ETA: I just now realized this is my FIVE YEAR anniversary of this blog! Holy crap! I'm so glad I'm still as aimless and rambling as always. If you read this or anything on here, I love you. I really do. Back to my regularly scheduled nonsense....
I took an Amtrak train to Albany last week and had the usual stream of consciousness vortex of thoughts as I sat and waited for my train. Most people call this thinking. But I have always had the impression that if I let it, my brain would just pull me under like a pernicious riptide and I’d be dragged away gasping, far from the sun drenched shore by degrees. So, I decided to write them down and share it here, hoping to come up with something worth reading. I’m not sure that I’ve done that. I’m only sure that I want to be able to take long train rides everyday because the movement of the train stills the vortex. Temporarily.
I left work that day smiling. Knowing I wouldn’t have to return to a place where I am not myself for hours at a time was relieving in the way taking a bra off at the end of the day is freedom in action and I felt loose and relaxed. I didn’t even mind that no one would return my eye contact on the subway, what with the Pokemon they were all hunting on their phones; I got to observe, unobserved. By the time I got to Penn Station, it was full blown rush hour and I coasted on a wave of worker drones, headed east or south or north to 3 bedroom ranch houses and smaller versions of themselves, to spouses or girlfriends/boyfriends and other things that seem to elude me. There were bewildered tourists with backpacks and high heeled ladies with charm bracelets and young masters of the universe shooting toward the sprawl in a strange serpentine rhythm through underground Penn Station.
I rarely take train rides longer than an hour. The last long train ride I took was in Belgium, traveling from Bruges to Ghent and from Ghent to Amsterdam. I had been hungover with a vengeance then and my brain was just looking for sleep. But my heart managed to do what it always does when a new landscape rolls out in front of me; it emitted a pinprick of hope that I'd find my own personal Jesse Wallace to take a European stroll with for hours. Christ. Films have ruined my life. I guess I enjoy train rides because they make me think of possibility, that great American fable. So, I was going to enjoy this one too (though the non-European-ness of the setting muted the Before Sunrise daydream).
Anyway, I arrived early for my train and got a seat in the waiting room. It struck me that the Amtrak wing of Penn Station is the only thing that retains its 60s mod-ish design. I don’t know how old exactly that room is but sitting there, waiting inspired a melancholy in me. I don’t know what it is about me and nostalgia for things and times I have never experienced. I feel irrational when I experience a longing for something I just missed out on but I can’t help it. Seated a few seats away was a young couple, two women who were so clearly new to each other… they seemed nervous to be together. They spoke to each other with self-consciousness, eager to learn whatever new information about each other they could. It made me lonely.
Maybe I had the 1960s on my brain because of the room but I started thinking of Mad Men. It isn’t unusual for me to think of it since I consider the show, without hyperbole, to be one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen. I thought about the episode when they address the demolition of the old Penn Station in favor of what we have today. It is my understanding that it used to be a beautiful space, on par with what Grand Central Station is now. In the episode, the character Paul Kinsey, rebellious, nearly fucks up the account. In the end, (spoiler alert), Don Draper is forced to fire the new Penn Station company from their list of clients due to lack of vision by his British overlords. I always wonder what midtown would look like now had we kept the beauty and ditched the grit.
I also started thinking about the actor who played Paul Kinsey, a man I knew in college. My college wasn’t very big and he had that mysterious Renaissance man personality to go with his looks so everyone kinda knew him. I, like virtually everyone else I knew, had a huge crush on him and we were friends towards my senior year there. He’d likely be bored to know that he's served as the archetype in many of my own stories. I’ve discovered over the years that his impression on me likely had very little to do with him; though we were friends who hung out some times, I can’t say I knew him very well. Still, I follow his career and his Twitter account and my sudden thought of him led me to just that. I discovered that he had recently proposed to his girlfriend. Good for him! I’m happy when people I used to know have happy middles (I don’t know endings yet). I also got melancholy because people move on and on and away from how I remember them and sometimes I just want things to stay as they are. The urgency of my age makes me lonely. There might be a theme here.
It wasn't long before the train was boarding and it was beautifully air conditioned and empty of hustling crowds, my first indication that I was bound for places away from the city. As I chose my seat, I remembered the last time I took an Amtrak up north to visit these same friends. On my way home from that trip, I arrived at the station to find my train, all trains headed anywhere had been cancelled due to a horrific derailment that resulted in fatalities. Going back to my thoughts about train travel, I always stupidly assumed it was the "safer" way to travel. I think for a few weeks after that incident, I read everything I could on train derailments and their frequency, mostly because that's how I face my fears...I read about them. As my thoughts veered toward catastrophe, the train blessedly pulled into the station and I released myself from the tangle of my neurons and into the hot July night air and the care of one of my oldest, dearest friends.
And there you have three hours worth of rambling, ambling thoughts. If anything, it allowed me to shut off the din of a Tuesday afternoon, one of the most ennui inspiring times of the week. So, there's always that.