Day 6: Well the Conductors have been circulating immigration forms as our train that left NY’s Penn Station this morning is about to cross the border into Canada. The scenery from the train has been beautiful. We traveled along the Hudson River (above) for about a hundred miles, and it’s amazing how quickly you get into the countryside after leaving Manhattan. We passed through towns whose names are familiar from my history books, like Yonkers, Poughkeepsie, Schenectady, Saratoga Springs, and Ticonderoga. The rails ran right by Lake Champlain with a view to Vermont on the other side. Some sort of insect is cocooning like crazy in the trees- not quite sure what it is.
After arriving in NYC on Sunday with relatively little sleep, I quickly caught up my sleep deficit and had a great day yesterday hanging out with my friend Dan and later wandering around Manhattan listening to my ipod and eating lunch in Bryant Park (top right), where they were showing Rocky to an enthusiastic crowd of hundreds of people.
I’ve been thinking more about my decision not to fly to the UK. My friend Sam says that “I am not saving any dinosaurs by not flying.” The first thing out of my dad’s mouth when I got to New York was “are you regretting your decision yet?” My cousin Jessica from London who is living in Australia at the moment, thinks I’m crazy. It’s like everyone is waiting to pounce to say “Aha! I told you so- look what a pain in the ass you’ve created for yourself! Don’t you wish you had just flown??”
But right now, sitting in a comfortable seat, having just enjoyed a cup of coffee in the diner car with two Colombian brothers, an engineer and a guy who works for the UN in New York, gazing out the window on a beautiful rural scene, listening to Stars (who are incidentally from Montreal) and typing in my blog, I have no regrets. I have seen the US from a different perspective, met new friends, and enjoyed the time I have to write, read, and stare out the window. Admittedly I am lucky to have the time to do this, between working for non-profits and going to grad school — I realize not everyone has that luxury.
However, remember that it wasn’t too long ago that all long distance travel simply took a long time, and people just didn’t do it that often. It was special, and cultures were less homogeneous than they are now. All the indications are that we are returning to such a time soon, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Often we ignore great places, simply because they are in our backyard (the grass is always greener etc……). We need to reconnect with our local communities for food, shelter, community, and energy. Technology will enable us to learn about other cultures and places without everyone physically having to visit. With 6 billion people and growing, that is a dream that the Earth cannot continue to support in reality.
There is a wonderful immediacy to train travel that is hard to match. You can watch people in their own backyards as you pass by. As you stop at stations in towns along the way, you find out more about those places from people who actually live there when they board the train. In the best cases, a diverse, traveling community is created, and everyone leaves the experience all the richer.
On an airplane you travel from one generic airport located in ugly suburban sprawl to another airport located in even uglier suburban sprawl. Both surrounded by freeways, parking lots, car rental agencies, and fast food restaurants. The only exchange with the places in between are a fleeting glimpse from 30,000 feet, a roar in the sky heard from below, maybe a piece of frozen blue urine falling in someone’s yard, and the ugly legacy of an abruptly warming planet.
No guys- I have no regrets for bypassing a transportation infrastructure that has no future. It’s been a tremendous adventure so far and right now I’m looking forward to experiencing Montreal, and improving my français!
Au Revoir Etats-Unis, et mes amis! Je vous aime!