On the train

I haven’t ridden a train in the United States before. In Europe and Asia, trains are the way to move, I found, so that was how I got between cities. Planes and cars are expensive and burdensome, even in the U.S., but you can move enormous amounts of stuff with them. I have to leave a lot of extra time with planes, and cars require responsibility and wakefulness. On a train, I can write, read, sleep. Someone else is driving. I can get up and walk, pee when I want or need (unlike on a plane when I need to pee as soon as the engines roar).

This train from Newark to Lancaster, Pa., is giving me a new view of the Mid-Atlantic corridor. When I drive this direction, I see the trees that line the highways and the cross sections of hillsides that were blasted out of the way. Because the train moves on ancient lines through urban centers, I see industrial parks, commerce, beautiful old buildings that were once town centers and into the backyards of the tracks’ neighbors.

I don’t like driving. It requires enormous concentration, which is exhausting. And my butt usually goes numb. If I must use a private car to travel, which is frequently, I prefer to be driven. I am happy to read aloud, organize the road food, motivate conversation as a passenger. I am even more happy to leave it all to the poor dude whom I have convinced to drive and just sleep. I know that’s mean, so I only do that half the time; 60/40 max. Sleeping or not, as a passenger I can squirm, fidget, change my clothes and do most activities that do not require me to be completely vertical or horizontal.

So far on this train ride, I have opted for a seated position. Just having the option to get up is enough for me right now, I suppose. The ride will only be 2 hours or so. And if there is one thing a Reighart knows how to do, it is sit still. Sure, even we can grow stiff from lack of movement, but a simple adjustment to leg position or even new train of thought can be enough to adjustment for another period of stillness.

The formula breaks down for me, however, in that stillness and concentrated thought, done simultaneously, add exponentially. It’s like compound interest for my brain. But instead of ending up with a nice plump nest egg, I feel more like the guy whose calculator broke and had to figure out compound interest by hand only to realize he missed a decimal point somewhere, and then was forced to run a marathon.

So rather than risk the decimal point fatigue, I am on a train. We are just now arriving at the first stop, so I guess this part of the experience is most like a bus. Most of my bus experience was done in grade school, twice a day, five days a week on a bus that smelled like burnt popcorn and sounded like how I imagine the inside of Casey Kasem’s brain to be — nonstop, rolling tracks of Top 40. The Top 40 only became a problem as I got older and learned that it wasn’t cool to like Top 40.

This train is quiet. Some times I hear business folk chatting about the Dow or sharing stories from their many train rides for business, but the stereotypical click/clack of the train usually drowns it out. And the whistle.

I never had an affinity for model trains as a kid. Maybe I’m too young or have too many X chromosomes. Apparently my dad was into them when he was a kid. He and his dad would go down to the train yard in Alliance, Ohio, and watch the trains worm around, switch tracks and engines and whatever else trains do in a yard. He also collected model trains. I’ve seen the boxes in the basement, maybe asked to play with them once or twice, then got bored and went back to my paper dolls.

All in all, I find this real live train ride to be pleasant. The conductor who took my ticket was friendly — and he wore one of those conductor hats, which was fun to see outside of a cartoon, no skeezy people have tried to talk to me, I have a double seat to myself and we’re moving at a good clip.

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