One of the most fascinating parts of train travel is the people you meet along the way. Who are they? Why did they choose to travel by train? I wondered. A lot has been written about passenger trains but very little about the people who ride them. After several recent train trips, I decided to start this blog.
I travel in Coach. This way I get to meet a lot of people and leave it to fate on who my seatmate will be. From Chicago’s Union Station my aim is to travel on every passenger train route throughout the country and maybe Canada. Trains connect. The certainty of a route’s beginning and end gives strangers a slice of time to embrace the experience or avoid each other. Who’s Taking the Train? is for all of us who choose to embrace each other.
My train thread
I am not a rail buff. Before going to sleep in an old house two blocks from the Illinois Central Railroad tracks, I could hear the trains’ night moves – brakes clanking, cars bumping, wheels rolling like distant thunder. It was my lullaby. My grandmother arrived for visits via the Amtrak train from her home in St. Louis to ours in suburban Chicago. I gave my bedroom up for her. My first kiss as a teenager was inside a warm, lit rail station on a freezing cold January evening. The City of New Orleans train was my primary mode of transportation to and from the university I attended in southern Illinois.
I did work in the rail industry for a number of years. As editor of the Illinois Central Railroad’s corporate magazine, I explored many facets of railroading – from tracks, signals and bridges to the people who run railroads – from brakemen to boardroom executives. I also worked for a manufacturer of transit industry ticket vending machines. Chicago commuter trains carried me back and forth from jobs and events across the city when I was a single, career woman. My mother’s apartment had a window that overlooked the Union Pacific Metra line out of Chicago. When she was dying, we watched the trains and imagined where everyone was going.
After my marriage ended, it was no wonder that I felt drawn again to trains. I cleared my calendar and packed my laptop. Making my living as a writer, I can work from almost anywhere. Psychologists say that transitions make us more malleable. Maybe. On the train I hoped to find some peace that would fill this awkward emotional space inside of me. After failing at what others wanted them to be John J. Audubon and Henry David Thoreau walked into the woods. I got on a train.