I was working in Chicago a few days this week and I dropped by the old Chicago & North Western commuter train station over lunch. The flood of memories that came to me was incredible.
My father is a life-long employee on that line, and many many times as a boy I got to ride the train downtown with him. For me as a kid there simply was nothing I enjoyed more than riding the train with my dad or talking about trains with my dad or going with my mom when we picked him up at Proviso Yard. Those moments are among the happiest in my life.
One time, my dad got permission to let me ride in the engine from this station out to the station where we lived. I couldn't have been any happier than that moment I climbed in the engine and saw a real live train engineer! I know that on my deathbed, as my life passes before me, I will re-live that moment.
To this day, I love trains. I love riding them, reading about them, thinking about them, and watching them go by. One thing I miss about living in Iowa is all the trains there. Being out in the country and seeing a huge train flying along at 70 miles an hour is one of the most thrilling things there is. Standing near the crossing as one of those trains goes by and feeling that sub-sonic rumble is physically intoxicating. I miss the sound of train whistles in the night...the grunt and groan of a huge lumbering train over the midwestern prairies, hearing the whistle as the train hits all the crossings in town.
As time has gone by, my dad has come to really hate his job. I never would have expected him to be a train buff after 30 years of working on the railroad everyday, but I can see within him that there really is no love left for it all. I am hoping it comes back as I would love to have him and my mother see the country by train. You see so much of the country that you would never see by car or even on foot.
I admit to being a bit of a sap, but so much came back to me as I walked around the station. I took the train to New York when I moved here. I also took the train to San Francisco when I moved there. Having all that time to ponder these huge life changes was, at the time, a wonderful thing. For me there was a romance to arriving at Penn Station with all my worldly possessions packed in my luggage. I truly felt like I was getting to participate in the great American story.
When I got out of college I went down to try to get a job on the railroad, but nothing came of it. I am not lying when I say that I often still think about working on the railroad. I am now too old to get a job working with trains (the screws holding my spine together might also prove a slight barrier to that work as well I would guess.) Seeing my dad sour on the way railroads have come to be managed has made me realized it is probably for the better that I didn't get into that line of work.
I am sour on my line of work as well, but I am glad that my jobs will be taking me to Chicago often. When I lived there, I never really got out and explored the city the way I did here in New York. Now that I know how to get around a city, I realize that Chicago will be a great city to see by train...truly joyriding.
Posted by rudayday at September 17, 2003 09:32 PM