Arrival of a Train

Soon summer will be over and I will find myself inside a classroom more than I would like. And although there are trips coming up, I know that sometime during the first week of classes I will once again feel the pull of travel. And although there are trips coming up (Vancouver in October,) and author readings in neighboring cities (Martin Amis and Paul Auster in September alone!), I know that sometime during the first week of classes I will once again feel the pull of travel.

I’ve discovered over this past summer that I like traveling in fall and winter best. It has only been in the last few years that I have been able to travel during the late fall and early winter. Gone is the excessive heat and humidity that keeps you perspiring like a victim of malaria. I am a walker, and when I visit a city or place I like to lose myself in the crowded streets with my iPod and my coat zipped up to my chin. For some reason this always seems to be when I am most lucid. I tend to walk very fast and with the rising steam of breath coming out of my mouth I feel like a locomotive as I wander aimlessly about. After nearly an hour or so of walking it’s nice to walk into a pub or café and nurse a pint, or if it’s really cold outside a scotch, while people watching, preferably near a window.

When I’m really lucky, and if time allows, I am able to take a train from one place to the next. During the summer of 1999 I was able to take a train throughout most of Spain, and although purchasing the tickets was not exactly easy (I don’t speak Spanish and I have the patience of the typical American), once you are aboard the trip is well worth the hassle. I’ve taken several trains throughout Europe and each trip is different. In Italy the trains are intolerably late and slow. In Spain the trains are mostly on time, but there are vast lines in which you must wait to purchase tickets. In 1996 I took the Chunnel from London to Paris and for about twenty minutes we were under the English Channel. I was a bit nervous about this, but thankfully the drinking car was open and I combated my anxiety with several cans of the local.

There are moments when one finds oneself wandering through the labyrinths of an underground system. Whether this is in a familiar city or a foreign one, I always come away with a feeling of excitement when I board a subway and it pulls out of a station. That familiar jerk which causes passengers to fall over one another has long been a standard refrain in the life of a city-dweller. The journey underground is rewarded by the excitement of emerging from the artificial light to the natural sunlight as one ascends the stairs and out onto the city streets where the smell of street food greets you.

Paul Theroux has written extensively about the lure of train travel, and has stated that there is perhaps nothing as promising as a train pulling out of a station. For me, a person who until I was in my early thirties lived in the town where I grew up, it has always been the train pulling into the station that has proved to be more exciting. Perhaps it’s the promise of that train’s arrival to take me away from the familiar and out into the world that excites me so.

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