Being racist is still real.

Two girls walk onto a train, talking quietly amongst themselves.

As they sit down, a woman leans out from the row behind them. “This is the quiet car.” The girls stop, taken aback.

“You don’t need to tell me that,” says one of them.

“Well you were talking …”

“We were talking to get on the train.” *Looks incredulous. I, also, felt incredulous.* They pick up their things which they’d just set down and head back out of the car.

“I was just trying to be nice!” Fruitlessly. But were you?

Pop quiz: who in this story is white, and who is black?


Things you learn from guys at bars

About secret, hidden underground subway tunnels.

According to bar-guy, they exist in the Twin Cities. Further research: the only “subway” tunnels that exist are tunnels holding the electric wires for streetcars. Well, that’s almost the same. Wikipedia unverifiably confirms the existence of streetcars in the cities. In this historical document (an automotive industry trade publication) we learn that the streetcars certainly did exist; they even extended to a proposed speedway. This is in the 1910s. They had automotive speedways back then? This website of unclear provenance tells us more about the history of streetcars in the area (they ended service in the 1950s). Here’s the sad story of what happened to the cars. Newark? Wikipedia’s history of the Twin Cities Rapid Transit Company is quite comprehensive, as is to be expected. It confirms this guy’s story, which blames the demise of the streetcar on a Cloverleaf-style takeover of public transportation. Privatization and all that.

In its heyday, the streetcar system was huge:

Of course, the out-of-state takeover by a Wall Street speculator in the 40s was preceded by a 1917 worker’s strike and the rise of the automobile. Street cars were dying everywhere.

The Minnesota Historical Society confirms:

The Twin City Rapid Transit Company (a New Jersey corporation) was incorporated in 1891 as a holding company, with the MSR and the SPCR as wholly-owned operating subsidiaries. The TCRT was succeeded in 1939 by a new Minnesota corporation of the same name. A management change in 1949 brought New York financier Charles Green to the presidency of the Twin City Rapid Transit Company. Green and his associates decided to abandon the streetcar lines and convert to buses as quickly as possible, apparently in order to maximize their short-term profit. The company’s entire streetcar fleet was scrapped and replaced by buses in an aggressive conversion plan completed in 1954 under TCRT president Fred A. Ossanna, a former associate of Green’s who managed to oust him in 1951.

(And a simple chronological history of the streetcar in the Twin Cities. 1949 and 1954 in particular are quite interesting.)

Anyway, the point of this story was that I wanted to find underground streetcar tunnels. Since they were streetcars, though, obviously they won’t be underground (unless, apparently, they were crossing railways, in which case they were to be built underground as subways). Simply etymology. However, the tunnels holding the electric wires are obviously accessible (scroll all the way down) somehow, so maybe not all hope is lost.

The adventure might continue…

(h/t guy at bar)

Signs of Life

When I was nine or ten, we took a cross country trip (the seeds were planted!). We took a train from Newark, NJ across the country to Portland, OR where we bought a car and drove back. I learned lots of things about trains on this trip. Trains are especially fun if you have friends to play card games with all day long. Observation cars are excellent places to watch mountains go by. Steak and rice is delicious. Sleeping on a train is the closest you will experience to nirvana (that is, unless the train gets stuck in Albany for a few hours in the middle of the night, in which case the whole experience in rather miserable).

I also credit trains with my intense aversion to Montana before ever having actually spent any real time there. A mudslide across the tracks in Whitefish led to an afternoon of staring at old telegram machines in the train station-cum-museum.

The following is a memory and as such is probably terribly inaccurate. When I was much younger and my great-grandmother was still alive, we would go visit her. She lived in a very large building with lots of floors and doors that all looked the same. It was the kind of building that was too large for my comprehension so gets all mixed up in my mind with memories of the Frontenac. Somewhere, hidden in the recesses of identical doors, was a train set in the middle of the hallway. I don’t remember anything about my great-grandmother except that she had white hair and a train set somewhere in her building. We would always go see it. When she died, I was sad I would no longer be able to visit the train set.

Somewhere during the early New Jersey years, possibly around the time of the Cross Country Trip, I decided that my relationship with Amtrak was so involved that it deserved a nickname. I called it ‘Ammy’. When we would take the train into New York, I would get a little bit sad that we weren’t taking the Ammy and had to take NJ Transit instead. Still, this wasn’t so terrible, because in those days you could move the backs of the seats to make four-seaters out of two-seaters. (I think you might be able to still do this on the new double-decker NJT trains.) What fun.

I loved waiting at the train station as other trains went by, relishing the fleeting smell of ozone. The platform was lined with pine trees, and my sister and I used to pretend we were in Oregon because it smelled like Black Butte. I still associate all those smells together.

I am the only person I know who gets excited when I see a train. I am perennially disappointed when I discover train tracks that are no longer in service. Trains are a product and a promise of boundless freedom. Trains go places.

I like watching trains go by. I imagine where they are coming from and where they are going. How far did this coal wind its way around mountains, over rivers, through valleys, and how far does it still have to go? I want to know what people send on trains these days, the era of trucks and planes. I often catch myself, when watching a freight train rumble along, wishing I was the conductor? engineer? driver? on my way to ports unknown.

What Was Once

The former glory of a deserted train station, high wooden benches as long as the room are empty save for a couple of bums. Abandonment, echoes, arched windows and vaulted ceilings towering over decades of history with nothing to show for it. Underground, the doors locked or nonexistent. Trains hundreds of people must once have ridden to all points. Chicago! Los Angeles! St. Louis! Portland! All aboard! And now, nothing. St. Patty’s Day revelers seem not to notice the heavy heart of the vast hall. A plaque outsides marks the historical landmark – 1881! – and inside a security guard sits a card table with his feet up reading the funny papers. Beware! Memories of the ghosts of travelers past haunt all ye who dare enter here.

From Wild Wild West