I decided to cut my Vancouver stay short for a few reasons. Initially, or so I thought, it was because of the rainy weather that was moving in from the Pacific and was forecast to hang around for at least a week. I couldn’t see the point of staying at a beach hostel in the rain, even if all I did was stare into a computer screen, doing my editing. I also reasoned that leaving the hostel at that particular point in time would be good for my sanity, since the hostel was nearly completely full with international students waiting for the signal to stampede to their new Canadian digs on September 1st. However, after I got a few unexpected orders in this morning, I seriously considered cancelling my trip to Winnipeg and even asked the front desk clerk if there were any private rooms available for the next few nights. To my surprise, she said that there were not only no private rooms left, but there was only one dorm bed for tonight and none for tomorrow night. I said what about the other hostel downtown, and she said that was already full. So, I decided to leave after all, which would mean working triple speed to get all of my orders done before re-entering the Great Western Canadian Internet Black Hole.
I did end up finishing everyone’s orders on time and I even managed to fit in a very late and very gobbled-down lunch (5 p.m.) at Whole Foods. While I was sitting there thinking about everything I had yet to do before getting on the train tonight, it suddenly struck me with the full force of a revelation that I actually missed being on the train. And not only that, but missing being on the train was the main reason I was leaving Vancouver, not the rainy 7-day forecast or the hostel full of students. I missed the gentle perpetual rocking back and forth, and the creaks and squeaks and groans and grinding of the iron wheels against the rails, and the occasional thumps and bangs (from God only knows what), and the assertive wail of the horn demanding not only everyone’s attention but the right of way to all within earshot. I missed stopping in the middle of nowhere waiting for a freight train to come screaming past. I missed the little fold-down tables and fold-down footrests and lean-back reclining chairs and fold-out ottomans. I missed wandering around from one washroom to the next looking for a cleaner one, and climbing up and down the narrow stairs to the Dome Car. I missed the poor man’s restaurant with all the freebie condiments (forever now embedded in my brain as the ‘Condiment Car’). But most of all I missed sitting in relative comfort, watching late summer Canada glide past my window. I even missed the background rustling of bags of treats and the murmur of conversations of fellow travellers eagerly anticipating being somewhere else in a sleep or two.
The train is special. There’s no other transportation like it. Sure, you can take a car and go wherever you want to, whenever you want to, but you’re also limited to roads that were mostly built for expediency (shortest way from Point A to Point B), not views. Or you can subject yourself to the police state tactics of modern day Nazis-in-training who interrogate you, manhandle and irradiate your personal belongings, and then force you to walk the plank…er…security line-up before irradiating you, too. Then as a bonus you can have your brain squeezed by air pressure changes just like half-empty water bottles; you can see it for yourself when you find the deflated bottles in your carry-on luggage after a flight. That squished-in and dented surface is what your brain looks like after flying. (You won’t read this on the Mayo Clinic website, but jet lag is actually the time it takes for your brain to re-inflate.)
Or you could take the train. The train is the back seat of your parents’ car during a long drive. You have no say in where you’re going or when you’ll be stopping, but there are always treats and lots of time to lay back and relax. You’re not in the driver’s seat, but it doesn’t matter because the driver of all drivers (your dad) is in the driver’s seat, so there’s nothing to worry about.