The distant blowing of the train whistle breaks the present silence as I sit on my sofa deciding what I will do next on this Monday. My options are varied. I've been working on a new study we're starting for my ladies group at church tomorrow and I need to prepare for a birthday dinner I will be attending later this evening for a couple of my besties. And, yes, I always need to do laundry. But the familiar sound of the train lures my thinking to a day long ago, and here I am once again writing down my thoughts.
A very, very long time ago when I was in the seventh grade, I was selected as a safety patrol. Most elementary schools don't have safety patrols anymore, but back then it was a way to honor good-grade makers (what can I say?) by awarding them with the title of Safety Patrol. The duties consisted mainly of just standing in the hallway, reminding our peers not to run, not to talk, and to follow all the rules. And we wore our badges. That badge was a big deal. I'm sure the safety patrols at Laurel Ridge Elementary were sorely loved (ha!). The highlight however of being chosen as a safety patrol was the trip we were able to take. Every year the safety patrols were invited to take a trip to Washington D.C. and New York City. I still to this day can't believe my parents let me go to New York City with a group of seventh graders, but they did and I will never forget that experience. Of the attractions we visited in Washington, our visit to the Capital remains in my mind something very special. We took a group picture on the massive lawn, a bunch of ragtag seventh graders visiting the country's most important city and the most important law-making building in the land. While in New York, we visited the Empire State Building. I remember thinking in my 12-year-old mind as I peered off the top of the building from the observation deck that I had never ever seen so many buildings spread so far in every direction. We rode the Staten Island ferry and saw the great Statue of Liberty that, before then, most of us had only heard about. We completed our trip to New York with a stay at the famous New Yorker Hotel. Such a wonderful memory that I've carried with me over the years.
But another thing that made that trip so many years ago memorable was that we traveled by passenger train. Even in the sixties, trains were still a common way to travel. Not so much today, but I have read that passenger trains still run and there are trips to places all over the world you can travel by train. I find it very exciting to travel by train. Zipping along the countryside from state to state is a great way to see some of the best scenery the country has to offer. Today Europe has more of a legacy of train travel than the United States. When my daughter backpacked in Europe after college graduation, traveling by rail was the preferred and sometimes only budget-friendly mode of transportation between countries. My experience in seventh grade pales in comparison to her excursions in Europe at the age of 21. To this day, I am glad I didn't know everything that happened on that trip until after she returned. I found out after she got home that she saw and experienced some things I would be nervous about even now at my age. Once she and her traveling companion missed their train and spent the night in a Belgium train station. The day we picked her up at the airport, she came walking up dressed in jeans that had not been washed in a month, brown as a Brazilian coffee bean with her nosed freshly pierced. She had completed a life experience that she too would never forget, but that's a story for another time. Even though I have never been to Europe, I find it very interesting that short train trips can bounce you from one country into another. In the United States, you can drive for thousands of miles and still be in the U.S. Sometimes we forget the expanse of soil this great nation covers.
Many movies have been made with trains at the center of the plot. Murder on the Orient Express and North by Northwest are a couple that come to mind. The Polar Express has become a classic for children. But if you are an old-movie lover, you know that most of the movies filmed in the forties and fifties have a train in them somewhere. It was a common way back then to travel for business and pleasure. For me, trains carry with them a certain mystery and the possibility of endless adventures and tales to be told. And what could be more romantic than meeting a fellow traveler aboard a train and having it turn into a "traveling romance" or the friendship of a liftetime? Years ago, it was considered a bad investment to buy a house too close to the railroad tracks because no one wanted to be awakened by the blast of a train horn as the cars cruised through town at 3:00 a.m. But my house is a safe two to three miles from the track and the comforting bellowing of that horn at various times of day and night pleases me in a wonted kind of way. Even though the trains that pass through my town are not passenger trains, there is an affection as well for those vehicles of transportation that have been around for a long, long time and still play a huge part in commerce and distribution in our country.
If you have ever visited Stone Mountain Park outside of Atlanta, they use to have a train ride that took you around the foot of the mountain. On the ride, you experienced an old-fasioned western show, complete with cowboys and indians and gunfire and damsels in distress. I don't know if they still have it, but I remember it being a fun thing to do with my family growing up and with my own children when they were young. There is also a train ride from Blue Ridge, Georgia to the neighboring town that families pay well to experience. Trains have always held that romance of adventure and mystery for me, and I hope one day to take a long train trip on a luxury passenger train to experience the eating, drinking, sleeping, and sight-seeing that only a train trip can implement. It would be magical to glide across the Swiss alps or to zip through the British countryside, absorbing the breathtaking scenery.
Heck, in reality, I'd just be happy to soar along the Blue Ridge Parkway or take in the mountains of Virginia once again ending up in Washington, D.C., if the trains still accommodate that route. But until then, I'll just enjoy the music of CSX humming along, as they move goods down the line to my friends in the next town...and ride the rails in my dreams...
Posted by CC
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