Why I Won’t Board the Train to Fantasyland

Posted: May 11, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty. 

The other day, I got stopped by railroad tracks near my house. It was one of those obnoxiously long freights that seemed to stretch endlessly into the Nowheresville, Illinois cornfields. I didn’t mind, though. I had nowhere urgent to be, and it was a beautiful day out. Dare I say it was pleasant sitting there with my windows open, music on, and the randomly connected graffiti letters speaking to me in an unknown language.

Whenever I’m stopped at a train like this, I usually have two thoughts. The first is, “Isn’t there a law about how long these damn things can be?” The second is that I imagine running alongside the train and grabbing hold of one of the ladders, pulling myself up and riding off into the sunny blue horizon to some place only easily accessible by train, like Hogwarts or downtown Chicago. I tell myself that one of these days, I’m going to do it.

But I won’t.

First of all, when grabbing for the ladder, I suspect the force of the moving train would tear my arm straight off my body. (Yes? Science teachers? Can you confirm this? Would I suffer but a flesh wound like the Black Knight?)

Secondly, train hopping is illegal. And I’m a good boy and a law abiding U.S. citizen. (Cue the Lee Greenwood….)

But those aren’t the predominant reasons keeping me from doing it, because what’s a lost arm and some jail time if you end up having a good time, right?

The main reason I don’t do it is the inevitable disappointment. The unspoken, unimagined conclusion to this fantasy is that I wouldn’t know where I was being swept away to, but when the train stopped I would be somewhere interesting. I’ve left this part of the fantasy so unimagined that I can’t even define what an acceptable “interesting” place would be. Would it be a big, bustling city I’ve never been to, like New York? Would it be a quaint, secluded town in the sparsely populated areas of America? Would it be another country, like Canada or Narnia? I simply haven’t thought that out, and I don’t want to it. The mystery is the real charm of the fantasy.


Paul Gaszak?

However, what keeps me from getting on that train is that I do know what would be an unacceptable ending, and those endings are the far more likely than rolling to a halt in a land of talking animals. This particular train was moving straight west. It may have gone just a few more miles to Joliet. Not exactly magical, but at least I could go to the casino.

Or maybe it carried on to the western border of Illinois, or into Iowa. I could have left my mundane hometown cornfields behind for…more cornfields.

Or maybe it was heading to that enormous train depot in Kansas City. I don’t particularly care to risk limb and legality over some barbeque.

The fantasy is as fleeting as the train itself. It passed and carried out of sight around a bend. The arm of the train signal raised and I shifted back into drive. I was headed home, back to a place where every inch is familiar and the wild animals don’t understand a word I’m saying.

  1. MSJ says:

    Paul, you are not the only one with these thoughts. Everyday on the Green Line platform, I watch the big freight trains go by, and I think, “What would happen if I jumped that train.” It must have to do with the romance of the unknown. Our destiny will be completely out of our hands if we jump aboard. Of course, I instead catch the ‘L”, and end up at RMU.

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