Pam’s Pictorama Post: I wrote yesterday of my reluctance to leave home (hearth, Kim and kitties) to commence travel in general. Now, as I write, I sit on an Amtrak en route to Boston, parked in New Haven. It brings to mind a trip several years ago, also on business, when a derailment somewhere in the Northeast had delayed a trip, I had commenced at 5:30 in the morning, by hours and hours in effect killing a day of business entirely and reminding me of why I always pack too much reading and food.
That day we inched our way up the east coast and I spent more than an hour on the train in this particular spot, looking at this same view. It was fall instead of spring. I think if you work in the Northeast and do any business travel this corridor (and perhaps this story) is familiar, although perhaps others have more tales of airports. Other than one occasion when it was late April and my flight in Boston was prevented from taking off in New York due to a snow storm in New York, most of the stories of travel are Amtrak ones.
I can almost remember being young and naïve enough to think that travel by train in this country might remotely resemble what I had seen depicted in early films. (Think noir, compartments, dining cars with service and china.) It most certainly does not and I had this drummed into my head on my very first trip to Washington DC from my New Jersey home, back when I was in high school. There was a problem, I want to say something fell across the tracks which is sort of fatal to train travel, and our trip home became a thing of family legend, involving total abandonment by Amtrak at a station off the beaten path (think woods) somewhere in the general area between Philadelphia and the New Jersey border, as night was falling, requiring several non-train methods of transportation and many, many hours beyond the requisite four or so before we arrived home.
Still, one can’t fly everywhere and I have put in my time on America’s trains. Coming home from college in New London, Connecticut – standing a long part of the way on a crowded train from New London to New York at Thanksgiving, before changing to a NJ Transit train there. (Today when the New London stop is announced in about forty minutes I will twitch with memory of getting on and off there. As above – entering New London and the video of leaving below – it looks pretty much as it always has.)
Young adulthood found me with a boyfriend in upstate New York which resulted in many Amtrak hours logged – delays, electrical failures and the like becoming part of the routine. Hard to believe, but there were things about that relationship that were worse than the train time and after Andrew I said adieu to my weekend warrior status on the train. However, I can’t be on one, chugging toward Boston or DC, or perhaps the lesser route to Albany, or even up to Toronto, without flickering memories of trips past, successful and otherwise.
In college I had found my way to Europe and those trains, in Britain, Scotland, France and Italy, carried a whiff of the old world rail charm old films had teased me with. They also carried a level of efficiency the heights of which Amtrak would never, at least in my experience, reach. Dependable, generally clean, the rail system is the primary travel artery for most of Europe and Asia in a coherent way that I fear ours is not.
In my thirties a friend found a cheap tour to Russia – flying into Moscow and then the train down to St. Petersburg. It was February, but reasonable warm for a Russian winter. Our tour group consisted of about six people in addition to my friend, her mother and myself. Suzanne’s mother, Jean, had been my painting teacher and was in her early eighties when we made the trip.
Jean and I shared an ancient compartment on the train overnight. It was exactly as I would have expected and hoped such a train would be – down to watching snow out the window overnight as we dashed through the countryside, wolves baying – really! We had been warned by our guide to lock our doors however, and to refuse to open them to anyone overnight which we did – I have no memory of anyone attempting to enter however.
Meanwhile, the Russians seemed to have great respect for older people and took a genuine interest in Jean wherever we went. They would always take the time to help her from the bus or over a step and to say a few words to her in one language or another. Sadly Jean is gone now, although she lived well into her nineties. She was a good traveler and made international trips, albeit gradually easier ones, for another several years after that trip to Russia.
My trips are no longer romantic or liaisons, and are mostly driven by conferences and these days concerts. Much of the travel time is now devoted to work. Despite that and the issues above, I generally find my time on a long train ride calming. Watching the world go by and eventually hopping off at my destination, mildly changed, hopefully for the better, by the process of getting there.