To mix things up, I took the train from Washington to NY the other day. I had had a failed attempt to get to DCA on Monday–the plane went to take off, fog prevented takeoff, after two hours on the tarmac, I got off said aborted flight and went back to Manhattan and into the office.
I finally made it to Washington on Tuesday and, for unconscious, but obviously masochistic reasons, decided it would be a great idea to take the train home Tuesday night.
I love trains, as a concept. Coming of age in California, I was not exposed to trains much. In fact, I first learned the language of trains in French–both in school and in order to travel. As a result, my native rail-tongue is French (with a little, terrible Spanish thrown in). I find myself translating the words back into English when I have to remember what the proper term is for any element of rail travel.
Yes, it’s a little strange; very romantic. Sort of writerly and innocent: young girl speaks French to/on trains. The novel has star-crossed lovers, a purloined letter, and maybe some vampires or something. Has best-seller written all over. Anything sells, these days.
Amtrak is not romantic, folks. Amtrak is about as romantic as marriage is: lifted-up toilet seats with pee that is not your own dripping, fragrant, down the sides of the bowl; remnants of forgettable meals littered on tables throughout the cars; too-loud conversations about nothing and everything being had all around in order to to fill the silence.
*Ping Ping* Next Station Stop: Baltimore.
At one point, a group of people coming from their company’s holiday party got on the train and began drunkly taking photos of one another; complaining about the way the photos looked; and hanging on each other in the aisle. They finally sat down for a consciousness raising–it was clear they’d had so much to drink that they were willing to resolve their differences by telling each other how much they loved each other; what they liked about each other.
“And Sandy is so pretty and she’s just a great sales associate. I know she’s had some difficulties this past year and I didn’t think we’d be able to work well together but…”
I found myself involuntarily “shushing” them. It was reflexive; like coughing or gagging. I couldn’t help myself. Shut up. Just…shut up.
*Ping ping* Next Station Stop: Wilmington, Delaware.
One of them got off.
I began to wonder how I could have ever found trains so romantic; so sexy; so full of mystery. Trains are loud and stinky; American trains don’t travel fast enough. A train is just another vehicle; another mode of transportation; another way to get from Point A to Point B.
*Ping Ping* Next Station Stop: Philadelphia 30th Street Station.
It was somewhere outside of Philadelphia, looking at the boathouses strung up with white lights–just like in the photos that used to adorn the hallways in my parents’ house in California; just like I used to romanticize as being a part of the place I was from–that I realized…the romance was gone.
This darling had made it to Mantua, only to find…Purgatory.
*Ping Ping* Next station stop: Trenton, New Jersey.
“I really want, like half a muffin,” the aforementioned Sandy, the Great Sales Associate suddenly shouted, “Where are the muffins?”
“We left them in the cab.”
“Yeah, we like, gave them to the cab driver as a tip, or something.”
People don’t talk on planes, you know. They’re scared of talking too loud. There’s this library-type rule that goes into effect; only babies get a free pass, and even then, there are limits. People vomit on planes, but they do not chit-chat loudly with their coworkers.
*Ping Ping* Next Station Stop: MetroPark, New Jersey.
(I really hate the MetroPark stop. Who gets off there?)
*Ping Ping* Next Station Stop: Newark Penn Station.
We were close; close to Manhattan, now. By that point in the journey, I had become disoriented. The travel between Washington and New York had taken too long; was lagging and dragging. People were talking; work papers were moving everywhere; phone calls were coming in.
I missed air travel; I missed the quiet; I longed for the white-noise roar of the jet engines. I missed my phone not ringing for that luxurious hour, hour and a half–the excuse of “sorry, must power down!”
*Ping Ping* We are approaching New York’s Pennsylvania Station. This is the last stop on this train. Please take all of your personal belongings with you…
Home: sweet delicious home. So close I could almost taste the metallic air of the city outside of the fog of brake dust and tunnel soot in the bowels of Penn Station.
I got off the train, and stumbled bleary-eyed into the New York City night, sucking the fresh, sourly cold night air into my deflated lungs. The romance was gone; reality about trains had set in. Trains were no longer my French lover, spiriting me across the provincial countryside. Trains were no longer my sleek American innovator, moving me from the political epicenter to the arguable center of the universe (though perhaps I would feel different about that if I stayed the hell off the Northeast Regional and stuck to the Acela, but I doubt it).
Trains just sucked.
I looked at my watch. I had left the office at 5:45; we were heading into 11pm. The four hours of travel was standard for me. The fifth hour of travel, however, had run unconscionably long.