Monday, January 30, 2006

Ticket, please!

I get up every morning, get some coffee, turn on the local NPR station, and sit down at the computer which is on a table by my office window. From the window, I can see the trains coming to and from New York City, taking people from or bringing people to the NJ suburbs. This morning is very foggy and it's beautiful seeing the train lights cut through the misty air, hearing their lonely horns blaring, and the wheels clacking upon the tracks.

There is something romantic about trains that sets off my imagination. One summer a few years ago, I had some free time and took a train trip around the United States, stopping off at different towns for a few days or weeks. Although train travel has its frustrations, it was fascinating seeing the backyards, open plains, and coastlines in different states.

We stopped in one place in SW Texas, a desert town close to the Mexican border where there was just a boarded up old train station, not a living soul or house in sight. I almost expected to see cattle skeletons and wagon wheels besides the tracks. Another part of the trip went through the area around Gary, Indiana and the route took us through an enormous factory graveyard, buildings and warehouses that were completely abandoned because of the change in industry in the U.S. I felt like there were ghosts of 19th century factory workers watching us pass by.

But for every desolate spot, there were gorgeous vistas like Idaho where you travel through a national park and see mountain peaks and raging rivers or the ride coming into Chicago where you pass by a baseball stadium and see the busy life of an amazing city. And there is nothing more beautiful than the train ride from San Diego to San Luis Obispo which glides along the California coast. It is always breathtaking.

So, when my life is in a rut, like has happened periodically over the past few years, I work by the window and listen to the trains and think about the people in them, who they are and where they are an office job, to visit family, to connect with an Amtrak train at Penn Station that will take them somewhere else in the U.S. And it is freeing knowing that the train station is there and if my life here writing ever gets too claustrophobic, I can walk down the hill and catch the next train and soon be transported somewhere else.