Sunday, January 29, 2012

Road trippin’ next to Route 66


I had to giggle as I realized the name of the train I was taking home from a recent visit to the St. Louis area.

I, Lincoln Buff 2, had a ticket to Lincoln on the Lincoln Service. I snickered to myself as I heard the name of the train called out in the station, reported to the conductor that I was “Lincoln Buff 2 to Lincoln on the Lincoln,” and smiled as I posted my status on Facebook.

In fact, I was still smiling more than an hour later as I wrote the musings below.

Looking out the train’s window, I realize that for much of the journey, the tracks run parallel to the iconic highway, Route 66. From time to time, I see undeveloped timberland very much like the timbers in Sangamon County where Lincoln lived for so many years – woods full of bramble bushes, water-slogged low spots and centuries of leaves falling one on another year after year.

For much of the trip I can also see I-55 – that hustling, bustling always-at-least-four-lane-sometimes-more road, built to make an easier, faster thoroughfare between Chicago and St. Louis. It does the second, of course – makes it faster.

Easier, I think, is relative. Is it easier to have to dodge 80-mile-an-hour weavers, who change lanes on a 65-mile-an-hour highway faster than a fickle teenaged girl changes boyfriends?

I like to think easier today is taking that old road, Historic Route 66, or taking the train and having time to muse.

What strikes me most on this journey is the tranquility, the time to sit here and, if I wish, just do nothing. Or, if I’d like, reflect upon my journey, wonder about the people living in the homes and on the farms along the tracks, wonder about the stories of the people sitting near me on the train. Where have they been, where are they going, what baggage do they have besides what they’ve stowed near the door, on the overhead rack or under their seats?

To a writer, everything is a story – things like the town we just passed through with its old abandoned school, businesses and tumble-down homes. I wonder, as I look, which makes for the more interesting story – the “real” one or the one I create as I look out the window?

Thank goodness for lonely two-lane highways and passenger trains. They give us what we rarely give ourselves – time to think, time to imagine and, if we’re lucky, time to unwittingly overhear the phone conversation of a fellow passenger checking up on his mother, encouraging a friend and gently guiding a family member facing a decision. I like that guy sitting behind me without even turning to meet him. It’s the caring in his voice, I guess.

I love the peace and quiet, the time to think, the time to write – but don’t you wonder sometimes what it might be like to visit for a bit one-on-one with a fellow passenger, to hear her stories? I do that, too, sometimes, and they always seem to include twists and turns, trials and triumphs greater than what I could have dreamed up on my own.

Do you suppose the seat we end up in on such a journey is there waiting for us so lives can touch – if only for a few minutes – so we can be comforted or show caring, receive affirmation or provide encouragement?

Imagine the stories those rail cars could share if only they, too, were storytellers.

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012

(Image via)

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