From the train you find the town

Last Saturday my husband and I rode the train from Washington DC to Pittsburgh. We dropped off a relative’s car in DC. Flying or driving back would have been faster, but a one-way plane ticket or car rental were more than twice the price of a train ticket. Even though only one train travels directly from DC to Pgh each day, and the trip takes at least eight hours compared to a 4 ½ hour car trip, I prefer the train, and not just for the price.

On the train are you are free to walk around. Coach seats include lots of leg room. Trains travel a route that feels almost invisible. On a train you sneak up on a town. You come in through the back door. A town that a highway passes by, a train glides through. On this trip, I carried books in my pack just for reading on the train. Looking out the windows held my attention for hours. I never did open a book.

Each town, farm, and river set me to wondering about life in that spot. From the train I saw alternative lives, possibilities not related to actual, probable choices, but exercises in imagination. Richard Hugo, in his book The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing, recommended using strange towns as triggering subjects. Hugo wrote, “You found the town, now you must write the poem.” For me, the train provides ideal access to the town.

If an eight hour train trip is good, a cross country, 45 hour trip is better. My favorite route is Chicago to Seattle. The Empire Builder runs up the Mississippi, across the North Dakota and Montana plains, through Glacier National Park, into the orchards of Eastern Washington, and over the Cascade Mountains. It’s true that the train often runs late, but why worry about a few extra hours added to a two day trip? My husband and I joke that a late train makes the trip an even better value – you get to spend more time on board, and they don’t charge extra.

-Julie

3 Comments

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3 responses to “From the train you find the town

  1. lc

    oh julie, you’ve described your train experience beautifully. your philosophy on late trains has changed my opinion of waiting – how brilliant!!!

  2. I took the train from DC to Pittsburgh last summer. I was very tempted to hop out in Harper’s Ferry. It’s a lovely ride indeed!

  3. I love taking the train, too. I took the train to NYC for the Christmas holidays. As someone who flies more than 100,000 miles per year on business, the train was relaxing and civilised. With my Mac, power outlet, and my verizon wireless card, I was able to surf the internet and work during the trip, without being squeezed into a narrow window seat.

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