brucekluger.com

    Arrive Magazine, July-August 2004

    Final Stop:
    The Journey Continues
    Confessions from one happy traveler, who still manages to keep
    his life on track.

    By Bruce Kluger


    For as long as I can remember,
    trains have always been a
    touchstone in my life.

    I was just a little boy living in
    Baltimore when my parents
    divorced, and my father moved
    away to New York. Despite the
    domestic turbulence of that time,
    I found great solaceand even
    greater excitementin the
    regular train trips I would take
    north to visit my dad. To this
    day, I can still conjure up images
    of those colossal engines barreling into Pennsylvania Station, pulling their cars
    behind them. That lone headlight rounding the bend; the loud bell clanging proudly.
    To a five-year-old, the scene was nothing short of breathtaking.

    Inside the train, things were no less spectacular. I’ll never forget the glamour of the
    dining car, as men in white waistcoats methodically set our table before us, gently
    placing polished silverware on the smooth canvas of starched linen below them.
    There was always a special treat for children, too: the kids’ menu, which folded up
    to create a silver train car that we could take back to our seats with us.

    Once when I was in elementary school, I took a trip to Philadelphia with my mother,
    traveling north along the east coast corridor. Somewhere around Delaware, the
    temple bar of my glasses unhinged itself and fell to the floor. Witnessing my
    dilemma, the man next to us casuallymiraculouslypulled a small black case from
    under his seat, opening it to reveal a glittering array of eyeglass tools. Selecting a
    tiny screw from a red velvet compartment, the man promptly, wordlessly, fixed my
    glasses. Mom and I told that story for years.

    During my last year of college, I began taking regular train trips from Washington to
    New York to audition for Broadway shows. Suddenly, the familiar journey I had
    taken as a child now had a new and exciting purpose. I was traveling to stardom.

    Practicing my songs beneath my breath, or running lines from a Shakespearean
    monologue in my head, I’d stare out the window at the greenery whipping by,
    hoping that my nerves would settle. They eventually did, of coursethat is, until the
    skyline of Manhattan broke over the Jersey horizon. That’s when the jitters would
    return.

    Hours later, I’d be back on the train, heading south. No matter how the audition
    went, I recall, that ride always felt triumphant.

    Eight years later, I would take the Silver Meteor from New York to Florida for my
    honeymoon, in what would be my first overnight train trip. The ride was bumpy and
    fununtil we reached South Carolina, where a pack of college kids poured onto the
    train and into the compartment next to ours. Were they loud? Were they ever. But
    when sleep ultimately came, it was peaceful and unusually deep.

    Alas, the marriage didn’t last very long, but the memories of that train trip still do.

    Now I am a husband againand a fatherand trains continue to color my days.
    How wonderful to re-visit the thrill I felt as a child, as I watch my own young
    daughters beam with anticipation as they board those great silver behemoths on a
    trip to Baltimore to visit their Grandy.

    And how funny that, even as time moves forward and air travel becomes the norm, I
    refuse to give up my seat on what has become the longest and most delightful ride
    of my life.