Thursday, April 23, 2009

Train Ride to Yesterday

OK, no sense trying to hide it. I’m cranky in the morning until I get my first cup of coffee. I’m not sure if this is a uniquely 20th/21st-century malady or if it was known to medical science somewhat earlier.To aggravate matters, I started taking a medication about a year ago that requires me to wait what seems like an interminable length of time before absorbing my first dose of caffeine.

Usually I drive to work. I listen to music and stay clear of innocent bystanders until I've gotten the caffeine in my blood stream up to a minimum level. On days like today, however when my son needs the car, I take the train. My husband drops me off at the station in barely enough time to buy my ticket, and then I try my luck at getting my day's first cup of coffee at the espresso bar next door.

The 6:57am clientele

What little space there is near the service counter is obstructed by a gaggle of giggling young women and guys of various ages. They’re having too much fun for this time of the morning. They order double espressos or mint-mocha-lattes-with-an-extra-shot-of-espresso-and-skim-milk, and other beverages that take a lot of time to prepare...bagel and egg sandwiches too – toasted, of course. The convivial proprietor –-an essential quality if you’re going to make your living running a coffee bar (or any kind of bar)— chats and jokes with them. Meanwhile, a diminutive, middle-aged woman with a backpack stands there, desperate to order just a simple cup of coffee before her train departs. Needless to say, many a time I've boarded the R5 javaless. Fortune smiled this morning, however, and I was able to make my purchase and fix my 16 ounces in time.

The view from the train window

It's spring and the trees have sprouted delicate, yellow-green leaves. Others are decked out in stellar white blossoms. What are they doing in the picture with a sterile train track embedded in gray stones that extends into infinity? The scene at the window reminds me of those television commercials where the product glows in Technicolor against a monochrome background….

A song comes into my head, an old one that Peter, Paul and Mary used to sing…

This train don’t carry no gamblers, this train.
This train don't carry no gamblers, this train.

This train don't carry no gamblers,
no crap shooters, no midnight ramblers,
This train don't carry no ga
mblers, this train.

This train, don't carry no jokers, well, this train.

This train, don't carry no jokers, well, this train.
This train, don't carry no jokers, no high-tone women, no cigar smokers,
This train, don't carry no jokers, well, this train.

It’s an old African American spiritual -- or is it a Woody Guthry song? I'll have to look that one up.
Anyway, I’m transported back to the 70's and so intent on listening to PP&M that I almost miss my stop....

This train, done carried my mother,
My mother, my father, my sister and my brother,

This train, done carried my mother, well this train.

This train, she's bound for glory,

If you want to get to heaven then you've got to be holy, well
This train, she's bound for glory, well, this train.

I get off this train in a much better mood than when I boarded.
A commute to work by way of yesterday is just what I needed.


  1. Well, I actually have that album of PP&M, but I'm so old that it takes me back to the early 60s; they were very different from the later 60s, more like the late 50s. When you see references to "the 60s", they are almost always only appropriate to the later period. Anyway, I bought that album when it came out, in 1962, I think. The song you quote was actually written by P&P, according to the album cover. Your image of a beautiful nature contrasted with a sterile train track and grey stones, a bit of technicolour set against dull monochrome, reminds me of some lines from a Beckett play, Fin de partie, although my thoughts, and his, are the opposite of yours: “J’ai connu un fou qui croyait que la fin du monde était arrivée. Il faisait de la peinture. Je l’aimais bien. J’allais le voir, à l’aisile. Je le prenais par la main et le traînais devant la fenêtre. Mais regarde! Là! Tout ce blé qui lève! Et là! Regarde! Les voiles des sardiniers! Toute cette beauté! (Un temps) Il m’arrachait sa main et retournait dans son coin. Èpouvanté. Il n’avait vu que des cendres”.

    I know the idea we should get is along the lines of “man is seduced by nature” (Maritain). And that reminds me of something in Fanny and Zooey by Salinger, which is more along your lines: “He said that a man should be able to lie at the bottom of a hill with his throat cut, slowly bleeding to death, and if a pretty girl or an old woman should pass by with a beautiful jug balanced perfectly on the top her head, he should be able to raise himself up on one arm and see the jug safely over the top of the hill”. Back in 1962, I was more a Salinger/Maritain person, but now I lean more towards Beckett. And if you look at some of the other songs on that PP&M album, they seem to as well!

    Anyway, glad to know there are still people around who remember and appreciate PP&M!

  2. Wow, that has to be the most scholarly comment I've ever gotten!


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