My husband and I drove to Florence, SC. (I like to refer to it as Firenze. Florence, Italy is actually Firenze, one of my favorite cities.) I boarded for a trip to D.C., more specifically Alexandria, Virginia. Given the seat assignment of 11.
This was an interesting ride, different from the previous when I traveled with one or both young daughters. Eight hours alone on a train, I spent most thinking, pondering, reading, and enjoying the peace, and relaxing without my fear of being in the air on a plane. Extraordinarily fun to have so much time to let the mind wander. A more fun time was had watching people move through their travel day.
A young man, from Europe I assumed for various reasons, was seated next to me. He actually had already taken up residence in my seat next to the window at a previous boarding. He was “plugged in”, set up and comfortable. I did mention that it was my seat. He just looked “surprised” and I did not force the issue. Besides, now I could move freely about without the often used words, “Pardon me”. This young man wore almost all black; his backpack as well was dark with the exception of the bright Lufthansa airline tag hanging from its zipper. I was a tad curious as to his story. Okay..nosy. During our trip, he watched several movies on his laptop with ear buds. One of his selections was a movie about Hitler; the name escapes me at this time. It was subtitled in English, so I was able to watch a few minutes on the sly. (Am sure he knew.) He never spoke a word except when he needed to say “Excuse me.” He would then leave his window seat. His accent was barely audible, but existed.
Across the aisle, one seat up, a young woman sat continuously busy with her hands. What struck me initially about this person was her demeanor. She moved in a confident manner, very comfortable in her own skin while performing her tasks. She did not lean away nor turn her work so as to keep it private. This is the direct opposite of the way in which I roll. Privacy at all costs when creating and “trying to” creatively emote. I wondered about her field of study, graphic design, photography, painting….as her first order of business, beyond boarding, was to pull out a travel sketch pad. I couldn’t tell her subject; her right hand was covering the sketch. As she completed her 20-30 minute drawing, her hand slowly dropped to the bottom of the page. Her art had moved in that direction and now I was privy to the work. A sketch of a train was exposed, not the somewhat modern version in which we rode, but a very old train. It was a train of dreams, of coal, of real travel by rail. She wrote few words beneath this drawing that I could not read of course. I sincerely wanted that piece of art. I am not sure if I admired the work itself, or if I was drawn to its simplicity or the nostalgia it evoked. Possibly I was drawn to the work due to the air and attitude in which she created it – so freely.
No longer is it March 12th. It is March 18th and I am a day late. Yes, I missed my train yesterday. The departure of train #89 did not consider the fact that I might not awaken at the correct time. Thank God for my parents, I might have slept long enough to worry many in my family. I am highly experienced at missing flights, or changing my mind at the very last minute. I am even a pro at not getting off at my intended destination. On one particular trip home to DC, the call was made that we would be making our next stop in Alexandria within minutes. I gathered myself and my two very young daughters, our things, and headed to the door at one end of the car. Another woman was waiting with me. Our door didn’t open. Yes, there was panic on all of our parts; yes there was a bit of sweating and cursing on all of our parts. Mind you the cursing was from the two adults. In disbelief I saw through the window my Mom’s jaw drop, as the train left Alexandria and headed to DC’s Union Station. This was in the early 80’s when cell phones were the exception and not the rule. I do not know how we found each other, but the sight of my Mom was one of the most comforting sights I have ever seen. Thanks Mom for saving me!
I love trains, despite the unplanned events. Those from Charleston to Washington and those from Firenze to Rome. Train travel is real travel. I see the pine forests and swamps; I do not fly over them. I see the ocean and the mountains, at eye level, not from above.
My trip is winding down. Moving back into real time, I am holding on to the swaying and rocking as we move over the tracks. I am thoroughly enjoying my time at the cafe cart, actually seated at a table, moving through the North and South Carolina lowcountry. I had, on this portion of the trip, been seated next to teenage girl purposefully seated away from her parents. Their discussions became a bit heated so I made the move to the cafe cart, lunch in mind as well to be honest. Before I excused myself, I heard the “daughter” remark. Living away from the big city would never be an option for her. Her parents agreed. I have been blessed with the luxury of living in many towns of various populations. I actually felt sorry for this near-adult that did not know what life was really hidden within the trees that she couldn’t see beyond.
So here I am in the cafe cart, people watching. Living for several hours in a confined space is quite a lesson in the varied lives of all of us. It is a very refreshing lesson. The conductors tell stories, tease the children in a friendly manner and joke. They tell many jokes as they sip their coffee or Pepsi. I feel lucky to be a part of their conversations. A single traveler reads her copy of the Washington Post, pushing her glasses into place every few minutes. Her blunt cut gray hair and black suit say business to me. I wonder about her personal story as well.
To be on the receiving end of the visible, audible cues of others, and those of the train as well, is quite a gift. The touch of seat backs as I wobble down the aisle, the smells of perfumes, baby formula, smoke lingering on clothes, these all add to the creation of a portrait that evokes a happiness in me. It is a satiated, calm, complete happiness.
I think I will soon be booking another trip by rail.