I once owned a poster that said on it “There is more to life than increasing its speed,” and I can picture it still, with its small smiling turtle nestled against a background of flower-power blossoms. (Well my goodness, here is an image of that very 70s-era poster, courtesy of Google Image – see?)
I think of it now because, fresh from traversing the Northeast Corridor on Amtrak’s Acela Express I’ve decided that I’ll never again take a high-speed train.
Sure, you gain something in time, but how much you do lose in other ways:
All my life riding trains, I have delighted in the sight of the cities and towns rising up each in their turn with their proud brick banks and reaching steeples.
All my life riding trains, I have I loved the old harbors and feasted my eyes on the silky marshes grass so green in late summer, then so golden as Nature makes for that final station stop called winter.
On a high-speed train, all these sights are barely granted you before they get abruptly snatched away. “You like it? You can’t have it!” seems to be the message and don’t we all get enough of that old taunt here on the far side of Eden? I don’t want to get to a place so fast that I can’t fully grasp my journey. The Lovely Rhode Island seashore: a blur!
Far from wishing to zip along in a train or even a car again anytime soon, I have found, after a few days in Manhattan, something I want that is quite different.
I want to walk, and feel all that humanity swimming past me: The man talking on his phone with such a small earbud you’d think he was talking to himself.The phoneless man behind him who really was doing that and gesturing by way of emphasis.
At first I went to a Starbucks, curled up by a street-level window, and just watched.
Here were two handsome young guys leaning against this very building. They wore bright-white T-shirts with cargo pants, and their hair was gorgeously sculpted. One of them laughed, then tipped a cigarette to his mouth as if it were a champagne flute. Smoking! I thought. Remember Smoking? Then they glided into the stream of traffic and commenced walking.
Walking! I thought, then drained my coffee and set out walking too, and it felt like pure freedom. I felt like the shark who must move in order to breathe.
I saw hundreds of young people striding along in backpacks. I saw hundred of older people similarly equipped, and striding along, their arms free and swinging. Was I en route to the theater? It was only ten blocks. I could be there in no time – and I was. Was I in need of a bite? A sidewalk vendor sold me a brimming treasure-chest of berries for $2 a pint.
I walked, and ate as I walked. And then a bride emerged from a hotel, veiled and holding her bouquet. She had two parents, and a seeming aunt in a hat like the Duchess of Cambridge might wear. She had a groom trussed up like a Cornish game hen. She even had a ready-made baby in a stroller and it was as if all her future dreams had been realized in this shining present moment and didn’t I feel that way too? As if a dream of my own had been realized too?
Call it the old dream of community that I can just about barely recall from the time when we all routinely used and relished our public spaces.
So take the train again soon? I don’t think so. I think I’m going to try recreating here at home what I saw in that great city. Just let me dig out my old backpack.