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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Eighth Car

There is something terribly romantic about trains. I took immediate notice of this as I arrived at King Street Station on Saturday afternoon. It was one of those summer-like, fall days. The sun felt warm and the sky was blue with thin clouds that were hardly clouds at all. They were more like still, gentle brush strokes. Pigeons were swooping overhead, landing on the architecture or dry Seattle sidewalk.

My assigned seat was in the eighth car. Its orientation was facing backwards, directly across from another seat. Had there been another passenger, we'd be touching knees. I slumped into sitting position and peered out the window. I noticed the reflection of the trains interior against the glass, which allowed me to secretly watch a young Asian woman enter the train. She was wearing cute rain boots over leggings and round sunglasses. She found a seat near mine and took out a little box of food.

I wondered where she was going.

Layered behind her reflection was a man in a train-conductor-type hat loading suitcases from the platform onto the car. In a repetitive motion, he tossed the bags with ease, one at a time. Almost as soon as he’d latched the door shut, the train took a gentle forward motion. With my back facing forward, I watched the ground move below me. The man and the station were quickly out of sight.

The scenery passed by like a film strip. Or more like three filmstrips all playing at the same time. The one closest was a row of small shrubs that ran along the edge of the tracks. They were moving at a very fast, consistent blur. Moving slightly slower behind them was mostly houses, trees, industrial buildings and water. Reeling furthest away was a line of tall trees that had begun to change colors, and would soon become bare for winter. Their red, green and yellow branches reached up in slow motion against the sky. All three moved left to right, at three different speeds. It was fun to think about how in actuality, they weren't moving at all.

We pushed further south. We were briefly under the massive, concrete structure of the Narrows Bridges. Since I was a child, I have been traveling on that bridge, and would watch the trains from above. This must have been my first discovery of romance. Always intent on it's length from the engine to it's last car, and the possibility of who or what was inside. It hadn't occurred to me that this train ride would fulfill this childhood fascination.

In my quiet excitement, I noticed my own reflection, just as I had the woman. Only this time, I knew the woman in the glass looking back at me. I knew her heart, her ambitions, where she was going.

I looked at my eyes. They seemed dark and thoughtful; a thin black line of makeup outlined their almond shape. The slow blur of the Puget Sound took the place of certain details, but I could see the top of my head, and followed my hair down to my neck and shoulders. The little black rubbery cords coming from my ears filled my thoughts with the perfect soundtrack. 

I switched my focus from my reflection to my hands and wrists, down to my waist and bent knees. I noticed my worn-out leather boots and how I crossed them at the ankle.
I felt old. Or maybe not so much old, but older. I was OK with it.

The bridges were now distant, but not forgotten. I rest my head against the cold glass, closed my eyes, and felt my mouth make a smile.

*Above Photo: I shot this photo with my small pocket camera while traveling via Amtrak to Portland. September 18, 2010.

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