This I Believe

Roy - Arlington, Virginia
Entered on June 24, 2007


I believe that passenger and freight train service is a commonly overlooked neurological system that holds and binds our nation together like no other, and that everyone should — at least once in their life — take a coast to coast train trip and experience America in a way that no other medium offers.

I recently finished a 30 day round North America train tour starting from Washington DC to Chicago, to Sante Fe, Flagstaff, San Diego, Seattle, Vancouver, Jasper, Toronto, Montreal, Plattsburgh and New York City. I have flown into and over these places, and all that lay in between many times over the last 53 years, but never understood how they were connected. Now I do.

From 40,000 feet, North America resembles an uninhabited topographical map, an inanimate virtually flat board. From the train you see into individual American’s back yards, you see the factories they work in and where they once worked, you see where they shop, and what they drive. But most importantly, as the train moves from one coast to another, picking up new passengers and dropping off others, you get a chance to talk to them and hear their stories. There is a candor to these conversations that does not exist in any other environment. It is up close and personal, yet anonymous — as we know we are unlikely to see each other again and most likely will never learn each other’s name. In fact, hours pass, as each of us discusses what has happened with our lives, where we are today, and what we hope will happen in the future. It is a kind-of-mobile therapy, as the scenery transitions outside the window, and the horn, squeeks and background noise of the train provide a “noise therapy.”

From this experience, I have come to believe several things. First, there are many interesting and diverse people who make up this great continent of ours, and each has an interesting story to tell. Second, I think everyone should take at least one long distance (overnight and coast to coast) train ride to some place where they have never gone before. The experience and interaction will be transforming and narrow that which separates us, increasing our mutual understanding of each other. Long distance train travel is fast becoming extinct, yet an integral part of the central nervous system of our society that promotes a quality of interaction between our people that no other medium offers.

This I believe.