Dream of the Rail

Tampa station.

The Amtrak station in downtown Tampa had seen better days.  A coworker dropped me off in front late Thursday afternoon at the start of my weekend trip to Raleigh.  The lobby was a historical landmark, recently refurbished and maintained, but beyond the polished wood interior and brick facade were dilapidated awnings covering bare concrete platforms.  There were three tracks behind the station, but only one was used regularly, the other two delegated to backup duty, left to rust in the humid Florida climate.

A crowd gathered outside the steel gate as an attendant announced the impending arrival of my train north to Raleigh.  “Okay, we’re taking sleeper cars first, sleeper cars first!  Everyone else be patient, we’ll get you on soon.”  Middle class families were escorted in golf carts to the far end of the arrival platform as our train arrived.  It was a workhorse, built on twentieth century technology, long in the tooth but having lost none of its usefulness.  It will take you where you need to go on time.  It always had.

I followed the crowd through the gate.  The attendants passed me down the platform from car to car, finally placing me adjacent to the lounge car.  I stowed my duffle bag above and took my seat next to a drowsy middle-aged single mom.  She was doing everything in her power to keep her kids in line through a fifteen-hour train ride.  The interior was spacious by modern travel standards: most small jet planes were like flying coffins with what little breathing space you have.  In constrast, the train seats have leg and foot rests, and room for both up at the same time.  I put mine to use.

As we pulled out of Tampa past Ybor, I noticed a hen running alongside us.  I mentioned this to the single mom beside me.  “Hey, there’s a chicken outside!”  she said to her children.  “Looks like it missed the train!”

The train rocked lazily through southern Florida into the afternoon, reaching Orlando by sunset.  It was as slow as driving the same distance, but there’s no rush, no stress, no half-asleep drivers to dodge on the interstate.  It’s the luxury of a leisurely pace.