April 13, 2014- 6 AM
Woke up beside a rail yard in Toledo, Ohio. This little city was spoke of in reverential tones by my Mom’s small-town relatives hailing from the tiny town of Van Wert, Ohio.
Driving through the thickets and cornfields brings back memories of making the pilgrimage from St. Louis to the sticks of Ohio as a kid. Everything was, and is still, so different from the suburban world I grew up in.
The water smells like sulphur, people believe the hymns they sing, and a chicken indolently pecking the ground can sometimes be your only companion. It’s not about pace of life or a radical perspective. It’s about flat ground and mile upon mile of distance between neighbors. It’s about the fantastic inventions the mind conjures when forced to. It’s about the personification of animals and crops. It’s about community.
It’s a dying way of life. Some adjusted and moved to withering brick towns like Toledo or Youngstown. Others go quietly, solemnly watching chicks peck over fallow land.
The train is a foreign experience, and I hesitate to call it an experience in the traditional sense. This hurtling steel capsule doesn’t allow you to feel the subtle changes in the air or the ground over which you travel. Certainly, you are more aware of obscure places like Bryan, Ohio, but you don’t come to truly know these places.
Miles and miles of diverse lands and people are taken for granted. You’re given a private viewing of backyards and crumbling artifacts of antiquated industries for the negligible cost of a train ticket. I saw a boy chasing a ball down a hill and the gravestones of countless grandparents. What gives me the right to peer into these intimate moments and places?
April 13, 2014- 6 PM
We completed our first leg, the Lakeshore Limited to Chicago, and began a hunt for deep-dish pizza. Luckily, there was a Giordano’s a few blocks away. The pizza and beer did not disappoint, not surprising considering my train diet of peanut m&m’s and processed turkey sandwiches.
The three-hour layover was finished before it started. The only tourist attraction we fell prey to were some photos of the Union Station staircase where Kevin Costner performs a few heroics in The Untouchables.
Luckily, we snagged upper-deck seats for the next leg. Especially crucial because, you know, the towering cornstalks dotting Illinois and Iowa require a lofty perch to appreciate.
The train paused in Galesburg, Illinois, a surprisingly bustling rail stop. A few trains were beached there and a beautiful mural adorned the station.
Iowa came soon afterwards and, along with it, a subtle curvature of the land. Good cheer must have overtaken the early settlers as they gazed over this pristine, virginal land stretching far as the eye could see.
It’s a wonder anyone voted to push past this fertile ground. Thank God they did because, while the ample space and sun-soaked crops are beautiful, the soaring peaks of the Rockies and the sunny California coast are true jewels. Man could not, would not, stop until he reached the ocean. A human preoccupation with finishing what we have started. I feel the same way now; satisfied with this peaceful land, but yearning for more.
Another delay. The sky sits in pre-dawn silence, a weak light covers the land, and the fields are interspersed with brave islands of trees surrounded by a sea of fallow corn fields. It rained earlier, but the sky and the ground have come to a tacit agreement. The sky has ceased rumbling and the creeks have stopped jumping with rain.
It’s April and spring still hasn’t sprung in this land. I am embarrassed for complaining about Texas and the palm trees, green grass, and tropical temperatures of the Gulf Coast. From Connecticut to Iowa, the landscape is dominated by grey skies and barren foliage.