Life on the train is sleepy; it’s a casual pace that allows for reflection and connection to others.
This leisurely pace provides a luxury I rarely enjoy–my biggest choice being whether I lay curled in my seat, gazing out the window, or go to the observation car and meet other travelers. I enjoy both options, but for hours, I choose to be alone with the scenery. For a precious amount of time, I’m not thinking about where I’m going, but where I am. Here. Now.
I doze. I watch. I feel calm, a nothingness that I don’t allow myself often while at home. The gentle rocking lulls me and I doze again.
Sitting in the observation car–passing the day as the miles roll along–the light from the windows warms and invigorates, like traveling in a rolling sun room. The view from the train takes me back to my childhood where I would stack pillows in the back seat on long car rides and settle in to watch the scenery pass.
A Leisurely Ride on the Rail
While we sit together, yet separate, in the observation car, the landscape isn’t the only interesting scenery. I watch a woman entertained by her tablet as she researches her destination. A couple across the aisle recline in their chairs and doze in the sunshine. Others gaze out the window and I wonder, watching them, what they are thinking? I imagine each passenger gaining insight, warmth, creativity, and even peace from the passing view.
Then after a sleepy period, breaking away from the hypnotic gaze of the view, people begin to speak. It’s easier to talk to people on the train. Perhaps it’s the close quarters, the feeling of having something in common, or maybe it’s just the slow pace that allows humans to stop, notice each other, and connect. Unlike air travel that can feel scary, rushed, and leave you tired and violated, rail travel is the epitome of a leisurely pace. No rush. No hurry.
It’s All About the View–and the View is Always Changing
There is friendliness, an openness you don’t usually find anywhere else. Cities, buses, shopping malls: in these places we are separate, on guard, and do not make eye contact, let alone connect. How embarrassing to start asking private questions of a total stranger! But on the train it is different. We are a unique tribe, sometimes our only similarity being the spirit of adventure we all share. You think of hobos jumping the rail and can feel that same excitement but without the dangers. Instead, you feel the rush of adventure–but are soothed by the frills of sleeper cabins, warm sunlight, and the nicety of a dining car.
Train people love to share their stories: Where are you from? Where are you going? While everyone is friendly and quick to say hello and start a conversation, they’re also comfortable co-existing, separately yet together–not always an easy task. Humans like their space, their anonymity, their privacy during, well, private acts like sleeping. Yet, somehow, on the train, it is natural to allow each other privacy during not-so-private times and to be comfortable amidst an un-chosen community. Each of us from different backgrounds, locations, and viewpoints, but on the train, these differences, this diversity, is what makes us each so fascinating–and our differences become cause for celebration rather than fear.
**To learn more about traveling the United States by train, watch my “Top Travel Tips in Two Minutes” video at The Voyage Report.