Monday, January 07, 2002

I am a subway person, as opposed to a bus person. It seems odd to me, because most of all I prefer to walk, so you'd think I would want to be above ground where I could see everything go by. But I hate buses. And more, I am entranced by trains. In partic ular, I am fascinated by train stations, especially those built during the Belle Epoque, the robber barons' answer to a cathedral. The marble-floored waiting rooms with soaring ceilings, and the wrought iron and glass covering the platform where the trains leave. The cold and the smell of departure and arrival, a sort of intoxicating mix of tobacco and perfume, oil and sweat and leather.

An airport feels hardly different from a shopping mall, and all airports are virtually interchangeable. But a train station, a real train station like Union Station in Washington, D.C. or the Central Station in Antwerp, has its own pulse and countenance.

I remember when I was 13 or so, I used to take the Chicago and Northwestern train from Highland Park to Evanston once a week to my piano lesson at Northwestern University. I would buy two bars of cadbury chocolate (with hazelnuts) at Kip's delicatessen. Then, feeling very grown up, I would board the train, slowly consuming one chocolate bar tiny bite by tiny bite, saving the other for the trip home. I could never read or write for long, because I felt impelled to look out the window at the same scenery going by each week, imagining all those lives going on behind all the windows in the houses and offices, entranced by old brick factories and secret paths through small and nameless woods.

The actual process of getting there was more important than the getting there itself.

I haven't changed much since then, not when it comes to trains and train stations at least.

The Swedish phrase for the day is pendeltåg. It means commuter train.

- by Francis S.

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