Sadly, my morning commute does not involve the Wabash Cannonball,* but with a line like the post title, how I could not summon up one of the great train songs?
My new job involves taking the less-romantically named Paoli-Thorndale line, about which I doubt any songs have been written. I catch the train at Malvern station, chosen for the lovely drive and lack of traffic, the so-far ample parking, the constant use of the new train cars and the fact that the 6:54 train originates in Malvern so I can find a seat.
The old R5 line tends to get mighty crowded at Paoli, the next stop on the line. By the time you hit Villanova, it’s standing room only into the city. On the way home, I can usually find a seat, particularly if I grab the 3:54. The 4:11 is a little more crowded.
I’ve read enough stories and seen enough movies about hobos to have a slightly romantic view of trains. North by Northwest didn’t hurt, either. One day I want to take a long train ride to other parts of the country or a scenic train through mountain vistas or maybe the Orient Express.
I like trains with names. I like the gust of displaced air that hits my face when the train pulls in. I like the strangely intimate view of people’s back yards and the mystery of discarded trash that tumbles down the steep sides of the railway cut.
My morning commute is not a romantic comedy. Most people sit quietly or get on with a coworker or relative and chat. So far I have not spotted nor been a part of a Craigslist-worthy SEPTA connection. Memo to self: bookmark Philly’s Craiglist site just in case.
My routine is fairly simple. Stand at the second set of stairs at Malvern, hope when the train comes a door will be by the stairs so I don’t have to crawl on board, and read on my Kindle under the lamp post. Once on board, I get comfy with my Bag of Holding on my lap and either keep reading or pull up Netflix** on the phone. I can just about watch a full episode of DS9 during the commute. The routine on the way home is pretty much identical but I’ll read instead of fighting to hear Quark over the constant station announcements.
A definite train etiquette exists. People form orderly lines at the suburban stations, but just clump together at Suburban Station. The person who snags an aisle seat on a three-person bench makes a new arrival take the middle. When exiting the train, people observe a you-go-then-I-go policy for doors in the middle of the car. For the most part, people keep their elbows to themselves (except for the woman in the gold parka who ends up sitting next to me more often than not and uses my personal space as her own!). Also, for the most part, people take an empty seat instead of hopping into the aisle of an occupied bench (except for the woman this morning who ignored three empty rows to sit next to me – lady, I am not all that).
People who ride the train get a sense for its rhythm. Tracks in front of the Rosemont station are at some weird angle so as we pull in, regular riders shift to compensate for the upcoming tilt. You start to recognize scenery and know when to move into the aisle in anticipation of debarkation. The conductor may have announced Malvern shortly after leaving Paoli, but I’ve learned you’ve got a good ways before the train actually begins to slow down so you may as well stay seated.
My views of the train may change as the temperature drops and reading outside as my eyes tear and freeze may become difficult. For now, though, I’m enjoying it. As I hope you enjoy this ditty. Pick it, Jerry!
*Credit for leading me on a Google search that led to the post title and Jerry Reed video goes to the only person I know who would stumble across the word “wabash” in a conversation. Go back.
** Yes, I cancelled the service because I hated their changing business model this year, but, while I still hate it, it’s the best way to watch Patton without buying it and it’s the only company to offer streaming Star Trek. Go back.