Thursday, July 2, 2009

Why I Take Ridiculously Long Train Trips

In narrative form.
Similar to my journey towards vegetarianity, my trainriding commitment has grown and changed. The first time I took a ridiculously long train trip there was one simple reason for it:
my bassfriend --
being of unusual size, and great fragility, and quite dear to my heart --
is regularly denied a seat on airplanes, and will not go as checked luggage unless I were to find a Major Hard Case for him (to the tune of $2000 and the size of a closet), and who wants to let such a precious instrument out of their sight anyway? But Amtrak graciously booked a ticket for Mr. Bass Phillips and away we went and moved to California. BTWs train tickets are equal or less in price than plane tickets if booked appropriately early.

So there I was on a train for three days. And I discovered interesting people, and the pleasures of the cafe car, and the amazing scenery that makes up America, and I was entranced. I took it a few more times going back and forth from California to New York. I met friends of the instant-soulmate variety (just add scenery and the romance of brief encounters plus the intensity of nowhere-else-to-go). And I vowed I would take the train forevermore.

I convinced myself trains were way more efficient on the environment -- and they are, moderately. I decided to invest myself in the train system since it's a "greener" system in general -- and it is. And probably most importantly, I convinced myself that I would always meet these instant soulmates on the train.

Last train I was on I met no soulmates. It was disappointing. I'd actually convinced myself that I was likely to randomly meet a young monastic and discover the course of my life from henceforth (no, says God, if you want that you ought to seek it out purposefully).
But I still have reasons for loving the train, and for committing to it, and advocating for it.
For one, I'm a workaholic and trains are mandatory, enforced relaxation. No one can make you feel guilty for taking a nap in the middle of the day. No one can get you by email - heck in most parts of the route they can't even get you by cell phone! Plus there's scenery, scenery, scenery, and you don't have to drive so you can keep your eyes on the forest! Bring a book, maybe, or just bring an open mind and meet some strangers, even if they aren't soulmates. Meet some Amish people (you won't meet THEM on a plane!). Meet people - have you ever conversed with more than the two people on either side of you on a plane? On a train you have your seatmates, at a much more comfortable proximity, and you also have everyone else in the cafe car, and you make many more friends. The attitude of a plane is "I just want to survive this in the most pleasant fashion possible," whereas a train puts you in the mood for a little more relaxation and enjoyment.
And finally since I live on the opposite side of this country from my sisters, brothers, neices, nephews, aunts, uncles, and EVERYONE EXCEPT ZOEY -- I do generally make an Eastward visit every six months or so. It is difficult to schedule this in with a train. So I commit to it. If it was my option I know I'd rarely take the train, and I'd travel several times more each year - each for shorter times, because I could. By my commitment to train travel I limit myself to a few long visits instead of many short ones. I take traveling seriously, I don't dash it off as a red-eye. I take my time and REALIZE that I have crossed this massive country of ours.
annnd i don't have a dramatic conclusion so i'll just step down off my soapbox. Ladies and Gentlemen, I reccommend Amtrak. the end.

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