“You’ve ridden that train hundreds of times…” my Dad bemoaned through the phone as we discussed the recent derailment of the Amtrak NE Regional train in Philly. A tragic loss that’s still making the hair on my arms rise each time I reflect on it.
Yes, I rode that train from Philly to NY several times last year before moving to Boston in January. Three hours enjoying extra leg room I’d never find on a cramped US Air middle seat. Three hours scrolling through playlists, writing in my journal, admiring the shifts from pastoral countryside to urban graffiti, and leg stretches up to the food car.
No security lines, no toothpaste confiscating, no awkward pat downs or pressurized cabin inner ear torture episodes. I’ve always loved train travel, despite the extra time it takes to get there.
But with any mode of travel, including riding your bike alongside a row of parked cars three blocks to the coffee shop, there is an inherent risk. Travel is risky. You can get unlucky. You can die. So as my Dad and I continued swapping the most recently reported details on what the hell happened with Amtrak’s NE Regional route that inauspicious day, I wavered on how exactly I would explain my upcoming plans to him:
I’m taking a train to NY. In two days. Not from Philly, but still…
“You’re gonna do what??”
Yeah, Dad. I’m taking the train from Boston to NY to spend a couple days catching up with my girlfriend.
Here’s the thing. We need to get the hell out of where we are. How long, how often, and how far depends on so many factors that are individual to each of us, but travel keeps us alive. Even if it’s just a zip code away. As long as it’s new and at least somewhat uncomfortable (this is key), it’s part of being alive and in the moment.
Reflecting on my recent trip to see my pal Julee, here’s why making the trip three days after a horrific derailment was worth it:
- Fate gave me a terrific seat mate who I enjoyed sharing the deeper perspectives on what matters most at this stage of life vs. our thirties (he’s 44, I’m 46). Why he went from lawyer to trader, moved from LA back to Boston, believes God has a mysterious way of only giving us what we can handle – in his case – a son, now 14, who is naturally easygoing and extraordinarily likable. I didn’t get his name. Will never see him again. But we made an authentic, in the moment, one human to another connection. This kind of thing only happens on a train. Any good, nostalgic novel typically has a scene like this. Not on a JetBlue shuttle in seat 16E to JFK.
- A local’s perspective of NY vs. my own know-it-all-been-here-a-thousand-times one. In a word: Brooklyn. My pal took me through the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, into her corner bodega for toilet paper and smiles from fellow neighborhood shoppers, a donation-based yoga studio around the other corner, and a delightful zig zagging route through multiple neighborhoods concluding with sweeping views of the Brooklyn bridge and the tip of Manhattan.
- The opportunity to experience being the only white girl on a train for the first few stops on Subway #3 toward Penn Station. An experience I treasure to better understand what it must feel like to be a minority, and can’t be read in a book or watched on a screen. Travel does this. It takes you out of your norm, rote, blank life. Even if it is a little uncomfortable.
My few days in Prospect Heights and other areas around Brooklyn opened my eyes and ears to a wonderful gumbo of dialects, origins, and colors that I would not have experienced had I caved in to fear, stuck to the familiar, and avoided that train.
So do it. Go somewhere and experience someplace new. Even if it is a little bit scary.