I saw it the other day. Usually I just hear the deep bellows from my bed, where I’m trying desperately to fall asleep. Trying is always the wrong way to fall asleep – it just needs to happen. Ideally, sleep comes to you – heavy eyelids and deep breathing descend suddenly, and you’re gone. I try, though, and that’s why I fail – I think too much and then I try too hard… if I fall asleep in the next 15 minutes, I can get a solid 7 hours…. wow, I’m really not sleepy… I can’t get comfortable… why can’t I sleep? Stop thinking, stop moving, stop reciting tomorrow’s schedule in your head… workout, chapel, class, meeting with professor… oh shoot I’m doing it again. That’s when it usually comes, interrupting this insomniatic mental flow: the train whistle.

I’ve come to love and hate the trains in Holland. I hate them because they keep me up at night when the window’s open. And it always is. I hate that passing through our medium-sized town, past campus, onwards to Chicago or Grand Rapids or wherever it’s going, necessitates upwards of 15 whistles. I hate the infrequency of their coming when I lay in bed, listening, startled by an unexpected one, waiting alert for the next whistle. If I’m counting sheep, the trains run them over brutally. My poor sheep.

I love the trains because they take me places. I love them because they are urban. Fast. Quiet from the inside. I love the leg room. I love the two levels, the tiny bathroom that reminds me of an airplane bathroom, the rack for luggage and the footrest. I love the wide windows through which I can spy on Michigan residents in their backyards and on their main streets. I love how invasive the train is, cutting through places without apology, and yet how trustworthy it is – it will never spill its secrets. It keeps going, never stops to ask questions. It always reaches its destination.

It’s funny to me that when you’re not on the train, it’s a disruption. When you’re on the train, it’s an adventure.

A shot out the window of a train ride from Chicago to Minneapolis that I took several years ago.

When I saw the train, I was walking back from working out late at night. Out of nowhere, dirty steel hurtled past close enough for me to see the bolts and the latches on the doors. Rather than hear it from bed, I watched it from the sidewalk. Its whistles had a sort of paralyzing effect on my body – I stopped, watched wide-mouthed, grounded in place by the roar. Then I saw the end, like a silver slinky being dragged away into the night. And then the train had passed.

John Mayer, who I pick on my iPod almost every day, sings about trains: Stop this train, I want to get off and go home again, can’t take the speed it’s moving in… won’t someone stop this train? 

Mat Kearney sings about being a trainwreck for you. Kelly Clarkson Just Missed the Train. There’s a band called Train (not surprisingly, when you google the word “train,” they are the first result. The Amtrak site is second).

And you can’t forget Christmas train sets around the tree, little boys with their Thomas the Tank Engines, the Broadway Pizza logo.

Somehow I don’t think I’m alone in my fascination and frustration with trains, these strange, exhilarating things.


7 thoughts on “Train

  1. OBSESSED. WITH. THE. TRAIN. Carl and I were just talking the other day about how we LOVE trains. I shared with him that I really love to stand about 15 or 20 feet from the tracks when a train is passing by and just feel the sheer power of it! I also really enjoy that moment when it first comes into view and goes hurtling past you.

    I know, I’m strange and weird, but you make a good point: it’s such a fascinating thing- we really do use it for so much more than just transportation!

  2. Big kudos for the John Mayer reference. Love it. However, that song, though one of his best, makes me very very sad sometimes.

  3. Hey now, don’t limit the joys of Thomas the Tank Engine to just boys. 😉 I loved Thomas and all of his friends. I had this plastic track and engine that ran on batteries and would go around and around in circles. My parents got their money’s worth out of that one. I even watched the t.v. show too. I just love it when the kids I babysit want me to read a Thomas book to them before they go to bed.

  4. I LOVE the train! He’s my late night buddy. I hear his whistle and say, ”Oh, hello Train. I’m awake, too. Let’s be friends forever.”

  5. It’s true, Madalyn, that song is a downer! But it’s beautiful.
    It’s fun to hear your responses to the train. I guess my occasional annoyance is sort of the exception and that most people are big fans! And really, I am too, I just don’t appreciate it when I can’t fall asleep.
    Michelle, my apologies! Being a girly girl, I definitely owned no train sets, but it sounds like Thomas made a great playmate 🙂

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