The train is a perfect place for a writer to ruminate on what it all means, and Andy Isaacson comes up with several conclusions in the ample time he had to look at the scenery and befriend fellow passengers. For example, the billboards and neon signs that are so prevalent along the highways are virtually nonexistent along the cross-country railroad tracks, providing a rare break from the barrage of marketing that greets us with every car trip.
Furthermore, train passengers are more outgoing and open to conversation than airplane passengers, with everyone from retired cops to Amish farmers sharing their life stories and railroad memories in the dining car and dome-roofed observation car. But the real difference between rail travel and flying or driving is the relationship to time. Sure, delays are frequent, but they seem not to annoy long-distance travelers much. Once people are comfortably aboard a train, the minor setbacks that are so catastrophic in other situations are just the price you pay for the pleasure of rolling across the country on rails.
Four days in a train is a long time compared to five hours in an airplane, but for the philosophers among us who believe that the path itself is the destination, it's heaven. As for us, we lack the luxury of time to appreciate such a perspective. But if they could cut the journey down to two days, it just might be worth it.
[Photo: The New York Times]
· Riding the Rails [The New York Times]
· Amtrak [Official Site]
· Surviving an 18-Hour Delay on Amtrak's Coast Starlight [Jaunted]