Sunday, May 12 is National Train Day. Check out their website to find out what special activities are taking place at the major train station in your city.
I love trains. But of them all, I think I have to say that this one is my favorite. Here it is in a photo I took in Switzerland on a family trip. I mean, honestly, how can you not love a train that's named after you?
I have the fondest memories of laying in bed at night as a kid and hearing the Chicago & Northwestern go by in the distance, about three-quarters of a mile from our house on its scheduled runs every evening. One of the things I most loved about the two summers I spent working for the Ravinia Music Festival at their offices in downtown Chicago was that I got to take the double-decker train in each day (and back, of course...). And that's saying a lot, because working for Ravinia remains one of the best jobs I've ever had. The train was remarkably on time, due in at 8:35 AM. There was a digital clock in the downtown the C&NW station, and 60% of the time when I walked past, the readout said, "8:35." Maybe 15% of the time it said "8:34"...but often would flip to 8:35 as you walked past. Another 15% it read "8:36." The remaing 10% you forgave.
By the way, the turn-of-the century train station in Glencoe that I'd leave from in the morning was featured in "Flag of Our Fathers," that Clint Eastwood directed. When the soldiers go on their cross-country tour and are in Chicago, he needed a venue that looked out of the 1940s. The Glencoe station fit the bill.
A lot of visitors to Chicago are bewildered by the train system there. They think they're getting on the trains on the wrong side. Instead of boarding on the right side of the tracks, you get on the former Chicago & Northwestern branch from the left. The reason is because the system was designed by an Englishman! Not all the railway branches are that way -- they were separate companies before being consolidated under Amtrak and the Metra system -- making things all the more confusing.
(The train that Jake Gyllenhaal takes over and over and over in Source Code is one of those other lines -- and it's the train that goes from Glenview, where my dad lives, into Chicago. It ends up at the Union Station, where they filmed, among other things, The Sting, and the shootout in The Untouchables.)
No, this isn't an art museum. It's the Union Train Station.
Among many fond train memories is taking the Sunset Limited from Los Angeles to Chicago one year. (I'm pretty sure that this is the train that the movie, Silver Streak, is based on.) I got off in Flagstaff, Arizona, caught a bus to the Grand Canyon and then spent the night in town, catching the next day's train the rest of the way. It was great. Okay, okay, wonderful as that was, the trip was particularly memorable for another reason. At one point, I'd walked away and when I got back to my seat, there was luggage in the seat next to me, meaning a new passenger had gotten on. My heart sank -- it was a loooong way to Chicago, and but I hoped. Some prayer might have been involved. And eventually my seat-mate showed up. If it was a movie, you wouldn't have believed it. An absolutely beautiful German girl showed up, Katrin, who looked a bit like the German skater Katarina Witt! (And yes, I remember her last name.) We talked most of the rest of the way, which was a full (and heavenly) day. It got still: she was an au pair for the summer in San Diego, so when I got back to Southern Caifornia I gave her a call, and she came up to Los Angeles for a visit. (Like I said, I love trains!) Nothing really came of it, alas -- I'd buy a train if it had -- but it sure made for a much better trip than I ever expected. And I expected a lot.
Eating on a dining car as the train rumbles through the desert, or sitting up in the observation car and watching the stars in the evening sky are about as glorious as travel gets.
Hey, I even love freight trains. Not so great if you're in a huge rush, but that's not usually the case. You just sit back, accept it, and start counting. I remember once back in Glencoe getting off the phone with a friend and saying I'd be right over. It was a 10-minute drive. Except for the freight train. Or rather, trains. Right as a freight train finally finished, after a couple hundred cars, another in the opposite direction came by! My friend couldn't understand why it took 45 minutes for me to show up.
Okay, so Sunday is National Train Day. If you don't go to an event, at least you might want to consider renting a train movie. I really love train movies. This isn't a comprehensive list but, in alphabetical order, it's some that I've seen that are generally wonderful --
Around the World in 80 Days
Bridge on the River Kwai
The Darjeeling Limited
The Great Locomotive Chase
The Great Train Robbery
The Lady Vanishes
Murder on the Orient Express
The Narrow Margin
North by Northwest
Night Train to Munich
Strangers on a Train
Von Ryan’s Express
And finally, there's only one way to end this.
Here's Steve Goodman. And this is how the song is supposed to be sung.
And just so you know, the train is real. (It did shut down, but was revived.) On a recent trip to Chicago, I picked up this timetable at the Union Station
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
Feedspot Badge of Honor