The American railroad, the great iron needle stitching the country together, as Jessamyn West said. Riding the rails is the best way to take a look behind the curtain of America, to see how the magic happens. Where literally all of our goods come to us. Coal, clothes, cars, etc. First by ship, then rail, then truck. Having yet to embark a cargo ship, all I know of goods is seeing the endless rail cars zip by while heading east-west, but it’s inspiring enough to know how much we consume, and how far it all goes to make our simple purchases happen.
Taking the train is no longer merely reserved for the Amish, the seniors looking for adventure, and those afraid of flying, as some might have you believe. It’s true, the prices are, at least for sleepers, higher than flying. Who in their right mind would trade a 3 hour flight for a 46 hour train ride? More people than you’d think.
Imagine, for a moment, in this fast paced hectic world, the chance to be enclosed in your own little bedroom with a movie window to the world. To the America most will never see, not even on a road trip. Sunset at Glacier National Park, waking up in Minot, North Dakota, watching the wild turkeys in Wisconsin, and little watching the deer and the antelope play in Montana. Home on the range, indeed.
Imagine again, the moment of absolute serenity, where cell phone reception is lost. From outside Spokane to Minneapolis, there is utter quiet from the demanding world. Only you, your three delicious square meals a day (included with sleeper cars), and whatever you choose to do with your time. Discover the secrets of Amish yarn dying? (check) Befriend a 94 year-old Coast Guard veteran/Dr. of Mathamatics who transported planes across the Atlantic in World War II? (check). And that’s just breakfast.
Granted, if you truly want to avoid human contact, you can have food brought to your room, but the best part of the train is being able to balance these moving interactive story times with peaceful solace of your own chamber, a hot pot of coffee around the corner all day.
It’s safe to say that train culture for long-distance travel is largely the same around the world. The Trans-Siberian has its own characters in both the passengers and attendants, with their hot water samovars for soups and tea and no-nonsense attitude. Grandmas going to visit their children in Kazakhstan mirror the 94 year-old going from Boston to Los Angeles to visit his nieces. It’s not the time/distance, it’s how you get there. And the train wins if you have the time. When’s the last time you recall stepping on a plane and feeling as though a great adventure was about to begin? Maybe the first time and then….never again. These days, it’s more of a necessary drudgery.
On what other mode than the train would it be possible to wake up, drive 500 miles, and make it to the station with 10 minutes to spare, and still be able to board? Certainly not a plane! But the train is very unassuming that way. No pretense, no hassle, just get on the train with all your liquids, pets (who won’t be stuffed in an overhead bin), etc.
Don’t let the train be an afterthought. If you need a minute to just be with your thoughts while having the feeling of forward momentum and adventure, take the train. Have to go from one small town to another? The train is likely your best bet. Want to see snow without having to drive in it? The train is unencumbered by blizzards and snow storms. Keep it safe, slow, and cozy and watch the world glide by. Who knows, those ideas hiding behind the curtain of noise in your daily life might have a chance to pop out and make themselves known. Harry Potter was partially written on a train via napkin (imagine how lame the story would be if the Hogwart’s Express were a plane). Who knows what great ideas have manifested on the train. Maybe yours will change the world. At the very least, you’ll get in some good napping, good steaks, and good company.
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