My recent visit to Missouri was concluded with a train ride from Saint Louis to Chicago, where I’d board my plane to Amsterdam. I’m used to travel by train; I never needed a driver’s license just because using a train was cheaper and just as easy. I knew where I was boarding the train. I had seen Saint Louis Union Station many times before whenever we passed it on our way downtown. It is a majestic hallway, a tribute to steel and coal, located in the heart of the city. The massive building in a way represents mankind conquering nature, it’s the starting point for the man-made masses that plow through the open land. In my mind, I saw the train standing in the main hall, blowing off some steam. The excited chatter of passengers and those who will be left behind is overwhelmed by the mechanical sounds of the machine that is warming up like a bull getting ready to charge. While I lean from the open window and hold miss Missouri’s hand for the last time in months, the conductor gives a last shout: ‘All aboaaard!’. While the train starts to move, miss Missouri takes out the handkerchief, still moist from getting the tears of farewell out of the corners of her eye. In slow motion, I see her watering eyes slowly part from me, as the train departs that awesome station.
In reality, it turned out that Union Station is a Hard Rock Cafe now. The actual Amtrak station is a few hundred yards to the side and looks as nostalgic as an Arby’s parking lot after midnight. In a cold hall, people were scattered around trying to catch some sleep. This was quite the anti-climax, especially when the conductor refused to yell the ‘all aboard’, even with me adding ‘pretty please’. But when the train started moving, my journey was nostalgic again. The glass windows that make the Saint Louis skyline were reflecting the golden glow of the sunrise. With the train moving at deferential speed, I watched the arch wake up, the city get ready for a new day.
Outside the city, the risen sun gave a perfect view on the many small towns we passed. Everyday life was going by me at a pace that made it easy enough to wonder about. I liked looking out of the window and seeing the big industrial complexes, big mansion next to golf courses and the trailer homes with the rusty cars. It may not be time efficient, but going at that speed is what man is made for. Flying rips you away from life, away from the earth and cars just get you focused on what’s ahead, to where you’re going. It’s the train that allows you to sit and wonder. Isn’t that what travelling should be about? If you decide to try it, be sure to bring an e-reader for the boring parts in between. Illinois has some cute towns, but those boring open lands in between still take way too much time.