Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Train Story #1: Three Families

We found that traveling by train is, in several ways, by far less stressful than driving or flying. Driving from Colorado to California takes about 19 hours, not counting stops, and would necessitate one of us to be driving at all times. Airplane travel gets one there in either 2 hours (for a direct flight) or 5-6 hours (for a 2-leg flight). However, one is totally confined to a very small space, too small for many people to be comfortable. One has to worry about luggage being lost, whether the person in the seat ahead is going to recline his seat and shove one's tray table into one's legs, and whether the refreshment cart is going to catch one's elbow if one has an aisle seat. One goes through a big rigamarole on either end and it's all a big hassle.

Train, travel, on the other hand, has a lot to be said for it. One's seat has more than ample leg room, the seat reclines almost completely, and a leg rest comes up for ease in sleeping. One doesn't have to fasten a seatbelt, and one is completely free to get up and move around. The train we were on had an observation car complete with booths/tables for playing cards and having picnics, and comfortable side-facing seats for ease in viewing the scenery. There's a cafe and a dining car, and they don't mind if you bring all your own food. You can walk around and around, play games, watch movies, and watch the world go by, not having to worry about connecting flights or stopping for gas.

The one drawback, of course, is the amount of time it takes to get anywhere. Our train ended up being about 2 hours late and so we were on the thing for nearly 36 hours, which pretty much became a drag after a while. We didn't take advantage of any of the stops (some people did - there was no smoking whatsoever allowed on the train, so the smokers hastily sucked down their carcinogens in Glenwood Springs, Grand Junction, Salt Lake and Reno) and so we went nearly two days breathing train air, confined to the cars.

All this time on the train gives passengers ample time to get to know one another. We spent so long confined to the same small spaces (and had to share tables in the dining car) that we all had an opportunity to talk to the other people riding the train. It also made for excellent people-watching opportunities. Several families had taken the train to kick off vacations or take advantage of the low fares for children (no kids' discount on an airplane!). There were two families aboard the train that I think were mennonite, or some kind of pentecostal. Both families consisted of a young father and mother. The women were wearing simple homemade dresses with elbow-length sleeves, mid-calf length hems, and those little black yarmulke-like things pinned over their hair. The men were wearing jeans and button-down shirts and had closely-trimmed beards. Both families had babies and one had a toddler, and at one point on the first day the families spread out a picnic across two booths in the observation car.

I gotta tell you, this was the oddest thing. They were drinking Pepsi and eating potato chips. Their food was all store-bought and processed. The babies were eating Gerber. If not for what the women were wearing, they could easily have been, you know, not obviously of a religious group. I was sitting close enough to hear them talking to one another and they had very slight accents. Then, one of the women pulled out a cell phone and called someone! This was the oddest scene - a woman in modest dress holding a baby girl in a homemade pink dress talking on a cell phone.

Another of the families that shared our journey all the way to the Bay Area had three boys - a 13-year-old, a 10-year-old, and a 7-year-old. All three were tall for their ages, skinny, with freckles and bright red hair. Three boys who had so much energy and were confined to a train for two days. The parents trusted their kids to behave and they did, which was lovely. For that family the train ride was part of the vacation, to experience seeing the country from the perspective of the observation car. They'd brought a portable DVD player, cards and a poker set, chess, scrabble, and decoratable gingerbread cookies. It was lovely to see such a secure, functional, loving family - the parents knew they had good kids, and the kids completely lived up to their parents' trust.

There were a lot of other passengers, of course, some of whom were families, but these three stuck out from the crowd - one because of the odd juxtaposition of the looks and actions of the families, the other because of their obvious functionality. I can only hope that we'll end up with similarly interesting fellow passengers for the trip home.


Monkey McWearingChaps said...

I actually asked American Mom off the old boards about that because we had lots of "modernised mennonites" around Chambana and I asked her if they were "cheating Amish" after I saw 2 young girls in their mennonite dresses and sneakers looking in at the Body Shop at our Very Pathetic Mall in Chambana that is the regional shopping place till about St-Louis. I guess her sister is part of one of their churches-her answer was that they do allow modern conveniences but they generally work in construction and farming and they're very serious about tithing and home educating and the like. If you go to Chatarea you can probably find the old thread though I don't remember the board having a good search function.

Anonymous said...

Monkey I vaguely remember that post; but yeah the search at Chatarea does not really work.
I saw some Mennonite-looking people at the natural grocery market day before yesterday. (I guess they were less into the processed foods.)
I can certainly understand the upside of train travel.
It would be *so cool* if the USA could make the effort to really revive our railroad system. Maybe more Americans would use rail transit if it were more reliable, faster, etc.