Notes from a Train

You’re riding through the countryside…

Some of my best and first memories are riding the commuter train into downtown Philadelphia with my Dad so that I could go see where he worked and so we could have lunch at a real restaurant (and maybe borrow some pens from the office supply cabinet.) Now that I have a travel schedule, I still like to take trains when I get the chance to go to a city. I’m not sure whether they appeal to my love of large-scale systems, the customer service challenges of organizing many people in one place according to a schedule, or if I just like riding on trains.

And as a commuter, you see different things…

I haven’t taken very many trains in California, so today I jumped at the chance to take the CalTrain “Baby Bullet” from San Francisco to Palo Alto. This train is a hybrid between the traditional commuter trains I grew up riding and the direct trains more common in city to city routes. From San Francisco south doesn’t seem like such a long distance, until you try to drive it at rush hour. The train is a great alternative, even if there’s no wifi.

But that’s probably a good thing. Trains are great because they give you a perspective on the landscape that you don’t see when you’re driving. There is also a distinct rhythm and sound and cadence to train travel that transports me instantly back in time. Even though people are looking at their iPads or Smartphones and doing their daily commute, there are also many people who spend their time gazing out the window at the reflected shapes and cars that pass by at train speed.

That change your perspective…

Trains are also great because they force you to decide where you’re going and when, and to bend to the whims of someone’s schedule. You can learn a lot about the people who ride the train just by glancing at their body language, their reading material, and perhaps even catching a smile when someone makes eye contact. I should point out though that as a society I think we’ve lost something by always having our heads in our phones or tablets or laptops. There’s a great big world out there if you’re willing to “leave the city” – metaphorically and literally – and open yourself to new experiences.

And finally, I feel refreshed when I’m on a train – it doesn’t feel like a chore to ride but rather like a temporary sanctuary where I can take a few minutes to gather my thoughts, review the day, and think about what’s next.

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