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My Trip to Delaware, Part Two: Amtrak

15 May

May 15, 2013

My boss and I boarded the train. No matter what Penn Station looks like above, below it is as grimy as any other NYC train station.

I took a window seat a couple of rows back from my boss and settled in. The seat was comfortable and there were outlets under the window so I was able to charge my iPod during the ride. Eventually someone sat next to me and the only minor inconvenience of the entire trip was that, to charge his laptop, the power cord had to run past my legs to get to the outlets.

I pulled down the tray from the back of the seat ahead of me and took out my book. I planned to read and listen to music on the trip, and maybe even catch a nap. For the first five minutes I stuck to the plan and read a couple of pages, but then we came out of the tunnel, left the city, and in the blink of an eye were in, well, not the country, but rural back roads. It reminded me of Batman where the Batmobile leave the Batcave and is instantly in Gotham city, only in reverse.  I knew we were in New Jersey because the train tracks took us through some seemingly endless swamps.

At this point I put down my book and never picked it up again. From here on the scenery fascinated me. None of it was beautiful in the traditional sense, and in fact much of it was downright ugly, but all of it had as undefinable sense of Americana to it. We didn’t pass through expensive neighborhoods and fancy towns, we rode through the old industrial Northeast, a place of abandoned factories, rusty hulks of cars, trucks, trains, and buildings, a place of old towns, run down homes, and on the whole, shadows and remnants of an America where people actually built things and sold things to each other.

My only regret is that I could not take pictures from the swift-moving train.

brasovFactoryAt one point we passed an abandoned Congoleum factory. Congoleum still makes floor tiles and other flooring products, but they left this area years ago. The factory still had the faded letters on the smokestack, but the main building was, like most of the factories we passed, in a state of collapse. Whole walls were gone, you could see right through the building. I passed dozens of factories, but none of them looked like they had produced a single item in the last three decades.

Meanwhile, the swamps of New Jersey were left behind, but not before one of the stranger sights I saw. From the moment we entered the swamp, a series of telephone poles were running parallel to us through the water. They were all half-sunken in the swamp but the lines were unbroken, giving the impression that they were still carrying live phone lines. But before the poles ended, the phone lines from the last pole went directly down into the swamp. They hadn’t fallen, they left the pole at a taught 45 degree angle and went, purposefully it seemed, into the swamp.

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Immediately after that Twilight Zone scene we roared over a bridge which, hand to my heart, seemed to be made entirely out of rust. The rain let out a totally cartoony sounding “choo-choo!” and we were on solid ground.

If you want to see the rustic side of America, you must travel by train. But be warned, this route really puts the rust in rustic. I saw so many rusted out vehicles that my eyeballs needed a tetanus shot.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAmerica’s back roads really are fascinating. On a side track, I saw a genuine Northwest Pacific cattle car. On old billboards I saw faded mottoes. (“Trenton makes the world takes.”)
I saw backyards where people constructed whole other houses out of tires and old toys.
I passed through an area that may have been part of the New Jersey Pine Barrens where I saw nothing but fields and fields of downed trees left over from Hurricane Sandy, and other than the train passengers, probably no other people would see them.
I saw one grove of standing trees where hundreds of white plastic bags were hung from the lowest branches, none more than six feet off the ground. They looked might they could have been bird or animal feeders but I could not tell.

The economy really hit this area hard. Amtrak and other rail lines, just by their very nature, are going to run through industrial or poor areas, but I saw towns with almost no people on the streets at 9 am, shopping centers that were open but whose parking lots were empty, and many, many homes in desperate need of repair.

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This may all sound sad and in many ways it was, but I did not take my eyes off the scenery the whole trip.  I arrived in Wilmington and put my book back in my bag, only four pages read.

 

TO BE CONTINUED

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One Response to “My Trip to Delaware, Part Two: Amtrak”

  1. T E Stazyk May 15, 2013 at 2:26 am #

    A sad a scary commentary. In 2006 I took a train trip from Helsinki to St. Petersburg to Moscow to Warsaw and then to Berlin and Prague. What struck me was that Russia was the only place where we saw rusted out junk all along the route–the minute we got into Poland it was like someone had cleaned everything up. I didn’t think the US would resemble Russia.

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