Train of Thought

Dew Abides on the Amtrak to Boston
Harbor in New London, Connecticut, as seen from our train car

He seemed like such a gentleman, until he slammed those keys down on the counter.

“If you want your damn car, go get it yourself.”

The old man who’d exchanged pleasantries with us throughout our vacation, years ago, had been driven to the brink — literally — trying to maneuver a rental car to the return lot through Honolulu’s thick traffic and one-way streets. Stressed out and disgusted, he brought the car back to the hotel where he had picked it up in the first place.

I feel you, bro.

Brad and I just spent two glorious weeks exploring Boston, and we made it all the way there on land, with nary a shift behind a steering wheel, thanks to Amtrak.

For the same price as coach airfare, we traveled as first-class passengers with a private room.

Instead of staring at a tiny screen on the back of someone’s chair, we watched Virginia farmland, the Washington Monument, and the New York City skyline roll by our picture window.

Dinner wasn’t an exercise in yoga, trying to slice soggy lasagna without flinging it on the poor soul inches away in the next seat. Ours was a complimentary three-course meal, enjoyed at a table with plates and silverware while the moon rose over the north Georgia mountains.

You’ll be hard pressed to find us on a cramped domestic flight again, eating the weapon of mass destruction that is the Delta Deli Roll.

Once in Boston, we picked up a commuter rail pass and, in only a day, we mastered the red, orange and green lines. It felt like the city was ours.

Morning arboretum walk in Jamaica Plain and lunch in Chinatown? No problem.

Sam Adams Brewery tour in JP, dinner in our North End apartment, and a Glen Hansard concert in the theatre district? Kids stuff.

Then we made a mistake.

Thinking this might be our only shot to see Maine, we rented a car to get out of the city for a few days. But all of our peace and tranquility vanished when we entered the Massachusetts Turnpike 500.

Outside the city’s chaos, driving wasn’t much better. A 120-mile jaunt to Rockland took five hours, thanks to miserable stop-and-go traffic on winding roads. So much for enjoying the charming coastal villages. Thankfully Rockland was a beautiful, walkable town, so we ditched the car as soon as we arrived in favor of leisurely strolls to the Strand Theatre, Hello Hello Books, and the Farnsworth Museum.

The car was a never-ending hassle during a two-day stop in Portland, a city with a puzzling dearth of downtown public garages. Driving on congested streets that were narrowed by parked cars on either side resulted in great strings of profanity. And with two-hour maximums on parking meters, we couldn’t relax and explore the town without running back to feed the machine.

Returning the car at Logan Airport, Brad and I nearly slammed the keys down on the counter and said, “Here’s your damn car.” We instantly felt the weight of the world lifted, high-fived, and hopped on the silver line back to town.

Another few days of zipping around to the public library, the Fenway Victory Gardens and everything in between, and I was smitten. In my journal entry on our last day in the city, I wrote, “Boston, if you’re trying to make me fall in love with you, it’s working.”

Now that we’re back, I keep thinking about the sense of freedom the train gave me. I think about the businesses I supported because a commuter line made it easy to find them. I think about how few people in the city were overweight. I think about the low-wage earners who could afford to go to work. I think about the older folks who were still running errands and staying part of the community, long after driving was no longer an option. And I think about what mid-sized cities like our hometown of Columbus can do to unite communities by helping residents easily flow in and out of them — to focus on people instead of cars. What do you think, Columbus? Can you make me fall a little more in love with you, too?

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