Riding a train through small town America

So many of us take for granted, that although there are millions of people using the New Jersey and New York train systems every single day, there are even more millions and probably billions, who have not had a chance to ride the train; in specific, from New Jersey into New York City.  So, this is a little memoir of my most recent trip which helped me gain a fresh perspective after I realized I got on the “slow” train, which makes additional stops in several small towns along the “northeast corridor” through North Jersey.

So, I got on the “slow train”, darn it.  Luckily, I left in plenty of time to arrive to my meeting in NYC, so I wasn’t in danger of being late; just annoyed.  However, once I settled in and realized there was nothing I could do and I didn’t have enough battery on my cell phone to constantly monitor my facebook page and 3 email accounts, I actually looked outside the window.  Do you know what I saw?  Small town America.  Real people and places whizzing by that cloudy piece of glass they call a window.  I first sat up and started paying close attention when the train began to slow down, arriving at its first stop.  Looking down from the train trestle, I noticed some women outside the local VFW hall, cigarette in one hand, a cup in the other.  “Haha, I thought to myself.  I could use a tall drink right about now, too.”  What are they doing there at 11:30 in the morning?  Is this their “Cheers” where everyone knows their name?  Where they feel loved and accepted?  Or are they avoiding the mounting piles of dishes in the kitchen at home?  Next door to the VFW, I noticed a car up on blocks with 2 denim-clad legs sticking out from underneath.  Watching the mechanic fiddling around under the vehicle for a brief minute or so before the train took off from the station, I became more amused by my “slow train” trip and started playing a game with myself to notice as much as I could.

Since this is NJ, the “Garden State”, there were definitely a lot of beautiful, fluffy trees along our one hour plus ride into the city, so it would catch my eye anytime I saw an opening between these gorgeous, green giants.  So many homes were built close to the railroad back in the day, because these were clearly not new homes I was seeing with beautiful, old, architectural details.  In fact, I could even see Fido’s toys in one backyard along with the neighbor’s piles of trash in theirs.  I found it interesting how some people take such good care of their property, while others let piles of garbage and junk accumulate.  Is there a rhyme or reason to it?  Maybe the neighbors were going through tough times, or maybe they just had other priorities than keeping their yard clean.  No judgment here, just an observation since my yard is no perfect oasis.  While I was posing that question to myself, some movement caught my eye as another view rolled by like a motion picture.  I got to see a little boy, about 12 or so, running as fast as he could around the baseball diamond to get to home base!  How fun!  They were playing ball in the middle of this sunny day.  No one watching from the stands, but these little guys were having a lot of fun.  Maybe playing hookey from school?  Ooops, someone got called “out”, I could tell by the hand gestures…What a cool capsule of small town America!

Moving right along, there are definitely some areas I would NOT like to get off the train.  Miles of graffiti and broken out windows tell tales about this next town, with what seemed like every other building surrounded in barbed wire fences and even a junk yard Rottweiler barking his head off at the passing train.  What happened here?  It looks like a warzone.  Once again, not judging, but what made what was probably a beautiful area into such a hate-filled place?  I could feel the anger oozing and pulled my jacket a little tighter.  Even the honeysuckle vine seemed to be struggling to come up through a massive pile of rubble along the side of the train tracks.  The train platform at this station looked mighty lonely.


Next stop, I saw some construction workers on lunch break sitting on the truck bed flap and eating lunch.  It was nice to see them smiling and clearly enjoying some time off the clock.  As we pulled away from the station, I realized these are the guys who probably put out all these new orange cones on the side of the track.  What a job to maintain this railroad!  I wonder what have these tracks seen in their years and who have they transported through the ages?  Meanwhile, the happy couple behind me on their first visit to the big city are happily chattering away, comparing opinions over the latest celebrity gossip magazine.

As we get closer to the city, I see more and more seabirds flying around.  There are also many more billboards and posters, advertising everything from the hottest new show on Broadway to choosing the hospital of your dreams.  Boom!  And then there was complete darkness; riding under the Hudson River.  That means my “slow train” is finally coming to an end.  I’ll just put this journal back into my purse now, careful to avoid the warm, gooey peanut butter and blackberry preserves sandwich that I didn’t eat.


Thanks for sharing this trip with me and letting me practice my writing on you.  After all, that’s what blogging is, isn’t it?  A chance to hone our writing skills while sharing our feelings and experiences with people we may never meet.  So, until next time, I’ll be taking the “slow train” on purpose.  I highly recommend it. 😉




One comment

  1. Thank you for sharing your experience with us, I enjoyed reading this post. And you write very well, very descriptive and I felt like I was right along with you staring out that window myself. Take care out there.

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