“Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way.” ~ Kingsley Amis
I’m sitting next to Trinity in the dark on top of a train hurdling toward Oakland, California. We’ve just been informed that shrimp cocktail with humus and crackers are waiting downstairs which has enticed Trinity to leave our nest above the rail car and walk down to investigate. Upon her sudden return, she informs me that she has purloined only crackers, without the humus or the shrimp. She doesn’t like humus, was expecting cheese, and seems rather disappointed that cheese is not an option. As for the shrimp, she simply wrinkles her nose, closes her eyes, and shakes her head definitively. She returns to her perch beside me and together we sit and watch the night roll by.
Trinity is my new friend from Vancouver, B.C. She’s 9 years old and is accompanying her family, exclusively clenching the honor of the youngest passenger on this trip, her shock of copper hair and bright green eyes a beguiling vision. We became immediate friends when, standing in L.A.’s gorgeous Union Station, she stared up at me with those eyes and her big toothy smile and boldly asked my name. Baring her generous soul and sweet youthful wisdom gathered from her relatively short but eventful existence, we’re sharing this unique experience with great anticipation.
Trinity and I agree that this is the best seat on the train and we’re both genuinely sorry for the passengers on the cars in front of us. With no idea of our stealthy perch behind them, inhabiting 5 private cars attached to the back of their generic, modern Amtrak vessel, they are likely being lulled to sleep without the incredible view that surrounds us now. Most folks don’t know about the fleet of privately owned rail cars that crawl across our continent, hitched opportunistically to the rear-ends of regular trains heading somewhere. I’m told there are only 100 of these Amtrak-approved treasures in existence. Our meticulously restored rail cars are relics from the past, the time of our grandparents, with current owners who are passionate and dedicated. They generously share tales of the luscious history of these rail cars. Made of Stainless Steel, they are both immortal and precious. We’ve all boarded this train staunchly ready to renounce the modern sleekness of the newer cars.
We’ve slipped into a timelessness that stretches the moments into long taffy-like strands of amazement. Every second delivers more beauty than we can devour at once. I’m tempted to store them away like a squirrel with nuts for a later meal.
As the night stars fly past us, my thoughts drift to earlier this morning walking through Union Station in Los Angeles. Having left our baggage with friendly porters, hauled behind their tiny trams on rickety carts, the sheer magnificence of the station itself delivered the perfect send-off. This is where our journey began. Our journey to the Roots. This trip is all about Roots. We’ve joined a “Tribe” they call Roots on the Rails. My fellow intrepid vagabonds and I are in pursuit of an uncommon Americana in all of its available forms, but mostly we are in search of music. A chosen few charming and talented minstrels have joined us, providing a foundation steeped in stories intertwined with delicious melodies. They are legends themselves, troubadours of a kind of art form spinning yarns in musical cocoons.
The first of our rail cars dedicated to musical performances, our official temple of music, awaits sacrosanct and pristine. The next car, #2 in line, is for food and revelry, complete with a glass-enclosed viewing area sitting majestically above all other cars. The rest of these delightful cars efficiently transport our sleeping pods.
As we wind our way up the coast of California bound for Portland, our journey takes us off the beaten path, to coastal views only shared with the local wild life. These tracks are far from the busy highways, crisscrossing the miles the way they always have. They are partially abandoned, discarded by our speed-drenched manic lifestyles.
We’ve lost the luxury of the past. Our predecessors traveled on these trains. Their lives were so much richer, devoid of the demands of time and space, Technology and its sister, Speed. I’ve wandered into an alternate reality, contained within a bubble of time and space, wrapped in an exceptional time machine. Riding on a train delivers a perspective that’s missing in other modes of transport – you find plenty of time to think. Contemplation slowly engulfs me and I realize that pondering is an art and this train is filled to the brim with artists.