If you look out a train window long enough, you’ll stop being just a passenger in a train car. At some point you’ll find yourself out there, fleetingly part of the communities that you pass. Living in old houses in need of repair, in trailer parks, in small towns leading up to big cities.
I put aside my work and stare outside.
It’s not a pretty landscape between DC and New York. At least not now, in March, when branches don’t hide life by the railroad tracks.
Baltimore, Philadelphia. Old urban giants. Row houses, bridges linking one neighborhood with another.
New Jersey. That part of the state. I’m still lost in the landscape out the window. In the distance, I recognize a bridge that I remember from my childhood days. On day trips out of New York, we’d sometimes drive across it and reflect how it must be the world’s ugliest bridge, linking one embarrassingly desolate and polluted wasteland with another. We had noted the name of it, too: the Casimir Pulaski bridge, named after a Polish nobleman who fought the Russians on Polish soil and the British on American soil, dying here, away from his homeland. A hero, especially to the many Polish Americans who are such a quiet presence in this country! As a kid, I did not care that the bridge was not just any bridge, that, when built (in 1933), it was lauded as The longest and The highest viaduct for motor vehicles in the world. To me it was ugly and it passed ugly ground below. And now, I am staring at it again, and I'm seeing myself on it as a kid, standing with my Brownie camera, saddened by the indifferent imagery that so often comes with the label “Polish.”
In New York, I exit Penn Station, noting, as I so often do with my camera, the first image of the city that is thrown at me as I leave the station. And here, outside Penn Station, I note another bridge, spanning a narrow street with little light. So different than the broad boulevards of DC!
I rush across the city, pulling my small suitcase whose wheels have almost given up -- too many potholes and uneven pavements, dirt tracks and cobbled ways, too many already! But, I pull and half run, all the way to Grand Central Station where I take the Harlem line north. Out of the tunnel and up on bridges spanning the streets of Harlem…
…but going beyond, emptying the cars of passengers, spitting them out in White Planes, in Patterson and finally in Brewster, and after that, the train can go no further. The few of us who want to continue north switch to the diesel powered monster. It’s a brown land out there, with barely unfrozen waters, even though we are just two hours out of New York City.
I get off at Ten Mile River and there is Ed, refreshed from a night’s sleep in his pick up truck. We drive just a handful of miles across the border to Kent, Connecticut. Not famous, not manicured or pretty but not unattractive either. Kent: home of one of only two covered bridges in the state that still permit cars to go through.
Kent hasn’t a rail station anymore, even though it has the tracks to prove that it once was a worthy destination.
Now, it is just Kent, old Kent, the village with one major intersection and a few antique stores. I know of it from more than a decade back, when my daughter had an interest in the music of Patti LuPone. My girl and I traveled from Wisconsin to New York once to hear her sing and afterward, we stood outside and watched as Ms LuPone left the theater and got in the car which would take her to her home in Kent.
Ed and I are here for a few nights. He has stuff to pick up nearby, held in storage for years and years and I have stuff to sort through in my head, as always, and work to do, as always, and walks to take and lots of staring to do. No train now, just a pickup truck and a dirt track along the Housatonic River.