“Me and the Train”
I was looking for a good title that captures the meaning of the story and stimulates interest to at least take a peek. After all, a story should have a good title. “Train Story” or “A Train Story?” We’ve had quite a few. “The Great Train Caper?” Taken already, besides, it suggests a theft – and there is The Great Train Robbery – but nothing was stolen, except perhaps a little bit of my childhood innocence. “The Train and I” sort of tells it but it sounds too much like The King and I. How about, “Me and the Train?” The closest I could find in a cursory search was “Me and That Train.” Looking good. Bad grammar aside, Me and the Train it is.
As far back as I can remember, traveling across most of Spain on trains as a child, trains have figured prominently in my life and played a significant role. Not a stranger to the “good, the bad, and ugly” of my train and railway experiences, the latest incident in my love-hate relationship occurred no less than Friday night, returning home to Long Island on the LIRR after a long outing as a presenter at The College of New Jersey near Trenton, followed by a really good holiday celebration in Manhattan.
So, what is this “thing” about “love-hate?”
Love–hate relationship: An interpersonal relationship involving simultaneous or alternating emotions of love and hate – something particularly common when emotions are intense.-Source: Wikipedia
Approach-Avoidance Conflict: A psychological conflict that results when a goal is both desirable and undesirable.-Source: Merriam Webster
Ambivalence: The coexistence of opposing attitudes or feelings, such as love and hate, toward a person, object, or idea.-Source: The Free Dictionary
Why trains? And what about the significance of trains?
We need to look at archetypes in general:
Archetype: Symbols from our past collective experiences.
And specifically, the significance of a train archetype:
Train Archetype: Journey through life
Although archetypes stem from universal collective experiences, they become personalized through life’s experiences and their expression becomes an amalgam of universal and personal experiences.
With roots going back to childhood in Spain, trains have been both mystique and enigma, as symbols and a real giant machine, in contexts of travel, hobbies and fun, and pleasurable emotions, and the dark side: annoyance, frustration, despair, and tragedy.
Trains permeate the fabric of our society. Aside from the obvious intended purpose, there is a culture of artwork and paintings, toys, models that can hardly be called toys, stories, poems, and songs.
Remember this song by the Grateful Dead (lyrics by John S. Hurt):
Driving that train, high on cocaine
Casey Jones, you better watch your speed
Trouble ahead, trouble behind
And you know that notion just crossed my mind
And Danzel Washington’s back-to-back train movies:
- The Taking of Pelham 123
And Wesley Snipes in the Money Train.
Trains played a big role in Dr. Zhivago: Strelnikov’s train; the jumper; and Yuri Zhivago desperately trying to catch up to his beloved Lara after he sees her from the window seat of the trolley, only to die of a heart attack a few feet away.
There have been a plethora of robberies and other mysteries unfolding on trains in many movies.
Trains have been the subject of famous artists and paintings including the likes of Van Gogh and Monet.
Who can forget the ominous meaning of trains in Schindler’s List (death trains)? And who did not have goose bumps watching historical footage of Auschwitz and the train ride past the “Gate of Death” into Birkenau?
There also is an abundance of witty statements and quotes about trains:
If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.
The only way to be sure of catching a train is to miss the one before it.
Are you going sixty miles an hour or is the train going sixty miles an hour and you’re just sitting still?
J. Paul Getty
Bruce Springsteen’s saxophonist, “Big Man” Clarence Clemons, was disappointed at Christmas (before he went on to become an accomplished musician):
Unlike the Big Man, I was not disappointed, and got the HO train set I hounded my parents to buy for my birthday when I was 12 years old in Valencia. It looked something like this:
Was this a foreshadowing of things to come? A toy train and real train intertwined on December 30, 1962, my birthday, when I experienced my first taste of death, death on the tracks, as I walked to my great aunt’s home near the beaches of Valencia.
Since that fateful, painful day, still firmly etched in my brain, trains have held and will continue to command a lion’s share of my mental and emotional being.
I think it is fair to say that the long journey has been mostly good, albeit splattered with occasional instances of gloom. You know how it goes, the “bad” has a way of permeating the deep recesses of the mind where it parks and festers a bit like a slow moving tornado.
Speaking of tornadoes, how easy would it be, as did Jo (Helen Hunt) in the movie Twister who demonized the tornado and believed it pursued her, to personalize these occurrences and blame the train. But it is a foregone conclusion that at least some negative incidents were directly under my control (gotta keep that ol’ catastrophizing down; Ellis would be proud :-)).
I think it also fair to say that I am in awe of trains and have great respect for them and for people in the train industry.
The 50th anniversary of my personal “PTSD Ground Zero” fast approaches. The “child” in me is tempted to fulfill my destiny 50 years later and play with my train set unfettered by the thoughts that kept me awake the entire night.
I may just have to buy a brand new Lionel train set.
My own personal witty train statements:
If you leave something behind on the train, it’s useless to run after it because they ain’t gonna open the door.
Wanna hold on to things on a train? Keep em’ strapped around your neck and shoulder.