Tuesday, July 3, 2018

spacious skies and train cars

Speeding across the country on an Amtrak is like, I said, examining a lover's back. You never see this side of them before.
Au contraire, said Crawford. It's rather more like seeing them face-to-face at last, rather than staring at the feature-less spine which is the interstate.



It’s true of the scenery—flooded forests and log-clogged lakes appear right outside the train window. Small farmhouses and wide, unbroken pastures ripple right up to the embankment of the train tracks. A train moves slowly enough to still be part of the landscape, meaning you can get a good look in its eyes.

Trains cut through more varied lands. A train track does not dictate a rote terrain at each exit—fast food restaurant, convenience store, gas station—inflected only lightly by culture and geography, as an interstate requires.

Thus, by train you can really see what the interstate obscures: the country beyond the concrete barriers, and the fellow travelers themselves. Those who otherwise might be obscured behind the corporate logos of a car make appear in all their particular, peripatetic glory.

As I walked to the lower car of the Amtrak, I passed two men on the platform sharing a blunt, kids playing soccer (the ball went into the tracks on the other side), an Amish man with a mystery novel and a man with tan, muscular arms, tattoos, and a blonde beard chatting.

The car I sat in featured a woman my age who acted as though each minute shaved from a station stop were a criminal offense, a smiling couple from Montana, who were veterans of the rails, you could tell, as they had a small army of snack bags compiled at their feet, as though they had packed for a 10-hour picnic.

A group of young women, bound for Chicago's Chinatown, anticipated their impending dim sum loudly and shared stories with each other and with us through their echoes, of the discrimination they had faced as Latinx in America. The woman across from them recommended that they talk to the Amish who were upstairs: "Most of them are very nice," the woman said. She approved of their luddite lifestyle, but not of their gender roles.

My only seat companion arrived when the the train stopped in Columbus, Wisconsin. He brought on two trim and clearly well-worn bag—of a quality that stood the test of time—and a walkman. He kept the walkman playing loud rock 'n' roll for the duration of his trip.

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