Santana and the train

March 31st, 2009

S: The city rail system runs from near my house, way, way north of town, to my Mom’s house, way, way south of town. Today I road the train to see her.
First thing to say is, if I made a flow chart for public transportation the first decision block  would have to be “need to pee.”  Then if yes, pee, if no,  pee. Yeah, it’s a good idea to pee before beginning the process. Also, it’s a good idea to have a walkman or MP3 player with you so that you can turn on, tune in, and drop out, ala Mr. Leary. My favorite playlist is full of songs that I have loved over the years I have been listening to music that my parents didn’t buy for me. These songs lie all over the map of music, from Squeeze to Joni Mitchell, Roxy Music to the Dead Kennedys.
Just as I was leaving downtown and hitting the Tyler street station, Santana’s Oye Como Va started playing. Wow, what a great theme song for that part of Oak Cliff. Then as I hit my old neighborhood, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s version of  Hendrix’s Little Wing played. On the way back I discovered that Blue Rodeo’s 5 days in May and Bring on the Night by the Police fit the train ride perfectly.
The sun was shining, the air was clear and dry – the people on the train didn’t smell too bad.
Being on the train is like meditation. I lose track of time. I watch the scenes go by, detached as they pass – with no sense of loss, just watching stuff float past the windows. Graffiti, plastic bags blown into the trees, rust, buildings with every window broken, lots of glass and chrome, Grecian sculpture, pit bulls in back yards, flowers galore, yuppies, rappers, families going to the zoo. I find it very calming to ride the train for an hour and let my mind slow way down while life passes by the train windows.
It occurred to me. This was that perfect day. The day you don’t expect and cannot plan for. The day when you realize that you still have something to live for, even if it’s just that moment when the iPod syncs with the train trip to create some kind of city-born Nirvana.
Ahhhhhh – springtime is here.

A: Funny, we’ve never talked trains. They strike a distinct feeling in me too, and I’ve spent most of my time on them listening to music as well. I love how the music fills my ears and serves as a backdrop to the  scenes I witness around me. Trains remind me of when I lived in Boston and was regularly on a subway, trolley, or commuter rail…always sitting there, gently rocking with the motion of the moving train and looking out the window. My favorite time of day to be on them was dusk, when the sun had nearly sank past the horizon and left black silhouettes of trees and houses against an indigo sky.  I always remember seeing my reflection in the window and feeling so aware of the conflict that always lingered beneath the surface. You can’t look outside a train window at dusk without seeing your own reflection in your peripheral vision; it’s not like looking in a mirror, it’s like you’re witnessing yourself without directly seeing yourself, all while the rest of the world spins by outside. Yet you remain still and observant, seeing others who are sharing this same moment of stillness in the train. It has a surreal quality, much like a Proustian recall, that I’ve never been able to shake, regardless of where I am when I’m on the train and regardless of whether I’m with other people. Oh, and yes S, be sure to pee before you get on the train. Those train toilets are just plain scary.

2 Responses to “Santana and the train”

  1. M says:

    Ahhhh, trains. My biggest disappointment about living in the U.S.. Don’t get me wrong. I was born here, and have lived here all of my life, but life without trains is clearly missing something.

    I remember when I was very young that people would constantly say to me, “You are so good at math and science, I know that you are going to grow up to be an engineer.” I thought that was cool, ’cause I really loved trains. It took me 15 years to figure out that they meant that “other” kind of engineer.

    So, as soon as I was able to travel overseas, I started riding trains. Undergound trains, above ground trains, trains that took me across fields and streams, and across huge seas (yes, that’s right, I said seas. In the old days they would put the train cars on ferrys and take them across huge expanses of open water).

    As you both said, whether its a trolly, a subway, a commuter train, an Inter-City Express, or even a Bullet Train, you feel an instant connection between your inner self (reflecting in your mind), your outer self (reflecting in the window), and the rest of the world (reflecting in your eyes).

    Now, since the topic has clearly moved onto bodily fluids (hmmm, does that mean that the meeting is over, S?) My grandfather (through my mother) gave me some of the most sage advice I have ever received. “A good traveler NEVER passes up a free public restroom.” I remember and follow those wise words to this day. Every time I share this wisdom, the people I am travelling with look at me like I am crazy, and then…hours later…when they least expect it, the import of these words strikes strikes them to their very souls, as they cast about for somewhere, anywhere, that they can find relief.

    I simply point them towards the train station, or a handy McDonalds, and, with a slight push, explain that there is a public restroom for them in there. As they depart on their task, they turn around and look at me with a smile, and I always respond the say way…”You know what, I think I’ll join you. My grandfather always said, “A good traveler NEVER passes up a free public restroom.”

  2. admin says:

    S: Coming from a veteran traveler like yourself, your comments are really appreciated, M.

    And A, you were in danger of highjacking my entire thread with the “Proustian recall” thingy. LOL….JK

    So next time you are here A, we’ll hook up with M and ride the train!

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