I lived across the way from a train station, not quite across the street but parallel to the street I grew up on. You took one of the streets to the left or the right, then down, and then left or right again depending on whether you were moved in particular by Thompson or Anderson Streets. I usually took the Thompson side. This train station made us, the tiny little Italian town of Raritan, New Jersey, desirable.
It was a gateway to the metropolis and defined the life of the commuter- you know, the ones who had that life, that job just different than what you saw around you or right next door. A life that held just a tiny bit of curiosity, a little bit of wonder, and possibly a tiny kernel of fear.
In home videos of myself, at least three years old, I was enamored by the train horn. It was powerful enough to stop a toddler from playing house in the backyard to run to the driveway and watch for the source of this elusive sound. I asked where it was going and my parents would tell me High Bridge. What heaven! The greatness of which my curly-haired head couldn’t bear. This sound was a sound of unlimited possibilities starting and stopping with High Bridge.
Everywhere I’ve lived and everywhere I’ve traveled, I still hear that train horn, that distinct noise and it’s no different than what that curly-haired three-year old heard. This time though, I know who is on those trains at rush hour at 9am and even at 3am coming home at night. I’ve been on those trains in and out of New York, heading back to college or when I was commuting to work. I know them well and I know where to transfer and I know where the Dunkin’ Donuts oasis lays at Newark Penn Station.
When I lived in Houston, I heard the same sounds. It was the train with steel materials rushing and bringing massive structures to and from the Gulf. It’s the sound of the trains running through the desert in Tucson with concrete piping. Both of these, I know now last forever and you should do your damnedest to avoid them at the crosswalk near the house. Outside on the stoop of my rented apartment in New Orleans, I smiled when I heard the sound. I knew it had a purpose but one day, I’ll figure out where that one goes. In Mexico, it’s not quite a train but the gas truck that gives off a fleeting flare that brings me a sigh of relief knowing that I’m not the only one filling this space.
It’s funny how as that curly-haired kid, my eyes opened wide with a sense of wanderlust staring for the train in my New Jersey driveway. A wanderlust, I can say that I think I’ve somewhat proudly achieved in my twelve years away from home, one on many levels, that has deeply satisfied my curiosity from Bangkok to High Bridge, New Jersey.
Nowadays, the best part is that I hear the horn or the flare and I rush out from playing house to see where it might be going. Funny enough, though, it’s not the sense of wonder this time around but the comfort that it reminds of being home.