I am a late twenty-something Canadian Millennial-in-rebellion trying to find something original, true and meaningful to say. Also I’m simultaneously dreading turning thirty as it’s the magical age wherein female millennials are supposed to have a stellar academic record, fulfilling career, exciting group of friends and aquiantences, a young family, a stable yet still ‘new-car smell’ marriage, and a meaningful volunteer presence in the community. Alas, no…
So, my first post is about trains.
I discovered trains at fifteen years of age. I had already flown more times than I could remember, and the automobile did not and still does not stir in me the spirit of freedom and adventure that it is supposed to represent in American culture. It was the train that truly gave me a feeling of being independent, yet connected to other people. The scenery is beautiful, and not simply endless asphalt, fast food, and big box stores.
The train symbolizes for me an appreciation of all the pain and hope of our pioneering, nation-building, industrializing history, in conjunction with the relentless march to the bullet trains, LRT, high-speed rail, Mag-lev, low carbon, new urbanist glorious future…
I consider it somewhat rebellious to choose the train as a mode of transportation. I feel myself making demands upon society as I do it:
- I expect to be treated like a human being. That means I expect to be served actual food with real forks and knives. I am not a child and I am not mentally unstable. A nearby, human-sized, functioning toilet is always nice.
- Within my own country I should not have to prove my identity in order to travel. I should not be treated as a criminal when I am innocent. I should have my privacy respected, and not have to have my luggage scanned, or my body poked, prodded, or x-rayed, or to be herded like cattle, in return for the ‘privilege’ of leaving home.
- I expected to be treated like a rational being. Please don’t expect me to believe that oxygen masks, seat belts, inflatable slides or irreverent safety videos will improve my chances of surviving a plane crash. I know the odds. Likewise please don’t expect me to believe that an SUV will protect me and make me feel ‘safe’ as a female driver, or that a bike helmet will somehow help me survive an impact with a transport truck or indeed any car going over 30km/hr. Give me a window seat and that little red hammer on a train and I will get myself out, if possible. Otherwise I accept the inherent risks of travel and I don’t need to be artificially soothed.
- This one is a bit harder to explain. I suppose it comes down to, I expect to have my economic and environmental choices respected. Drivers are rarely questioned as to why they do not choose other, more efficient, or more environmentally friendly modes of transport. Frequent flyers are just assumed to be selecting the fastest or most convenient option. Yet when I choose the train I am often asked to justify to others why I would choose a (pick one) outdated, inefficient, unreliable, cheap, hipster, yuppie, granola, etc way to travel. I sense some classist undertones to this, similar to the questions I get as to why on earth I would choose public transit when I can afford my car. I also get the sense that other people feel I am judging them when I tell them I like train travel because they are so quick to make excuses for why they need their car or their plane. I am made to feel like the unwanted train evangelist…
I do consider the environmental impact of travel but it’s not the only reason. I admit that I hold a romantic vision of trains as well, but if I were to sum up why I love trains it would be the human dignity factor. I have sufficient space, time, facilities, to enjoy the experience and make effective use of my journey. A suitable metaphor for my life goals, if not my current situation…
Thanks for reading,