Given the way we humans understand reality through binary mechanisms, this moment of cold, dark, quiet is instilling me with a vision of warm, bright, and noisy. The specific reverie which fills me has to do with plans I made yesterday for travel in 2008 on the California Zephyr, and I’m picturing that warm moment in August when the train blows its whistle and pulls away from Union Station. Here is the background of that vision.
I recently read in Time magazine about the huge carbon footprint of air travel. Time says aircraft emit more than 5,200 lbs. of carbon per passenger, round-trip, on a New York to Tokyo flight, the equivalent of driving an SUV for several months. This led me to daydream about a train trip to California.
I took numerous train trips as a child with my grandparents. My grandfather worked for the Illinois Central, and so we traveled in style with Pullman car rooms. It was that old school form of train travel—with chrome clad dining cars (Cary Grant lighting a cigarette for Eva Marie Saint) and glass bubbled observation cars and breathtaking western scenery—that suddenly called to me as I recoiled from the ecological calamity of air travel.
When James took an apartment downtown, I stopped using my car to commute. I began to take the train downtown at least once a week.The change from car to train has surprised me with unexpected benefits. Since I’m no longer driving, and no longer interacting with traffic, I’m noticeably less stressed by the commute.
Sometimes the social nature of public transportation is annoying—especially when nearby passengers talk loudly and persistently on their phones about personal matters. But mostly I find myself delighted to be in lemming mode, swept along with the crowds exiting the train and out onto La Salle Street. When it is snowing, and there’s a guy playing a saxophone, I can feel the energy of everyone around me engaging with the weather and the municipal maze of sidewalks, buses, buildings, cars, and the comers and goers in hurried hordes, in which I am both a protagonist and an antagonist.
Every Friday I walk by an unpretentious Italian restaurant on Van Buren that has tables with red-checked tablecloths and in which I reliably see people sitting at the tables next to the window smiling, engrossed in conversation, looking altogether cozily within as seen by me passing by uncozily without. It makes me feel warm in that empathetic way that lets us humans occasionally tap into the connectedness of all things. It is a side benefit of getting me out of the car and up on my feet and into the train and then onto the street. As I’ve come to relish these transporting moments, I’ve begun to envision more train travel in my life.
So in the middle of this cold night wakeful trance I am imagining our warm, bright, noisy departure from Union Station on an August day eight months from now. The arc of experience from this moment to that one defines the richness of my life.
--February 5, 2008
Note: The photo above (via Wikimedia Commons) is The first train of the day pushing a "Spurpflug" to clear the snow drifts that have accumulated during the night. Taken at Alp Grüm, Switzerland.. Photograph by Kabelleger / David Gubler
After writing this post, we did take the train to California. I took the photograph below just before we boarded the California Zephyr at Union Station on our way to San Francisco in August, 2008. We were married on September 3, 2008 at San Francisco city hall.