The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


by Tricia Dower

The train left at 7:50 a.m. as we sat in the dining room having breakfast with new acquaintances Barry and Pam. “Cool,” Pam said, as the train rumbled past St. Paul where she grew up.We tracked the Mississippi all the way to Lacrosse, Wisconsin.

It was fascinating to see the hidden sides of all the cities we passed on our way to Bethesda, Maryland, where we’ve been visiting with my daughter and her family. I lived near Chicago many moons ago but never traveled down the river that runs through it. The train was a boat taking us on a riverside tour, as it did the next day in Pittsburgh where the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela rivers meet. From Pittsburgh on, the landscape outside the train was untamed – waterways with huge brown rocks and frothy rapids, bordered by Scotch pine, maple, and birch trees. Little indication of people except for the occasional campground or modest house with peeling paint.

I was struck by the dichotomy of the richness of this natural beauty and the potential bankruptcy of the financial sector that was underway. “I’m angry,” said a woman from Hawaii we met at lunch. So are other U.S. citizens we've spoken with and no doubt a host of others around the world.

During our three-hour layover in Chicago, we joined others in a busy lounge to watch TV coverage of the proposed bailout package. We arrived in Bethesda in time for the first presidential debate and it was clear the two candidates were afraid to say much about the proposal lest they be branded with its failure. This is an extraordinary time in my birth country’s history and it feels right to be here now, a half-hour’s drive from where Congress is slugging it out. We had lunch yesterday at an outdoor café beside the Potomac River as military helicopters flew overhead, making me think how close we could be to martial law if President Bush's inelegant warning -- “This sucker could go down” -- comes to pass.

Last night I saw my college roommate who lives in Virginia. She pointed out that she and I had heard about the Great Depression from our parents and had been raised understanding what it took to be frugal. “But our kids,” she said. “I don’t know if they can do it.”

We get back on the train tomorrow where we’ll be insulated for a few hours from the news reports and will speed through crossings where cars will have to wait behind gates for us to pass. I look forward to the illusory feeling of power.

Photos: Pittsburgh from the train and lunch on the Potomac with my daughter.


Blogger T. Lee said...

I love this! And you know how much I love trains. The other night, we screened an experimental film at the theatre; the whole 111 minutes was footage of trains passing. And there were 25 people in the audience. Apparently some people really really love trains.

Mon Oct 06, 02:56:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Thanks, T! I just saw your comment. Haven't had Internet access since Sunday. I've glad you enjoyed the post. I'll try to get the next one up in another day or two. I'm getting fonder and fonder of train travel.

Thu Oct 09, 03:36:00 pm GMT-4  

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