Posts Tagged ‘trains’

Letter From The Train 07 18 2016 A Pandemic of Homicides…

July 18, 2016

The New Jersey countryside is slipping by, not very attractive here, just outside New York City, just before Newark, a maze of train tracks and freeway overpasses, industrial complexes and abandoned buildings.  This is the second of the four trains I will be taking today and tomorrow on my way to Minneapolis — actually St. Paul because that’s where the depot is.

Every year I go to Minneapolis to visit family and friends.  And this year I thought taking the train would make it more of an adventure and I routed myself through DC so that I might take the Capitol Limited, the train from DC to Chicago, which I have never taken beyond Martinsburg, WV.

Trains as a way of travel are good to give me time to think.  And I and we have much to think about. Yesterday’s New York Times Weekend Briefing had a link to an article advising us on how to cope with such a bad news week.  One suggestion was to curb your exposure to news and to spend time with family and friends.  “Listening is curative.”

And that was posted before I went to Church, where I lit candles for people and causes I care about and who need caring for and as I was lighting candles, one for peace, my pocket vibrated and I saw that three police men were dead in Baton Rouge, killed, we now know, by an ex-Marine who targeted them.  In my pew, I lowered my face and felt defeated.

In all the talk we have had, pro and con about police killing people, and now people killing police, we have not taken the time to accept that violence happens with appalling frequency and we need to take responsibility for it, each and every one of us. 

The US is not in the top ten most violent countries nor are we one of the ten most peaceful countries. Australia and Canada are in that category though.  We feel about as safe walking around in our neighborhoods as an average European  does.  That’s good…   However, says we are “in a pandemic of homicides,” as other kinds of crime seem to be “stifled.”

And what has gotten us all worked up is this pandemic of homicides, particularly ones that involve the police.  For the most part, we seem to respect our police.  But murder marches on. 

And I want to do something about it.  I want to do something more than light candles.  And I don’t know what that is.   

Many of us do feel anguish and impotence because we don’t know how to move our country into being a more peaceful place than it is.  And that is what we want for our country, to be a more peaceful place.  Governor Edwards of Louisiana said, “Emotions are raw. There’s a lot of hurting people.”

And there are.  I am hurting and I am nowhere near Baton Rouge or Dallas though will not be far from Falcon Heights when I arrive in Minnesota. This last week of violence has hit me hard and has hit everyone I know in some hard way.  My friends seem hurt and bewildered, not angry, confused not infuriated.

Mix all of this with the attempted coup in Turkey which failed and has resulted in a harsh crackdown by Erdogan on anyone he suspects, pour in the wounds from Nice, France, sprinkle with Brexit and add a dash of any personal suffering we are enduring, stir with the healthy mix of dismay we are having over our incredible political season and there is no wonder we are confused, bleak and anguished, feeling just a little more fragile than is our wont or want.

Perhaps there is some revelation that will come to me while I traverse half the country, back to Minnesota, where I was born.

Letter From New York

May 30, 2011

Or, as it seems to me…

Right now, this minute, as I begin to write this, I am high above the US, moving east on a Virgin America flight out of Los Angeles after having, last week, crossed the country by rail in the company of my friend Nick. We then drove down the Pacific Coast Highway, stopping at Santa Cruz for lunch with Carolyn Reynolds, with whom I worked years ago at A&E. We visited Hearst Castle after a three-hour detour because of a rockslide on Highway One. We stopped at a local restaurant and the waitress told us how to get around the rock slide; there were no signs from Cal Trans, perhaps because Cal Trans knew better than to send the average Joe over a glorified goat trail with a 1000 foot drop and no guard rails. Nick, good chap that he is, did a minimum of hitting the ghost brake as I maneuvered us along this road.

I could be very flip and attempt to be witty about the trip I am finishing while flying across the country but that would not be appropriate; it would not capture the essence of the journey. That’s what this trip was, a journey. It was a commitment of time to cross the country on a train and it was also a commitment to being open to interesting experiences, to people, to opportunity, for more than the ordinary. To attempt to be flip about the experience would be to diminish it. And I would not want to do that.

Nick is intrinsically gregarious; he cannot help himself. Once a presenter for the BBC, a man who covered the collapse of apartheid in South Africa, the fall of the Soviet Union, a reporter in his heart and soul, he could not help but find out the stories of the people with whom we shared meals on the trains across the country. They ranged from a cross country trucker and his wife to a history professor [who did not seem to know a lot of history] to a couple who have dated for eighteen years but never moved in together and who share a love for the silent film era to a lovely couple who had been married for 62 years and were still totally in love with each other.

We saw the beauty of the Rockies, the magnificence of the Sierra Nevada range, covered with fresh snow, to the starry nights of vast plain states.

We were civilized on our train journey. We stopped at six; I made martinis. We had cheese and other nibbles. We toasted each other; we talked of things present and past. We discussed the end of the world that did not happen. I waited with him while he waited to hear that this oldest daughter of three had been granted her degree by a British university system I do not understand.

It was a time of magnificent beauty, a reminder of the vastness of the American landscape and the endurance of settlers who claimed the west, though I must confess to feeling an occasional twinge when I thought about what had happened to Native Americans. Europeans, most particularly the English in the case of North America, came to this continent and created a vast country, an Empire of sorts, unique, inherently democratic, restless, vast, varied. Sliding out of Denver and all through Colorado, there was a stark beauty of ochre rock vistas with rose red striations as we trundled by with the Colorado River bearing the first of the season’s white water rafters. A guide joined the train and told the stories of the building of the railroads and their Railroad Barons. He told the tragedy of the Donner party as they crossed the pass that carries their name.

We both listened to James Baldacci’s CHRISTMAS TRAIN, which takes place on a cross-country train trip. It’s plot stretched credibility but he captured the folks who work the rails, for whom there is no other life than the one they have. It gave both of us time to think. For me it was a time to savor the life I have had, the one I am having and adventures that are still before me. It was a time to play solitaire; backgammon with Nick, a time to cherish the friendship of Nick who has gone from stranger to best friend in a little over two years of working together, sharing both work and life. At a dinner one night he opened my heart to feeling once again the great emotions that are usually blocked by convention and fear.

It was a time for connecting with old friends like Carolyn and Donna, who we visited off the train in Northern California. On a sunny, windswept beach Nick and I drank white wine, ate cheese and breads while he read CANNERY ROW and I listened to THE SUN ALSO RISES. We strolled the pier at Cayucos, reading parts of Ginsberg’s HOWL to each other.

There were, of course, office crises that came in over the transom, needing to be dealt with. As we left New York, Nick and I began taking pictures of each other texting, sure that everyone in the office thought that was all that we would do while traveling.

And under the starry night of Utah near midnight, there was a sense of God, of a magnificence not well understood, if at all, of the grand mystery that is life and this universe.

There were great laughs, a quick pass through LA, a couple of business meetings prior to dropping off the car before flying back. Departure came, a plane flight made. While I napped Nick made friends of the other occupants of our row, bringing together in conversation and laughter a man from New Zealand, living in Tokyo, and a woman from Australia studying to be an interfaith minister.

It was a journey, not a trip, a land voyage, providing the luxury of time and thought given by a voyage, a rich gift to be taken when offered.