You’ve Got to Know When to Hold ‘Em


I had almost forgotten how much I love trains.

You can’t count the GO train, really. It doesn’t go fast enough to rock you the same way, and it smacks of commuter convenience. There is no sense of exciting destination, though I swear every time I’m on one, I can smell my mother’s roast beef slowly simmering away.

As a child, my grandmother used to take the train every summer to visit her family in Winnipeg. Once or twice, I got to go along for the ride. I have vague memories of sleeper cars, and faded photographic evidence of scenes passing by through windows, but I will never forget this rocking motion. There is also something achingly beautiful about the insistent call of the train’s horn.

I fantasize about taking a very old train on a very long trip somewhere through the mountains. I would wear a very smart travelling suit with a hat to match. Probably charcoal grey, with a teal silk blouse. I’d have kid leather gloves, and a valise, a vanity, and probably a hatbox. I think there would have to be a clever, tiny dog too. His name would be Cagney, and he would keep an eye on our stuff while I napped. It’s not possible to stay awake with this rocking motion. It’s just not.

I’ve met a man who drives trains. Actually no. He does not drive them. That’s the job of someone else. Though he’s explained this in great detail, I still don’t quite understand the difference. What I do understand is that he is the one who guides the trains gently, and carefully together in the yard, using all of the patience and careful judgment required for such a task. Trains can be stubborn, and some of them have been through serious abuse on their many journeys. Sometimes these old cars screech in protest, but he simply goes about the task, intent on piecing things together just so. Of course, he has described near-disastrous incidents involving too much speed and cars filled with highly combustible contents. People can seriously get hurt in those situations. I think it’s highly romantic that someone younger than me wants to spend his life workin’ on the railroad. All the livelong day. And, he also happens to be about a thousand miles away. Even when I am in Toronto.

The lights on this train can’t seem to decide whether or not they want to stay on or off. And the hostess (what do you call these people on trains?) found me a yogurt, which I was so excited about, until I opened it to find a layer of blue fuzz on the top. Sadness. Now it sits on my little food tray, untouched and mocking me.

My destination is Montreal, a city I’ve scarcely spent any time in. It’s strange that someone with such a love of all things French would be able to count on two or three fingers the number of times she has visited the Canadian Mecca for Frenchie goodness.

The trip is for a work conference, so it will be a busy one, but I have a free day on Sunday to explore. I truly wish that I could speak French. I made a promise to myself to learn once I got home from Paris, but like so many of these things that I want to do, it fell by the wayside.

So, this train journey will wipe clean my slate, like any voyage is wont to do. I will go, then return feeling fresh and open to greater possibilities. I’ve been in a little rut. Call it February blues, call it falling into old, bad patterns, but whatever one may call it, this has not been so good. When I left the house today, spring was most certainly in the air. I’m going to hang on to that fresh, clean smell until the buds appear on the trees. And I’m going to buy a beautiful pair of rain boots.