My heart is warm with the friends I make,
And better friends I’ll not be knowing,
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.
– Edna St. Vincent Millay
What is it about trains? When an author, poet or screenwriter wants to make us feel an indescribable yet tangible emotion, they need simply pen the word “train.” Just typing it floods my mind with memories of my youth and dreams of adventures yet to come. The mere utterance of the word or sound of one passing evokes both a childish excitement and a melancholy longing for the past which coexist in a way only those who love trains can understand.
Trains have always held a romantic place in my memory, starting in my youth as our dad would put my brother, our mom, and me on the Southern Crescent to visit our grandmother in Mississippi. I can still see the conductor leaning out the door in his formal Southern uniform and cap yelling “all aboard for Tuscaloosa!” The smell of the diesel engine mixed with the fresh air of the South that attacked our senses as we ventured from car to car is etched in my memory. The vastness and uniqueness of the land I will always love first appeared to me through the rectangular windows of the Crescent as strangers around me became friends.
I’ve traveled millions of miles on airplanes. I’ve undoubtedly logged hundreds of thousands of miles in cars, many while trying to get lost on country roads where I may stumble across a subject to photograph. Why am I not moved by those events the same way I am traveling on trains? I find it fascinating the mode of transportation that cannot turn left or right, is bound by steel, and must deliver us from A to B along the same route each time, is the one that leads our minds to dream most? I have no answer. The late photographer Diane Arbus said, “A picture is a secret about a secret; the more it tells you, the less you know.” Perhaps our fascination with trains are like photographs.
If anyone needs me this week, I’ll be in Bratislava, Slovakia, and Budapest, Hungary. I’m taking the train.