Riding the rails has always had a slightly romantic connotation for me. I grew up to stories my father told me of his years being a hobo in the dirty thirties, riding in boxcars from one end of North America to the other. My own trips were a little more comfortable but held plenty of room for romance.
I actually met my first wife on a train, during an exchange trip between grade 11 students in Nova Scotia and our counterparts in Scarborough, Ontario. The train out of Halifax gathered us up as it came up from the coast. Brenda got on at Springhill Junction and I boarded a few minutes later at Amherst so we wound up sitting close together on the long ride to Toronto. We were travelling couch so the trip was long and filled with chatter. I don’t particularly remember talking that much with her (I was pretty shy in those days) but we must have said something because by the end of the second week we were going steady.
For the next year, I spent a lot of time travelling between Amherst and Springhill, usually hitchhiking though occasionally I took the train and she would pick me up where it stopped a few miles outside of town. I took the train a lot in those days – when I wasn’t riding my thumb – mostly to Halifax, though I also took a few trips to Montreal and Toronto. I’ve always wanted to take the train from coast to coast but that will have to go on the list for later, I guess.
Train travel has a certain gentility about it, even when you are sitting in couch. It’s more neighbourly than airplanes. I’ve met a lot of interesting people on trains – not necessarily lifelong friends but quirky acquaintances that I kept or abandoned as circumstances fit. I recall one long winter trip to Toronto as a student that turned into a massive joke fest and sing along once the guitars came out. Fortunately, no-one complained and one of the conductors – a hard core communist who hated the new Canadian flag (only 10 years old at the time) – came by and sang some Woody Guthrie numbers. For a gruff guy with a extensive vocabulary of swear words, he had a remarkably sweet voice.
Trains continued to be a significant part of my travelling experiences well into my thirties (when I finally learned how to drive and had more money for flying). In the last few years, I’ve returned to my early love and often take the train from Ottawa to Toronto to avoid driving on the 401. And, of course, whenever I go to Europe, I use the extensive network of high speed trains, which for shorter trips is far more convenient and quicker than flying.
Written on the train and that’s ten minutes.