When I was just a child, I can remember listening to the radio every day. Programs were broadcast that everyone enjoyed listening to; soap operas and news during the day and musical and dramatic programs at night.
Every week, on Saturday at noon, I would listen to a program called Grand Central Station. The premise of the show was to develop a dramatic situation that was happening at the train station on 42nd street in Manhattan. My interest in the show was as much centered on the fact that it always took place at the train station as it was focused on the drama that unfolded each week.
I always have been a fan of the train. The majestic presence, the silent appearance at the track, the unseen mechanics of the engineer moving the engine forward on to its destination, have always appealed to me.
We would occasionally take a train ride to New York, usually with my sisters. There was an excursion each Wednesday and Saturday that took the passenger to Grand Central Station for a reduced rate, an encouragement to bring visitors to the city and boost ridership as well for the New York, New Haven and Hartford railroad, which was our local rail service. It was always a special experience for me to watch through the window as the train meandered through all the local stops along the way.
Places with strange names like Cos Cob were especially fascinating. How would a place ever get a name like that, I wondered? And of course, entering Grand Central was like visiting a cathedral — towering height, the constellations scattered across the ceiling, and the beautiful light fixtures that shimmered.
So, for me, a train ride has remained a ready choice as a travel option. Now that Matt and his family live in DC, I choose to travel there by train, leisurely and restful. Even when Angela and I visited him together, we would usually take the Amtrak.
On our first trip to Italy, we decided to travel by train from Rome to Milano and it was a wonderful opportunity to view the countryside with fields of sunflowers and olive groves all along the way. You sit in a compartment with sliding doors that separate you from the aisles where people pass from car to car. There’s a certain degree of comfort and luxury albeit at the loss of personal privacy. One of my life goals, has always been to travel on the Orient Express, the most luxurious of all train rides, and sleep in a sleeping car and eat in the elegant dining car.
Angela would always look at me in disbelief whenever I spoke about my yearning for the ultimate train experience because she didn’t share my enthusiasm for the train mystique. Even now, I occasionally look at the online advertisements for train excursions that take you through the southwest and end up on the west coast. My friend Steve recently described a train that essentially circumnavigates the continental U.S. with opportunities to stop along the way. Wouldn’t that be something!
Meanwhile, I grow disheartened at what seems to be the lack of interest in our rail system and lack of the amenities that could make a train ride so much more enticing as an alternative to driving. Why haven’t we kept the rail infrastructure in top condition? Why haven’t we developed new technology for faster, safer rail service as they have in other countries?
Yes, I realize that rail travel is out of fashion, everyone seems to want to be able to get in the car and go, travel at their own speed and be in control. Nowadays we like to manage everything related to our lives, and speed seems to be the priority. On the other hand, I like the idea of handing over the reins to someone else so that I can read a book, do some writing or just look out the window at the world we sometimes are too busy to notice. If you look closely, you can sometimes actually see people living their lives and I always like to imagine what they’re up to.