You may encounter Amish people who have a fiery passion for Go Fish, a painter with no direction, a recent widow planning to start fresh in New Orleans, an elderly Milan couple who loves the concept of conspiracy theories, a self proclaimed hermit from Oregon, or a train kid traveling cross country with a Chiweenie that he sneaked on board.
Everyone’s leaving from someplace, everyone’s going to somewhere, and everyone’s just bored enough to talk to you over microwavable pizza in the dining car. Conversation is a luxury of train travel, and you’ve always made the most of it.
The railway system can transport you to the days of early 19th-century trainmen spreading crushed limestone and gravel, laying railroad tie after railroad tie until the world linked itself together by steel tracks of innovation, industrialization, and connection between metropolis and landscape.
The chugging, the rattling, the rumbling, the hissing and screeching of brakes. It’s like falling asleep with the DVD menu on repeat. Sure, it may wake you up periodically, but it’ll lull you right back into your dreams.
Freely roaming a train beats the confinement of a car, bus, or plane any day. But if you’ve ever been jerked while trying to make it to your seat and find yourself in the lap of a stranger with a cup of cranberry juice sloshed everywhere, don’t worry. It’s happened to the best of us. You’ll soon sashay through aluminum gangways and sway with the train’s rhythmic bounce like it’s your second nature.
While some passenger trains crack 200 mph, there’s always that chance you’ll find yourself seven hours behind schedule somewhere in Nebraska due to train equipment malfunction.
At this point, there’s not much you can do but sip your whiskey and ginger ale from a plastic cup in the observation deck while discussing theories on the Georgia Guide Stones with a scruffy-faced man from Oklahoma City.
Trains go where cars can’t, allowing you to see kayakers gliding through the Colorado River with their paddles in the air, barefoot children startling Fleckvieh cattle in Bavaria, surfers waving from the foamy coast of Encinitas, a couple doused in rice outside a church in Iowa, or three teenagers camping in a field of red poppies in France, leaning out from their tent with messy hair to sway their arms back and forth.
Trains allow you to see these pieces of life that fasten the world together. Keep looking out your window.