Because sometimes it just needs to be said.
By Leanne Schaeken
Most everyone has a preferred mode of travel, whether it is the classic autobahn, airplane, or boat. The train-without hesitation or doubt-is my favourite. Last Friday evening, as I settled in on train 79 from Toronto to Windsor, and the downtown lights blurred past, my fondness for trains, with their steadiness and gentle chug past countrysides, came back to me. A train will hardly ever lead you toward a great adventure. Perhaps it will take you to the next city or the next province, to your school or to your home. It does not have the excitement of a plane or the banality of a bus. A train ride is, simply, a delight.
I can distinctly remember my first train ride. Shockingly, I was fifteen. It was an early Sunday morning in March. The sun had begun to rise, streaking snow-dusted fields with its orange-golden rays. After a skirt around town, my father parked our van alongside a train shed that had the word “Glencoe” scratched along its side. We trudged my baggage to the front of the shed and waited for the sound of a whistle to break the cold, dense air. As we were waiting, I desperately ran through the helpful hints my sister had given me. For instance, she told me not to sit down in one of the quad seats because spending an eight-hour trip staring at another person is just plain awkward. As the train slowed to a stop, I made my way to the opened door with trepidation. It was my first step, and admittedly it was a step that was well overdue, out and away from home.
My anxiety slowly dissipated as the sights and sounds of the train became more familiar. The idea of the train suddenly lurching off its rails no longer consumed my thoughts, and my body relaxed into the comfy, over-stuffed seat. Bare fields became highways, which opened up to dingy backyards, hotels, industrial parks, and skyscrapers. Periodically, I would hear the bilingual words of an attendant notifying us of the next stop. The lunch cart would go by. “No thank-you. I’m fine,” I would say in response to offers of the grossly overpriced beverages and snacks. Then, reaching into the bottom of my backpack, I would pull out a sandwich that my mom had made for the journey. Often my curious self would arch up above the rows of seats, and my eyes would transfix on all my fellow travellers. On this ride the train was predominately filled with elderly women. I’m not too sure why. It was the beginning of March break, and therefore, although I had an excuse to be leaving town, I can’t think of what their excuses could have been. Perhaps it was just any other day: they were going to visit their friends and family or to do some city-shopping. Time on the train, for them, was time spent patiently waiting for it to be over, while to me it was exhilarating in all its newness.
Since that first train ride the exhilaration has faded and been replaced with comfortable assurance. Unlike with any other mode of transportation, I have a naïve trust that trains, despite delays, will get me to my destination unharmed and in one piece. Even in those moments when the train rocks forcefully back and forth as it moves onto a different track, and my imagination runs to the extreme in contemplating the demise of the train along with me, there is no suffering involved. Everything just becomes quiet and still. Yet, despite my morbidity, the train always stays on course, chugging past cities and towns, and delivering me to my destination.