How many songs, stories, books and movies have been written about trains or while riding on trains?
Waiting for trains? Riding trains? Jumping on or off trains? Being hit by a train? Throwing momma from a train?
Heck, there’s even a Grammy Award-winning band called Train. (In its song “I Am,” the opening line confesses, “I’ve never been on a railroad.”)
There’s something about the countryside flying by that rattles the mind, like the steel beneath the engine as it rumbles down the tracks, forcing it to be documented in prose.
Taking an Amtrak to New York for the ACC tournament Wednesday, it’s uncanny how much being on a train makes me want to write. It’s as if trains were made for writers. Forget transporting people and goods between places, trains are for journalists, novelists, poets, artists and those who pretend to be. Like me.
Memories are jarred and mulled over and over like the spinning of a rail wheel on a locomotive as it speeds its way from one stop to the next.
Thoughts, ideas, dreams, fears are written down almost as quickly as the landscape passes by from Baltimore to Philadelphia.
And with them a coal car of emotion — passion, angst, pain, joy, longing, love — scream “all aboard.”
The romantic’s soul longs for train rides.
Pity those poets who never had the opportunity to ride one. William Shakespeare must have been a train conductor in another life.
Waxing on about trains is the ABCs of poetry. It’s the building blocks of iambic pentameter.
But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks? As the sun rises over Arlington on the 86 Northeast Regional.
Train riding also is Americana at its finest.
Small towns. Big cities. Farms. Rivers. Trees. Cars. Tractors. Fields. Neighborhoods. All passing out the windows like drops of water over a perfectly waxed surface. I swear I saw an apple pie on the tailgate of a Chevy truck as we passed through Ashland.
Writing on a train also is in a sportswriter’s DNA, passed down from Grantland Rice to all his ink-stained, bleary-eyed kin.
It’s what we do.
Filing on a high-speed vehicle, staring down at our prose and then out the window to catch inspiration as it zips by between stations, is what beat writing was built upon. Oh, to cover a professional baseball team in the 1940s.
More so than on a plane, a boat, a car or even a press box, there’s something instinctively perfect and fulfilling about writing on a train as the sunlight breaks through the window and shadows flicker over rapidly moving fingers, firing from their “asdf jkl;” keyboard home.