Aside from some airport and rental car shuttles, public transit (Chicago, San Francisco), and of course the Monorail in Seattle that connects the Seattle Center with downtown (it’s been years — is it even still there?), I’ve never traveled by train before. I want to. I did take a two hour round trip across Panama in 2011, but that doesn’t qualify either, though it was one of the more enjoyable outings we took on that vacation. No, I’m talking something more epic. Something coastal, or continent spanning. Go to bed in one country and wake up rattling across its neighbor’s countryside the next morning. That kind of thing. Days spent staring out the window, or reading, or writing, or sleeping. A private sleeping car for shiftless sleep-ins and spontaneous afternoon canoodlings. I’m certain I would love it.
I’ve been thinking of trains a lot lately. My friend Owen is not only a great writer but has also become quite a skilled photographer of trains, as seen via his Instagram feed, and the images fire my imagination. I spent a day listening to the hobo songs of Jimmy Rodgers, as performed by Merle Haggard. But what really grabbed me is a two poem series by the writer Robert Michael Pyle about Amtrak, from his collection Chinook & Chanterelle. The final stanza of the second poem is this:
Trips like this, I wish life
could be a little more like Amtrak: usually
on its rails all right, and often a little slower
than we thought we wanted to go.
Isn’t that wonderful?