After some all-too familiar and frustrating snafus with American Airlines, I recently took a 959 mile, “Lakeshore Limited” Amtrak train ride from Chicago to New York City. Putting aside the time inefficiency of riding the rails across half the US, I found myself looking forward to the journey. True to my Midwestern roots, trains have always resonated with me. Akin to the American infatuation with the road trip, my earliest persistent memories include admiring trains with my 7 train-obsessed uncles in Illinois’ state parks.
President Obama has proposed modernizing the rail system in this country, and while I would love to ride high-speed, comfortable trains, I’m not sure that I’d drive the country further into debt for it, for I can’t imagine a scenario in which long-haul passenger trains become as central to this vast country as they were described in this 1898 New York Times article about the Lake Shore Limited:
BUFFALO, Aug. 30, 1898. — George H. Daniels, General Passenger Agent of the New York Central Railroad, was in Buffalo this morning. When asked what foundation there was for the report that the road’s limited trains would be withdrawn said: “The story is utterly false. The Lake Shore Limited, which is our fastest New York-Chicago train, will not he withdrawn. The Lake Shore Limited is a very profitable train and is a necessity.”
In 2009, the Lakeshore Limited is certainly not profitable and it’s necessity is arguable. However, I found something nurturing about traveling through so many towns large and small, and while never stopping to get to know these places or the people in them, the act of noticing them enriched me. Rather than skipping over these places in the air, I was aware of being in a different cognitive space for these 19 hours, a place where I had nothing to do but read (Jon Krakauer’s Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman), listen to music (The Eels, Monsters of Folk, Miles Davis’ A Kind of Blue, and the Fleet Foxes twice) slow down, and think. I considered that my Irish ancestors (and people of all sorts) used this exact route (in reverse) when they immigrated from Europe, taking overcrowded boats across the Atlantic and then this train west, their hunger literally pushing them beyond their comfort zones. I noticed the people on the train, not wealthy, but having more in common than their socio-economic status, people who were happy to slow down and maybe even ask a question to or have a conversation with a stranger. Some tiny bit of each traveler’s story and motivation could be gleaned from their attire, snippets of their conversations, what they ate, and where they got on and off the train. I was
[caption id=”attachment_127” align=”alignleft” width=”367” caption=”The Lakeshore Limited Route: It Splits at Albany to Service both Boston and New York City”][/caption]
comforted by the simple beauty of the Hudson River Valley; though the “Lake Shore Limited” travels the entire length of the southern coast of Lake Erie, it does so in darkness.
As I live in the human chaos of Manhattan, these moments of allowing the train to set the pace and determine my scenery were small reprieves from the frenetic, swallowing speed of “the city”, and given my cultural rootedness in my own time and place, the essence of a guilty pleasure. Upon arriving at Penn Station in need of a shower, I was happy to be home but experienced a tinge of satisfaction at having created a memory, one that I’m unlikely to want to repeat anytime soon, but something enriching nonetheless.
- christophermadden posted this