I miss the train.
I loved the anonymity of the train.
You controlled your identity on those great overland routes. You decided with every stop if you wished to remain a stranger. You determined the time to reveal yourself. You sensed the opportunity to act or flee. There was a surprising independence on those great streamlined trains of the past.
A similar experience is practically unknown today.
You bought your ticket and found a seat on the Pullman.
Not a soul on board knows you. You’re a subtle nod or perhaps a knowing wink. You’re oddly familiar or create a sense of déjà vu at the very worst. You’re an autumnal wind or a winter chill creeping up a menaced spine. You smile and you’re gone — out of sight and out of mind.
Step off the coach and you become another feature of the lonely countryside. You’re concealed in the twisting and churning geography just beyond the glass. When the locomotive roared forward again, you were nothing more than a vague recollection or shadowy daydream.
You may even be a nightmare to a fortunate few. Those changed forever with your appearance in their lives, just as the railroad reshaped so many towns in the early years.
There was new purpose. There was new vitality. There was a new beginning.
I do miss those trackside towns. I miss those communities that clung to the railroad for nourishment and survival. Those parasitic clusters of wooden frames and brick walls that seethed with life only when the express stopped.
You could step off the train at any of these places. No one knew your name or your story. You had new life.
There was new life all around you.
Hundreds of such routes once zigzagged from sea to shining sea. That’s why I loved America.
Those new places were always so shamelessly optimistic and distracted. Those new people were always so hopelessly eager and ignorant.
There were always new routes. Always new corners to explore. Always new havens to seek refuge.
The transient and the nomad effortlessly plied his trade next to the settled and the permanent.
But the educated were never truly prepared. The wise were never truly able in those new places.
Once the hunters had finally gathered their hounds and rifles, the wolf had disappeared into the wilderness as nonchalantly as a fashionably affable man finds a seat in the smoking car next to a beautiful stranger.
The nooks of those new places were my world. The energies of those new people were my sustenance.
No airline can compete with the railroad service of the past. Airlines are too rigid. There are too many checks. There are too many inspections. You’re too isolated when your six miles off the ground.
Some of us enjoy the ground. I love earth. The sensation of sleeping on the ground is really what keeps me going in this crazy time.
I miss the ruins and the wilds. I miss all the out-of-the-way places. I miss the names and details that didn’t exist before I opened a map.
Unfortunately, the train just isn’t the same today. The routes are too few and too fixed. Too often your confidentiality is abused whenever purchasing a ticket. You know too much about the other passengers. There are so few strangers left to meet.
The mystery of the old world is lost. Those times are dead. I cherish the memories of that decidedly more elegant and majestic time.
But don’t worry about me. I have a long history — a very long history — of surviving. There was a time before the railroad, and I know that I once lamented the dereliction of the great stagecoaches and carriages in favor of those smoking behemoths.
I change with the times. I change as necessary.
I’ve adapted to the buses, light rails, and subways of this age. I just don’t enjoy travel as I had before the automobile. The world is in such a hurry now. I’ve always enjoyed a more leisurely pace. My patience is of an animalistic quality, and I mean that in the most graceful way.
I’m sure I’ll eventually learn to embrace Uber.
We should share a ride sometime.