as a kid i was enamored of many things: succulents, rubik's cubes, computers and also trains. the larger-than-life feeling of entering the hall of a train station, the incomprehensible announcements through the tinny speakers, the neverending onslaught of wagons dragged by freight trains, the ridiculous speeds at which these massive metal worms drag people from point a to b. unfortunately i never got around to traveling by train much as a kid. then and now going by train isn't exactly the cheapest way to get around, and since my family was perfectly happy going everywhere by car, i didn't have a choice.
i'm an adult now and i can choose my modes of transport as i see fit. ever since i moved to a big city, going places by car has been infeasible, expensive, time-consuming and stressful. using a mix of trams, trains, buses, bikes (and yes, rental cars too sometimes!) has proven to be substantially more efficient while still reaching my destination in a reasonable time frame. sure, it's not with its own unique downsides, but i'm quite happy with where i'm at. and if one mode of transport fails, i have a plethora of different options readily available to me.
i had the wonderful opportunity to go visit a friend this weekend, so i booked a train as i usually do. my love for trains hasn't changed, even though i might not romanticize the railway experience as much as i used to. nonetheless, in my humble opinion, trains encompass what going between places should be: a stress-free experience with very few stops. i can kick my feet up and read a book, write about something, observe the outside, listen to music, work on my laptop, all without risking my own life or the lives of others were i to do the same in a car.
i always have something to tell after a train ride. many micro-stories unfold all the time on a train. on my trip to my friend's place, i saw a deer jumping through a massive field, a rooster and a hen getting it on, and one of the most peculiar train stations i have ever seen. it was a tiny station at the edge of a small town with a population of about 10k people. my train arrived at one of two platforms, though you could barely call it that. it was a thin stretch of concrete to my left; nothing that a human should be standing on if they were to board the same train that i was on. the other "actual" platform was further out towards the left, separated by another rail leading into the other direction. a family of four was waiting there for the train to come to a standstill. a man dressed like a train conductor opened a small gate that allowed them to cross the empty rail to get to the train i was on. there was nothing stopping the family from simply walking around the gate, but of course it was there for their own safety. after all, you wouldn't wanna upset the gatekeeper, right? it was something i hadn't seen before. in a timeline with technology as advanced as ours, sometimes you still need a man working eight hours a day to open and close a gate so people don't tread onto a platform that is too small for their own good.
earlier this year i went on vacation and i, once again, booked a train. i had a two hour ride ahead of me in a mostly vacant train. i got myself comfortable, pulled out a book that i wanted to read. on the other side of the aisle sat a man who seemed near or in retirement. he put his phone down on the fold-out table in front of him and pulled out a charger from his deranged backpack. when he plugged it into one of the wall sockets, it lit up and flipped through all shades of red, green and blue. he then put on his wireless bose over-ear headphones and nodded along at roughly 80 beats per minute. despite his age, he really seemed to go with the times. but the real shocker came when he pulled out an entire fruit cake from his backpack and started eating away at it. he didn't bother cutting it in slices. all he did was to chew away at it bite by bite. he then pulled a small blanket out of his seemingly bottomless backpack, put it over his lower body and closed his eyes. and that's how he remained for a remarkably long time. occasionally i wondered what his destination was and whether he'd miss it. he knocked himself out into a food coma for all i could tell. whether he was a seasoned fruit cake devourer or a medical emergency about to go critical was hard to tell. eventually my final stop was announced through the train's speakers and the man jumped awake. he quickly stuffed everything he carried into his backpack and got up. i breathed a sigh of relief. not only was he still among the living, he also managed to reach his destination too.
another time i sat across two girls, one 17 and one 18. they had been traveling for a couple hours already and were headed to berlin. i could tell because the younger one wouldn't stop talking and the older one would just sit there and nod along. the younger one would keep talking about all the clubs they were gonna hit up and kept reminding the older one to vouch for her in case anyone asked about whether she's legal or not. the younger one would keep nagging the older one to play games together on her phone because she was bored, which the older one reluctantly agreed to. the younger one couldn't hold back her excitement about how awesome the week the two were going to spend would be, while the older one forced a smile. most people would probably put in their headphones and try to ignore all that talk, but i find it fascinating. i love learning about completely random people and their relationships. nonetheless i sincerely hope that both were able to genuinely enjoy their vacation together.
there are many more stories that i could still tell at this point, like the one time i was on a business trip and my boss sat next to a woman who kept showing her pictures of her dog. you have to know two things about my boss. first, he is absurdly afraid of dogs of any size or shape. second, he isn't very talkative and finds it very hard to say "no" or express his disinterest. but these are all the types of stories that happen when you watch, listen to and talk to people around you, not just on trains. i will not scold you for not taking in train rides like i do. in the end, they serve a single purpose: to get people from where they are to where they want to be. if that's all they are to you, then so be it. the reason why i'm writing this is because when i arrived at my friend's place this weekend, they told me that they can't believe the amount of things i experience whenever i'm on a train. they travel by train significantly more than me, but they never have stories to tell. it's just that i find trains to be super interesting environments to study people, to watch things happen in its own micro-organism, so to speak.
you're in a place with strangers for a certain amount of time. you will likely never see these people again. and one of the most fun things you can do, in my opinion, is to see what stories these people tell, either verbally or through their actions.
mail: mybtm (at) proton (dot) me
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