Oh what a beautiful thing it is. Yesterday I snuck out of my apartment and hopped aboard BART—a series of snaking underground and above-ground lines that link the city of San Francisco to the East Bay—and it might’ve been for the first time in nearly two years.
I had forgotten what a delight it is to abandon a car, to be untethered from a motorcycle. I had forgotten what it was like to grab a backpack and at a moment’s notice simply walk onto a station, hop on a train, and boom—you’re in a whole other place.
All those trains! London, Plymouth, Nottingham, Reading, Paris, Berlin. I had no idea how much I took them all for granted because my late teens and twenties were dominated by trains; I practically lived on the line between Plymouth and London, then Plymouth and Nottingham. And on those trains I can’t imagine how many miles of hedge rows and seaside towns I’ve seen whip pass the window as my nose was glued to a book, my eyes only peeking out over the top every once in a while.
The reading! Reading is most certainly the best part of any train ride. There’s no car sickness, no cramped feeling of being stuck in a seat. There’s just books and books and books on a train.
I haven’t ever been able to put this into words so please bare with me and it’s difficult to grasp the scale of it all until you’re here in America—but one of the worst things about this place is the car culture. Roads dominate the landscape and pedestrians aren’t even an afterthought. I remember looking at a beach not so long ago—a five minute walk at best—and saying to someone “I’m walking to the beach.” And the person turned to me and said “You can’t. You need a car to get over there.” I laughed at the ridiculousness of that but I realized they weren’t joking. There was simply no path for people to walk on over there.
This is going to sound melodramatic but outside of SF it truly feels as if the whole country has been built without people in mind. And yet because of the sheer accessibility of our trains in the UK, it wasn’t odd for me to live without a driver’s license at all. Why would I need one? I happily chose the train each and every time.
And even if motorcycles are punk rock as hell, a train is something else; a train is a place where serious reading can be done.