I took a train

I have this memory that I don’t think is real. My father and I are sitting on a train that is traveling above the neighboring city. The sky is blue. The seats are a dark brown wood. I can feel the wind on my face from the open windows. That should be the giveaway. Open windows on a train. The train is silent. There are no other passengers.

I’m sure I’m conflating a childhood memory with a dream. But in our perceptions of reality, who’s to say this wasn’t a real experience.

I’ve seen childhood photos of my siblings and me in front of a large black train. I believe it to be some sort of roadside attraction. I remember this photo every time I step on a train and only then. Something about the grand size of the train in comparison to the toddler version of me is engraved in my memory. The photo itself is a bit blurry and washed out. If I ask my father about it, I doubt he’d know.

I have traveled a lot in my life, but traveling by train has always captivated me.

Traveling on a train feels effortless in the ways cars and planes don’t. All you have to do is sit down and watch the landscape roll past you. Hours later you’re in a new area. There’s no extensive check-in process. Your bags aren’t weighed. You’re not told to take off your shoes and walk through a metal detector. You buy a ticket and you’re all set.

In my years in Japan, my life felt like it was constantly in motion. Our city of Kochi was home to a tram line that was not quite a train but more of a streetcar. It clanked. It shook. It accelerated at awkward intervals. I took the 6:35 am tram to work two days a week. In the silence of the early morning, the tram rattled down the street. Comforting in its reliability but so absurd in its functionality.

I took the bullet train when I really didn’t have to. From Kochi Station, I took the Nampu Limited Express to Okayama. The Nampu Express careened through the mountains of Shikoku and crossed the Seto Ohashi Bridge to reach Okayama. Sometimes, the Nampu would be a special AnPanMan decorated train with each announcement made in AnPanMan’s voice. At Okayama, I transferred to the shinkansen, or bullet train. The Nozomi took me directly to Shin-Osaka station in 45 minutes. Its duck-billed front blowing past small rural communities at 180 mph. Its name meaning “wish” as if your journey on this train fulfills your deepest yearnings.

I always have high hopes for each train ride. Several hours to myself - I could accomplish whatever I want. I could read a whole book. I can send emails I’ve needed to send days prior. I could get so much work done.

But, I never do. I get lost in my thoughts.

There’s something about the magic of trains and being transported to other lands that makes its way into pop culture and literature. In fiction, you can step on the train as one person and leave as another. Reading science fiction or thinking about depictions of the future, trains are always there. They’re quiet and high speed and always a brilliant white or grey. Even in our imaginations, trains are constants.

I love traveling alone. I want to feel anonymous in every new city I visit. I step out the train doors and I don’t carry with me the weight of my lived experiences. As the train travels towards its destination, parts of me come undone and outer walls fade away.

Some train lines feel coded in my DNA. I have ridden them so many times their lists of stops ring in the echos of my memory. Each announcement one step closer to my destination.

I don’t know why having an escape comforts me so much. If I get bored or stir-crazy or need to breath, I can step on a train and go somewhere else. I can leave behind whatever home looks like in the moment and find myself again somewhere new.

I spent yesterday on a train for 10.5 hours from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia. I read. I slept. I ate an overpriced microwaved egg sandwich. Our train car was in full solidarity of the nightmare of a travel situation we were in. Nobody rioted. Nobody yelled at conductors. We all sat quietly and soundly. After the first five hours, you think to yourself: that wasn’t so bad. You even start to get anxious about how much time you have left and all the things you had hoped to get done but haven’t yet. By the last hour, you need to get off the train. You’ve been sitting for so long. You’re unsure who you are anymore and if you even existed before you entered this train. When you get off, you think, oh I could do that again.

What I’ve been consuming lately:

  • Big Little Lies is essential watching if you’re a gay millennial on Twitter. Rich white women caught up in drama of their own doing? Scrumptious.

  • Chernobyl sucks. It’s so boring. I can’t get over how bored I was watching it. I don’t understand the appeal. I wondered if most people were so engrossed because they have never learned about Chernobyl before.

  • I have been searching for a new job and this piece by Amanda Mull really shows how ridiculous some of these job postings can be.

  • Maybe you’ve seen this already, but what an alarming piece on radicalization through YouTube.

  • Just trust me on this one.

  • Wife content and why we love it. Always read Jia.

  • I know I’m like, super late on this, but I’ve been soooooo obsessed with the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen videos. I’m obviously a Claire.

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