Class as they are in coach. Whatever. The drinks are free.

~Ghostly trains on other tracks pass inches from my face separated by a thin sheet of window. I reel from the concussive force of their speed.

~Crazy blue-white train headlights lights strobe against the snow and the skeletal branches of the nation’s back yards and forgotten woods. I have transported, magically, back to 1878. Dickens is writing my script. There — there! It’s the spectre by the tracks. The moon is a pearled fat garden grub. Shadow beasts dance alongside us as we snake through the woods. The wheels kick up debris that bounces off the train’s belly and reminds me of how little separates us from them.

~Little fires mark the crossings. Only, they are not fires. They are lights. Back to 2011. Behind the fat and massive ass of a distribution plant and now careening over a trestle that has no discernible rails.

~Wilmington Delaware. Have passed through such places as New York City and Philadelphia and all the major East Coast cities like a thief in the night. Am now thinking in clichés. This train is switching to commuter rail mode. A silver-haired Kennedy lookalike in a silver suit with a turquoise striped tie that is either from Europe or the early seventies.

~Diagonally across the aisle the man I slept with last night wakes and stretches showing off a tiny stripe of tanned abdomen. He snored gentle little snores last night as did the other three passengers who shared my bed on wheels. Sleep is our velvety white underbelly. Intimacy shared with strangers. But this silver headed interloper breaks the spell with something buried in his briefcase. He makes us all feel as if we have to put our shoes back on. The sky outside is at it’s last blackest.  I suppose I’ll have coffee.

~Baltimore, Maryland. The cute guy gets off after shooting me a look that acknowledges the romanticism of the train. The Silver Kennedy oggles me when I get up for another coffee then pulls a banana from a plastic shopping bag and devours it in two bites.

~Here. We glide along the line between day and night. The stripe of rainbow, muted and pale, just beyond the capital city. Gone are the beasts. More commuters come with their productivity and their legal briefs and their gadgets. We must all be busy now. I wave to night.

  1. The description passages read like a prose poem — lovely! Your keen observation serves you well, and the way you translate what you see and feel and think into words is so precise and original. More, please.

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