Archive for trains

Talk of the Train Tracks

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on June 24, 2010 by jganolik

Yesterday, I took a train from New York City to Philadelphia, and ten minutes before we arrived at 30th street station in Philly, the train conductor decided to stop and help out another train that had experienced an engine failure. That means, we sat there for thirty minutes while the other train unloaded all of its passengers and squeezed them into the empty seats and aisles of our train. It was a little bit irritating, since I had woken up early and all I wanted to do was to get home and pass out on my bed, but it also got me thinking about something that has always intrigued me. That is, the fact that when placed in unusual/emergency situations, many people make friends with others around them who are in the same situation. Before we stopped to help the other train, the people on my train were all absorbed in their own ipods, their own books (or kindles/ipads), and their own telephone conversations.

However, as soon as our conductor decided to help out the other train, everyone put down what they were doing, and introduced themselves to the people around them. I was totally guilty of this too. I introduced myself to the man who was ushered into the seat next to me, who explained that he was headed to Washington D.C. to attend a meeting about wind turbines, and that he was relieved that he did not have a flight to catch, since if that were the case, the train’s broken engine would have wrecked his schedule. The people in the seats in front of us started laughing at the thought of what would happen if everyone was loaded off the defective train, and then that train started moving instead of ours. After that, we all concocted a plan to hop out the train’s doors and trek the rest of the way to 30th street on foot, since the off and on loading process was taking forever. However that plan was soon vetoed when it dawned on someone that it would involve walking through decrepit North Philly—not a very appetizing experience.

By the time we arrived at the station, almost everyone had at least one person to wish safe travels to: something that would not have been the case if we were all on a normal train ride. Because the second that the train stopped and the conductor warbled the situation over the loudspeaker, a sheet of common ground slid beneath all of us, and there was suddenly something to complain about.

So what does this say about people? Do we all secretly wish to connect with and help strangers, but not know how to begin? Is the opportunity to kvetch the miracle cure for traveler’s tunnel vision? Or is an emergency one of the only situations that can get strangers with unrelated backgrounds and ethnicities to acknowledge one another?  The same (although much more intense) situation presented itself to the world around 9/11 and Katrina, among other events, but the speed at which connections are created between people during a surprise or emergency always interests me. Especially since in normal circumstances, even a “Hi” from a stranger receives a raised eyebrow or a turned heel.

Ode to George Clooney in the Air

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on January 20, 2010 by jganolik

At the close of this year’s winter break- my last official winter break, for that matter, since I graduate from college in the spring (cue excitement and hysteria), I have accumulated two public transit schedules, and used at least two or three other services. I think this is a result of being abroad last year, since back then long breaks meant long backpacking trips across Europe. When anyone asks me about what I will miss most about traveling abroad, I usually talk about the transportation systems in Europe and how much more convenient and cheaper they are than in the states. One lasting effect of my travels is the inability to stay in one place for long periods of time and an undying affection for public transportation. And no, I’m not being sarcastic.

The train ride from Norwich, England, where I was studying, to London was usually around 10 quid, and took two hours. That is, if you ignore the weird weekend days when it was a three-hour half train, half bus ride, to allow for construction. I always had to make sure to book trains early, but for the most part they were cheap, on time, and enjoyable. I got to know the Norwich station very well. I had a bunch of Americanos and almond croissants in the coffee shop and always got a kick out of the fact that they sold bottles of beer along with soft drinks and coffee. There was the stand that sold really good baguettes, and if you were looking for something fast and cheap, there was the tiny co-op that had very gross sandwiches in the triangular packages that I’ve missed since I’ve been back in the states.

That station became a sort of home base: it was the place that began many of my travels: Amsterdam, Liverpool, London, Budapest, etc. Whenever I went there it felt like something was about to happen, something in my life was about to change, because nothing is more satisfying than having a distinct destination. Or in the case that I had returned from a trip, that station was the place within which I immediately began to identify what had changed since I’d been there last. Because something always had changed.

I’ve heard someone say once that there is this feeling you get when you arrive in a new place that absolutely anything is possible. That your life can go in any direction. I think this is associated with the movement and energy involved with traveling: there is preparation that has to be done for the trip, you need to be exactly on time, and aware of the location of the train to make sure and get off at the correct spot. And then after getting off the train you become a part of a pack of individuals who are all going somewhere. And then there is the rush of the train station, the new city, this happens more within an airport than a train station but there is the mass of individuals that are there to welcome incoming travelers. Although the waiting part of traveling gets boring, the hours spent listening to music and staring out the window, or attempts to read that, at least for me end in dull nausea, there is always a sense of accomplishment when you reach a new location.

The question, “what if I decided to move here?” has often crossed my mind during my travels. I think this is partly because my dad always used to examine the real estate posters in whatever place we were vacationing. When I was a lot younger, I used to wonder whether there was a chance we would actually move to this place. Where would I go to school? Where would my parents work? And most importantly, would I have friends here?

Although it is usually more fun to have a travel partner, I love the anonymity that comes with a solo-voyage. For all that the surrounding strangers know, you could be anyone going anywhere. And in the odd chance that the plane crashes on a strange island that cannot be located on any map, your destination, and reason for traveling will completely lose their meaning. But in that case there will be bigger issues to deal with, like smoke monsters for example.

In any case, to maintain a steady dosage of anonymity since I’ve returned from Europe, I have made a point to explore the public transit around me, and to make more day and over-night trips to cities, however incomparable they are to those across the ocean. I’ll also admit that I’m regularly mocked by emails from National Express and, since it would be so nice to jet off to Istanbul or Sweden for the weekend. But I haven’t yet had the heart to unsubscribe, since hypothetical adventures are better than none at all.