Article 25

All Aboard

In Uncategorized on 05/10/2013 at 6:44 pm

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This seldom happens. But it did to the train carrying Vice-President Charles G. Dawes in 1927. Photo by the Commercial Appeal.

Getting there is at least half the fun

By Anne Skove

Take the train. It will make you happy. It seems safer – there are no inane lectures on how to fasten a seatbelt. They do not assume you will throw up. You need not hope you go over a body of water in case you plummet and need to use your cushion as a floatation device.

Taking the train is taking the back roads, only you won’t get lost or run out of gas. In college, I used to take the train from Cincinnati to Chicago. It rolled past plastic pools, clotheslines and doghouses in the backyards of small-town Indiana. It was like riding through a John Mellencamp song.

I would stay up until 3 a.m., when the train departed from the teeny piece of massive Union Terminal that still served as a train station. Sleep on the train is easy – no turbulence, lots of room. The train rocked me to sleep. I tuned out the breakfast announcements and woke up in Chicago.

Riding through the south side, I always tried to spot my apartment at 57th Street. The tracks went right by it. We made up a drinking game – drink twice if a train was passing by. At night in my small bedroom I could see the tracks and feel the rumble of trains going by, listen to the low whistles, rock to sleep.

Coming back into Cincinnati was impressive. The sight of the skyline (like the taste of Skyline) always gives me a “back home” feeling. Driving, one can only see the skyline properly from the south. But the Cardinal bypasses Union Terminal at first, bringing passengers to a bridge over the Ohio River, where they are suspended for several minutes. The skyline is in full view: back home! And, in the rare event that the train should plummet into the Ohio … who knows? Perhaps the seat cushions can be used as floatation devices.

Trains cause nostalgia. Even high-tech bullet trains carrying business people tapping away at laptops, cell phones firmly planted inside ears, evoke memories of trains past: my trainiac little brother, the depot in a small town, flattening pennies on the tracks across from your grandmother’s house, your elderly neighbor who worked for the railroad and still remembers the schedule even though he can’t remember much else. Visiting friends in the big city.

Trains are American and Americana. They are hayseed and high-energy. They roll through the heartland (aka “flyover country”), and rush through urban centers. They carry coal and commuters. They are both Midwestern and metropolitan.

Kids love trains. They like Thomas the Tank Engine. They like train noises. My oldest child heard real trains often enough growing up in Tidewater, Va., that he never said “choo-choo” but rather, did a more realistic impression, a staccato “chuh-chuh-chuh-chuh” that capture the clatter of the Norfolk Southern going by.

Adults love trains. Grown men spend money and sacrifice entire basements for electric toys. The Little Engine that Could provides us with a lifelong lesson in perseverance.

 

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