Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Auto Train as Spiritual Journey Part 2

In July of 1966, my father and I flew down to Tampa, Florida to visit family. It was my first "real" trip outside of the general area around my native New York City and my first time on an airplane. We were supposed to fly back home except...the airlines went on strike. Every single one.

My Dad had to get home and get back to work. The way back home turned out to be on an Atlantic Coast Line train. Tampa to NYC. The ride was about 26 hours long.

I was familiar with the NYC subways and had even ridden the Long Island Railroad, but this was something different.

I can still remember portions of the journey 43 years later. A dinner (I remember how expensive the prices seemed), served on china. Many people carrying Atlantic Coast Line bags; how I wish we had bought one. At one point they told people the train was going to split, and if you weren't in the correct car you would end up going somewhere else. But most of all, the scenery stayed with me. When you are on a train, there is an intimacy totally unlike seeing the country from the Interstate. On a train you travel literally through people's back yards. Their everyday lives are yours to observe as you speed past. We traveled through Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina. Rural poverty unfolded around me, almost close enough to touch. It wasn't the war on poverty from television. This was reality.

I don't remember much about the big cities, although I know we later traveled through Baltimore and Philadelphia. It's the countryside I remember. And the countryside that called to me the next time I would travel on a long distance train, 40 years later, back to Florida.

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