I drove to work at an odd time today, a little later than usual. I came upon a long line of cars sitting at the railroad crossing. The train was NOT whizzing through as usual, but trundling along at a steady but sedate pace, much like an older man strolling along the edge of a lake while casually swinging his cane.
As I watched, several cars in front of me executed three-point turns and went back the other way. Newbies... As an old timer in this town, I can tell you that NO train that goes through here is that long, and also that you will have to drive at least 3 miles out of your way to get across via an over or underpass. And the closest route takes you closer to campus, which is like driving in rush hour traffic no matter what time of day you do it.
I put my car in park and rolled down the window. I could be mad, or impatient (after all, I was late for work), but what would be the point. Instead, I looked at this as an opportunity to have some "just me" time, which is a rare thing indeed.
I watched the steady passing of cars and listened to the soothing rumble-clack-clack of their wheels and took a mental vacation back to a time when I rode a train. It wasn't my first, which was with all my brothers as we traveled from London to Llandudno station in North Wales to visit my grandmother. Of that trip I remember mostly pushing, arguing, and ginger beer. Traveling with little brothers is not recommended when you are all of 11 and looking for peaceful adventure.
My memory took me to North Wales though, back to 1980 when I had just graduated from high school and my father took JUST me to visit the UK family. One day, just for fun, we took the train from Porthmadog to Blaneau Ffestiniog to have a look at the slate mines there. The ride up was on a charming little steam engine train through incredibly beautiful mountainous scenery.
I had another picture picked out that showed some of the scenery, but it was copyrighted and I didn't want to incur any artisitic wrath...
Anyway, during that ride, I thought to myself, "THIS is the way to travel!" No rushing - just the chug-chug-chug and sit back to enjoy the view. Once up there, we went down into the mines and sunlight never felt so good as when we emerged an hour or so later. Then we boarded the train and headed back.
Opening my eyes, I saw more tanker cars passing - so I shut my eyes and went back to remembering trains.
When I went back to England two and a half years ago, I was back on the train. From Gatwick to Victoria Station, a crowded, noisy commute. Not at all like I'd remembered - but then this particular route really was a glorified commuter train, wasn't it? Not something you just hop on for the hell of going somewhere. But a few days after I arrived, I got on a different kind of train - one that took me to Barmouth, North Wales to visit my grandmother there.
THIS train was less crowded. People read, or talked, or played cards. They hopped off the train as it pulled into the tiny, picturesque stations to smoke a cigarette before hopping back on and riding to the next station for their next smoke. If you've seen the Harry Potter movies, perhaps you remember the little trolley with snacks and drinks? That's how they do it on the trains there. I had tea and a pastie on my way to visit Granny. I wish the pastie had been warm though. It was a bit cooler than room temperature and sat in my belly like a semi-solid stone.
The ride back to London was even more fun. My granny, who rarely buys much food at a pop, had bought too much in preparation for my visit. So my return trip only featured tea from the trolley - Granny had packed me the most marvelous lunch! A sandwich roll with mozzerella cheese, lettuce and tomato. Fruit. Crackers and cheese. It was a veritable feast. When I rode back, I sat with a friend of her's (Edwina) and we shared food and chatted until her stop - a goodly amount of time. I learned about my grandmother's life as a head in a girls' school, which I'd never really known much about - but that was where they'd met. We sat at a table and talked like old friends. You can't really do that on a plane...
At about this time, my son became enamoured of Thomas the Tank Engine, and was SO jealous that I'd gotten to ride on a train at all.
He listened raptly to my tales of train stations, reading the boards, and the bathrooms with the tiny sinks. He wanted to do a train ride!!!!
For his first "vacation", I took him to Washington DC with me last October. Riding the plane was nerve-wracking for him, but he finally relaxed and was able to enjoy the ride. But for him, riding the METRO in DC was the highlight of the transportation portion of our visit. He wanted to know if this was like riding a train. I had to explain to him that it WAS a train - just with a shorter route. Z-boy was in love.
So how do you top a ride on the METRO? Perhaps, with this:
The Great Smoky Railroad in North Carolina.
I am hoping to be able to take off a little time this summer and go on a train adventure with my son to the Smoky Mountains! My father did this with my brothers, and he said it was one of the best holidays they'd ever had - and my brothers STILL talk about it. So I'll start saving my pennies now. He's gonna love it.
As I watched the final train car appear, more cars were doing the three-pointers to get out of line. What? Can't you people see that the end is near? All you have to do is wait another 30 seconds and you can go! So impatient. Not only have you lost out on your chance to get where you're going, but you also missed out on five minutes of quiet time. Me? I managed to fit a whole vacation in there and crossed the tracks, ready to start my day.