I like trains. There’s a certain romanticism that surrounds them; sailing through life, watching the world pass and change around you. Trains take you to places unknown on tracks laid at the far side of most things familiar. You’ll see things through the window of a train you would never otherwise see, and there’s magic in the reflection, at the far side of most things familiar, staring back at you where you’ll see things in yourself you otherwise never would have seen.
I worked on an excursion train in New Mexico, a train, like most, depending on your perspective I suppose, where the destination was the journey. The trip started at the railyard in Santa Fe and followed a previously abandoned line to Lamy, New Mexico. We served food and beverages, and in Lamy our passengers could get out, walk around, and explore the little town before boarding again and making the trip back to Santa Fe. There were three daily trips: the first was in the late morning and we served brunch, and the second was in mid-afternoon and we served lunch, and the third was in the evening. On the evening trip, along with serving dinner, we stopped in the Galisteo Basin where our passengers could spend time on the flatcar under the stars. We wouldn’t go to Lamy in the evening because Lamy Station isn’t illuminated, it doesn’t have lights.
“The Atchison, Topeka, Santa Fe Railway Co., first laid track in the late 19th century, the modern tech of the time, the steam engines, were unable to manage the incline to Santa Fe, so the railroad stopped in Lamy where the cargo would be hauled by horse and carriage the 18 miles to Santa Fe. Eventually, with the advancement in technology, a track was laid between Lamy and Santa Fe where the more contemporary engines could power the trip until the track was abandoned altogether.”
“Fred Harvey was an English entrepreneur who built hotels, restaurants, and souvenir shops all along the Atchison, Topeka, Santa Fe Railway, his establishments were well known, and came to be called the Harvey Houses, and the women who worked for him known as the Harvey Girls (Judy Garland starred in a movie by the same name). At the time of Fred Harvey’s death, he had 47 restaurants, 15 hotels, and 30 dining cars along the ATSF.”
“The Galisteo Basin was home to early New Mexican Pueblo’s with a rich history in the area…”
My job on the train was as host and tour guide, the talking points above were a part of my spiel when engaging our passengers, and I think my enthusiasm when sharing helped to express what might otherwise come across, to some perhaps, as mundane. At heart I’m still a nerdy little boy with a train set (I never actually had a train set), I’m also a sucker for mid, to late 19th century (and early 20th century) American styles in architecture, mechanics, and art. What a golden era, the 1870’s – 1930’s! The cars that we used were built in and/or encouraged by the design of the time and, in any case, they were old and fun. I would walk back and forth from one end of the train to the other, enjoying mostly the passenger cars and flatcars (with arms rails and built-in seating). I was also allowed to play on the train when parked in the railyard.
I really enjoyed this job on the train. In part because the work involved little more than talking to people, and specifically about this particular railroad, the history that surrounded it, and the history of the area, but also because I got to spend time living inside the romance of it all, the art, the imitation, and exploring the trains. Life is far more amorous and chimerical than it is sometimes interpreted. Our lives are as much an aftereffect of our imagination as they are “pragmatic,” and the unrecognized truth is that there is little difference between the mawkishness and the hard-boiled sense, and I believe the further detached the two ideas get the further we are getting from the sensibility of living, because the knotted truth of it is, the more practical we live and think the more pointless our lives will actually seem.
Now, more than ever, I feel like I’m being pulled in opposite directions trying to reaffirm balance in my life that exists somewhere between being practical and living inside the breathing opus, and sometimes we can just feel our oeuvre surrounding us like when taking in the sunrise over the ocean or when exploring a countryside by train, and when riding a train it somehow also feels as if I’m discovering a piece of myself that I hadn’t known since childhood, a piece of our childhoods that are suspicious of the illusion of maturing and earnestness.