Posted by George Hamlin
on Friday, May 1, 2020

Travel often involves waiting for something.  For one thing, it’s often difficult to schedule things precisely; there often are unknowns in the equation, so that most knowledgeable travelers deliberately build in extra time to ensure reliability.  Most would agree that it’s better to arrive at the airport, bus stop, port of embarkation or railroad station somewhat ahead of the scheduled time, for example, than to show up a minute after your transportation has departed, due to unforeseen circumstances on your part. 

In this case, at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, the passengers expecting to board Amtrak’s westbound “Capitol Limited” on March 16, 2017 had been waiting for some time for the train’s arrival.  Unlike much of today’s air travel, involving hubs where the actual runways may not be visible from your departure gate, many rail stations offer the opportunity to “look down the tracks”, to see whether your conveyance is coming soon. 

After even a short time staring into the distance in this manner, what probably comes to mind is the old adage “a watched pot never boils”.  (I’ve never actually tested this, but I’m pretty sure that if you had the fortitude to stare at the stove long enough, this will be proven wrong, however.)  Eventually, the train does show up, and the anticipation turns to getting in the queue to board.

In this case, the sleeping car passengers, as shown here, also had to wait for a second “pull-up” stop after the coach passengers were boarded.  And as you can see here, even after the train is coming to a halt again, there’s still a wait for an open door (and it's not this car, in any case), so that the rail portion of their journey can begin.  Although not depicted here, I can assure you that this did in fact occur, shortly after this picture was taken. 

So now, these people can relax and quit worrying about what comes next, right?  Not really.  Dinner time is approaching, so there may be a need to choose a sitting, or, in the event that isn’t offered, trying to determine the best time to go the diner.  For that matter, anticipating a pleasant meal being served and eaten while the scenery passes by may be a pleasant activity, even with the less-than-Lucullan onboard service now being provided even on long-distance trains in the U.S.  After desert?  Now it’s time to figure out what you want to do, or in some cases, how much you can accomplish, prior to going to bed.

The following morning, breakfast might be anticipated, although from what I can gather about recent offerings, this might leave many of us cold, so to speak.  Then, there will be time to think about the arrival at journey’s end, and what to do when that happens. 

Contrast this with flying, for the sake of argument, where the actual point-to-point trip passes quickly, likely in a number of hours not requiring more than a single digit to express.  And since the typical process for this while consists of boarding a tube, sitting in your assigned seat, and maybe an occasional trip to the restroom, there really aren’t many choices to be made, although there will certainly be plenty of time to contemplate how long it seems to be taking to get to the other end of the ride. 

Obviously, after considering all of this, it should be apparent that a long-distance train journey requires an open, and inquiring, mind, in order to deal with both the choices on offer, and the fact that they often require at least a modicum of waiting time.  However this is not the proverbial “hurry up and wait”, but, in reality, something more along the lines of wait, anticipate, and then, if you’re lucky, reflect and savor.  And in the best of circumstances, you’ll be anticipating the next trip, possibly even before the current one is over.

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