Rails and Tales: Those You Meet on the Train

The Midwest could be referred to as The Gentle Spot. Where life and people are complacent and happy. A very soothing place to be.

The energy able to be felt by those of kindred spirit. You find them, often on trains, and often only for a moment. But those moments are what make up a lifetime of stories.

“Do I detect an accent? Budapest, perhaps?”
“Uhh…I don’t think so. I’m from Seattle. But my family is Latvian, so maybe I haven’t spoken English in a while.”
“That explains it. I know a Latvian in my town. Very lovely, just like you.”
Everyone knows a Latvian. It’s one of those facts of life.

The man on the train, perhaps early 70s, was everything they tell you you can’t be. Entrepreneur, own boss, sailor, pilot, musician, etc.
Unmarried, no kids, but many loves in his life, and no regrets. Traveled everywhere, friends made based on that instinct and energy that comes from being able to recognize the same thing that drives the other kindred spirits. The passion and curiosity of exploration. You don’t find just anyone on the train, you know, least of all in America. Everyone has, or thinks they have to have, a reason of “why they took the train”. Fear of flying, too tall, bucket list item, going to a small town in Montana, etc. But, despite some cranky retired folks who want to stare out the window all day, most come because they want to experience the unknown and to live at a slower place. These aren’t Japanese trains. They go, maybe, max 80 miles an hour. But the food is great. And the company even better. Mostly older folks who have what many work so hard to get…free time. Time to be, more at a slower pace and take in the America that few get to see. As comes with age, these folks often have adventure stories of their own, seen some things in their day, and are, decidedly, the least boring people when it comes to travel. Those on the train always have a story. Always. You just don’t take the train if you’re boring. Not when trains first arrived on the scene in America, and certainly not now.

Sometimes, one isn’t meant to settle anywhere. One yearns for the mountains and the sea? He learns to fly and can have them both. Can’t decide on one person to have forever? Love thoroughly and deeply many people. Appreciate the connection everyone gives you and learn and empathize and keep growing. Never stop learning, and always learn how to do. Anything. Everything. Understand how things work around you. Be complacent in nothing but curious about everything. Paint a sky scene on your bedroom ceiling because you want to, with no concern for resale value or what others might think. Those are the people who take trains.

The people who take trains sometimes want a plot of land in the woods, to have their sea plane, outdoor stage, boat and friends to jam with. Grandmother’s baby grand piano to sing along with at 4am with no one to bother you. When you need money, you work, and work enough to have adventure. The lucky ones can find a way to do both at once. The consensus is…work for yourself.
There are some who appreciate people for the type of art they are, or even that they view them as a piece of art. To be appreciated, admired and loved for their beauty in so many forms. I suppose each person is a work of art, though understanding the work of art is a skill one has to hone through time and experience, I reckon.
The beauty of travel meets and train moments is that…people have no reason to lie. When you have but a moment with someone, you condense. It’s like serving up and eating the richest chocolate cake of your life, complete with full fat cream and the finest of Venezuelan chocolate. Or, alternatively, they have every reason to lie. To make up stories to impress someone and just be someone else for a moment. Either way, the connections are there. A work of art, though deceptive, can still be appreciated and understood for what it doesn’t show, as much as for what it does. And one can appreciate and enjoy many types of art. Those who love Picasso can also love Degas and Monet. Art is not mutually exclusive and neither are people. Some folks may be chaos and a mess, but they are art just the same. Those made of chaotic whorls are not on the train these days, but are appreciated by those who are and that’s the point. The appreciators of life. Those who know full well that you have no idea when a work of art will materialize before them and potentially change and affect their lives. Be it a great lesson or a great love. These are the people who ride the train.

It feels a bit silly to give older people advice, them being so wise and all, but what stuck with this particular pilot and adventurer was when I said, “Never do for money what wouldn’t do for free”. And he said he’d lived his life that way without even realizing it. Things find a way. The American dream is alive on the train.

On the way to the train, I found a man selling gorgeous CGI/computer painted Star Wars pastoral scenes. You know, Bobba Fett knitting a tea cozy in a field of daisies. R2D2 and BB8 having a picnic etc. Took him about two months to paint each one. And that was all he did. And he loved it and did it well and enough to live. Those are also likely the types to take the train.

The people who take trains invite those they meet to visit them. To play music with them. To vibe together as only humans made up of energy and plasma and recognize it can. There is little drama on the train. That being said, there are no children in this car, so that probably helps. It’s a combination of hearkening back to a bygone civilized era of fine dining together in the company of similar civilized strangers (salad forks included) combined with the knowledge that they are doing something leisurely, and unstandard.
Train travel is….molecular gastronomy. Taking something you thought you know and wholly surprising you with an explosion of flavor and texture. Like a tower of soup or pearls of mojito. Just enough difference and unexpectedness melded with familiarity and expectation to make it perfect.
I used to say that the sky was a sanctuary, far from the maddening cry of the earth and its need of you or your need of it, but the wild route of the train, places no man will likely drive or walk, that’s the real sanctuary. Being on the move in the woods is a truly decadent experience. Eating molten lava cake preceded by thyme roasted chicken and chardonnay is decadent. Retiring to a bedroom booth to write in silence without the world interrupting you. That is decadence. And the true decadent experience is dining on the stories of others, knowing you may never see them again, but while you do, it is truly an unforgettable experience. Be the person who takes the train.

After being on this train, I may never want to fly again. As they really do say on the train, “All aboard.”


Just when I thought the train couldn’t get any better, there was a breakfast of honey-raisin oatmeal and fresh strawberries, and a lunch of spinach salad with chicken. And a 4 hour nap.

You know who else takes the train? The Amish. You know who has a great sense of humor? The Amish.
The lovely crimson, yellow, and blue apparel stood out against the wall of drab darkly dressed other train dwellers.
Here’s what I learned. The Amish like to have a good time. There’s a reason they have so many children, and it’s not just because they need help on the farm. Unmarried girls wear different colored aprons. Rumspringa means run around. The Amish are zesty and hilarious.

“What brought you to Montana?”
“Weapons trade show.”
“No! A barn raising! But I figured that’s what you probably expected to hear.”

Love it.

Much like the Mongolians, the Amish don’t feel like they’re missing much without ‘modern conveniences’ or ‘modern inconveniences’, as they could be referred to. They have a solid understanding of the seasons and a respect for time. And the luxury of time means they can take the train. The traditional meet the untraditional on the great melting pot of the train.

Trains carry a sort of mandate for reflection. In literature, they were always a totem for the implacable progress of industrialization. In practice, they vacillate between being relaxing and tedious, but people do in general tend to be more patient. There is a shared understanding that it could be a long trip, we’re all in the same boat, so while there is ample time for socializing and meeting interesting people, one is also forced to spend time quietly experiencing life as a passenger, control of place temporarily relinquished, and this can lead to a unique sort of carefree mentality.
Sometimes the Amish have financial tips, and sometimes an eccentric millionaire shows you his suitcase full of fresh apples he picked to make into applesauce. You never know with people on the train.
rail and tales

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