Day 2 night
I’ve settled back into the rhythm of the rails. Meeting and interacting with new people on a train is a skill, a habit, which one can learn, forget, remember, lose, and ease back into. But being in tune with a train is more than relations with other passengers, there is an aspect of having a relationship to the built machine itself.
The Canadian is much harder to figure out than the Amtrak train I took in september. The Amtrak train was a workhorse, which kept a tight schedule, and transported people effectively to where they wanted to go. People who ride amtrak are largely not rail buffs, and those who are remember the good old days when railroads like Milwaukee Road and Santa Fee offered passenger service unmatched by Amtrak’s effective, efficient, but not particularly special brand of travel. The Canadian, on the other hand, is as luxurious as it ever was. It’s as if a tourist firm put the old California Zephyr back into operation as a tourist train. Like a tourist train it meanders along, keeping a slow and easy schedule. Sometimes it does travel fast (it actually has a higher top speed than most Amtrak trains, at 90mph), but for the most part it seems to rumble along at about 50. I have trouble taking it seriously. Perhaps that’s just part of its essence – it’s not a serious train. It’s a vintage relic which runs only three times a week, it’s more expensive than flying, and it moves mostly not Canadians but tourists who fly here to take the train. This destination character of the train comes into focus when I compare this trip with the one I made in september. Whereas travelling across America via four Amtrak trains felt like an adventure, this feels like a laid back vacation. There is one train, I have one berth, I move back and forth from berth to diner to lounge car. I make numerous friends, people do get off and on, but the trip is easy and predictable. I have more space than I know what to do with – at night I have an entire Park car to myself.
I’ve read that the Canadian is the longest passenger rail service anywhere in the world, excluding the trans-syberian express. From what I’ve read in Paul Theroux about that train, it is almost unbearable – Russians who ride the train spend the entire time either drunk or sleeping. In contrast, this train covers miles with an unbelievable ease – there is so much space, so little rush. Just a rumbling along, a drink, the moon above.
I love this train, but I doubt it is the future. The emphasis on luxury, space, and lack of rush are wonderful for a bon vivant like myself, but are in conflict with the values of efficiency, speed, low-carbon. I can tell I love it though, for the same reason as I can say I love Vancouver but not Toronto – everything about it becomes a priori of concern to me, feels almost like an extension of my body. I want to ride this train again and again (when travel is necessary, at least).
These hours in the night are perhaps my most favourite. It is now two AM, and I have been alone in the Park car for two hours, mostly drunk on smuggled wine. The moon is mostly full and as I watch it overhead, through the ceiling of the Park’s dome, I think about time, and how we spend it. We spend time like money, we save it, divert it as a resource to those end which we think will bring the most benefit to us. But where is time out here, on the prairie, at night? Is it in the distance the train covers, in the clock on my computer screen? No, these are all only the counting of time. The counting of time is done by the measurers, the waiters, the planners. But at night, sometimes, it is possible to experience time without measuring it. This also occurs in night driving, especially if one is alone or one’s passengers are all asleep – driving takes on the peculiar quality of moving through space but not time (this never happens, however, if one is in any way concerned with the clock, with the time of arrival). It happens most often when one does not know where one is, specifically at least.
Aristotle said time is the measure of movement. What one can see at night, on the train or sometimes driving, is that time is not the measure of movement – it is rather the site in which movement can come to be measured. Time is not the train moving through time, it is the space within which the train can move. Time is essentially eternity not because it is limitless or unchanging, but because the limits drawn in a measure of time presuppose an unlimited breadth from which they can be cut. Time, in other words, is unconditioned condition. There has to be time in order to have concern for time, but one does not need to have concern for time in order to have time. It is in these spaces of a lack of concern for counting that the hidden essence of time can be directly sighted.
Earlier when moving through the Chateaux car on my way to the dome, I noticed that I was not connected to the walls of the car. The car jumps up and down, and side to side, and I remain still. My connection to the car is contingent on surfaces which I apply forces to. If at any moment the surfaces of the car ceased to resist me, I would fall down to the tracks and be killed. However, this does not mean the tracks or even gravity are connected to me. I am connected to the earth through gravity in exactly the same way as the car through its floor and chairs – gravity like them is a force which exerts a resistance against me. I can feel this directly when I try to move against it, as in jumping. This line of thinking raises a difficult problem, however: if the car does not have a hold on me other than through its surfaces, and gravity does not have a hold on me other than through a force, experientially similar to a surface in that I experience it as a resistance, then what does have a hold on me. Where am I if I am not sitting in this car, moving on the earth?