June 06, 2005

Riding Backwards

The seats face both ways on the trains that run from Sacramento to the San Francisco Bay area. Returning from the bay area after a meeting at my church's regional office, I boarded the train, and sat down in one of the backward facing seats. Then I noticed that the engine is actually at the back of the train, pushing, and I wondered if perhaps it was the train, and not me, that was facing backward.

Now the train is moving. Out the window I see grassy hills rising above Suisun Bay. The grass has almost completed its annual transformation from green to golden brown. The green lasted longer this year, due to our unusually wet winter and spring, but in California, the summer drought is inevitable. Despite the constant state of change that seems to characterize California, that's one thing that doesn't change, the fact that in summer, the rains will stop. The golden brown hills of summer are as much if not more responsible for California's nickname --- the Golden State --- than the shiny metal that brought all those people to the west coast a century and a half ago.

Oak trees dot some of the hills. If they were white, they would look like so many little clouds that got tired of being in the sky, and settled down to earth to rest. Often, the clouds actually do descend to the ground, as the marine layer flows over the hilltops in slow motion, sinking into the valleys, chasing the heat of summer farther inland.

The train passes through the backyards of several communities on its way to and from the bay. Once, on a trip I took a few years ago, I saw two boys greet the passing train by turning their backs to it and dropping their pants. Most of the people who were riding that day were working on their laptops, listening to music on their headphones, or talking on their cell phones, and paid no attention. I don't think they even noticed. Some people never notice anything, it seems.

It's probably all for the best that the welcoming committee of two did not greet us today. Most of those who ride the trains of the Capitol Corridor are seasoned commuters, but today, a group of riders that do notice things is riding. They're elementary school children, on their way home from an end-of-the-school-year field trip. Their purple t-shirts say "King Ave. School." A few are carrying bags of souvenirs from the Aquarium of the Pacific in San Francisco. I watch with amusement the constant parade past my seat of kids going to the restroom or getting a snack from the dining car. Not far from me, in the middle of the car where the forward-facing seats meet the rear facing seats so that two rows of two seats face each other, there sits four teachers, their attempts at conversation and gossip interrupted by requests to go get more M&Ms, another bag of chips, a soda.

As we pull out of the Davis station, I put away the pen and paper I used to record these observations. The next stop is mine. It is also where the schoolchildren will be getting off. The teachers stop their conversation and begin counting heads, walking up and down the aisle, repeating over and over, "Make sure you have all your stuff."

1 comment:

jo(e) said...

I love train rides. Usually, there's interesting stuff outside the window -- and great opportunities for people watching on the inside.

I can't ride backwards though. It makes me motion sick.