Monday, September 18, 2006


"my ears hear a symphony of two mules, trains and rain"--Dylan

Trains in the rain are poetic enough; you feel like you're in the heart of some hard-bitten novel about life on the rails, bumming with the nomad people...or maybe you're just awake too early, sitting on Amtrak near a family bound for New York. And you've got a CD player feeding your ears Dylan's new one while the guy in the seat behind confers on his cell with a woman named Gail about how much money he's been losing in card games. He tells her he'll be wearing his porkpie hat when they meet. Solid, Jackson!

The vistas Amtrak rides through are as beat as any hobo could wish. I found myself studying the graffiti, my attention no doubt inspired by Jonathen Lethem's Fortress of Solitude which I read in June (more on that later, maybe). I found the big puffy letters way too standard and liked whenever anyone introduced a distinctive color sense. But why were some naked spaces seeming to cry for graffiti left unadorned?

The Septa local to Norristown (the town of Norris?) afforded the only "sight": riverfront houses on the Wissahickon in Miquon, an area where the scenery made me recall great battles of the Revolutionary War and such. Best soundtrack moment: pulling into Philly's 30th street station as George Harrison went into the fade on the long version of "Isn't It a Pity."

Malls"he looks pretty good and he's knockin' 'em dead down at the mall"--Greg Brown

Whoever King of Prussia was, he can claim one gargantuan mall in his name. This seems to have become my mall of preference, maybe because my wife always seems happy to spend money there and if my wife's happy to spend money then I'm happy. But it's also because the layout features the mall equivalent to boulevards (spacious! great for pushing a kid in a stroller) and because the light inside is the kind of filtered daylight that I associate with museums -- natural history museums, and because I don't know my way around at all and am perpetually surprised by where I am, here in this living exhibit of how people spent money in the early years of the 21st century.

Fields"this was a shopping mall, now it's turned into a cornfield"--Talking Heads

New Jersey has lots of fields, still. I know this is the East Coast corridor known for its unceasing and unappealing suburban sprawl, but there ARE still fields in southern Jersey. They stretch far and wide separating the two lane roads with no curbs and not much shoulder where I and a friend and friend's son hiked along for a few hours in sun that got more and more intense, as sun will. But it's late summer in Jersey, how bad can it be? Those fields, filled with vegetation whose names I'll probably never know, boasting an occasional silo, path, outbuilding, pond, also separate the older homes from the newbies springing up as yuppies build ostentatious homes in the sticks, to kick back, far from the civilization that pursues them in the form of stripmalls and commuter crawls and mysterious attractions like "the Oasis Ballroom" which boasts "dancing" "receptions" "sandwiches" on placards in windows with blinds closed.

"a prisoner of the lines, the fine white lines, of the lines on the free, free way"--Joni Mitchell

If you don't take the train, you take the freeway. The irony of the freeway is that it's not free -- it costs money (the tolls, paid by EZ Pass, kept telling me my balance was low -- that's true in many senses I'm sure) and speed restrictions are set not only by posted limits but by the long line of fellow travelers caught in the same northward expansion on this mellow late summer Sunday, crawling from here to there . . . eventually (as Steppenwolf would say). I won't even talk about the "blue route" (the name has suddenly acquired new meaning) last Friday afternoon en route to NJ because those stout yeomen and yeowomen who face it regularly would no doubt gnash teeth at my parvenu status. Colossal bummer, this creeping caravan of automotive zombies. The best soundtrack moment (in the car): crawling up the NJ TP and hearing (on "deep tracks" on satellite radio) a little known and mostly forgotten Kinks track from 1979 (the beginning of the gas shortage): "A Gallon of Gas ... can't be purchased any more for any amount of cash . . ." Highway '79 Revisited: fitting, since everything from the Delaware Memorial to the Trumbull Street exit on 91 is déjà vu and ripe with the nostalgia of fossil fuels long gone to ozone.


Anonymous said...

Are there snakes on these trains in the rain?

Donald Brown said...

didn't notice any, but I did see Judas Iscariot carrying John Wilkes Booth...