(train, the lingering malaise of british rail, strangely, yet more ndas)
Durham Station is a game of two halves. There’s the waiting area, a fancy newly-built hall hollowed out from one of the city’s copious old tobacco warehouses (the tobacco may be long gone, but the infrastructure left behind has been a great boon to the city centre in many respects), and then there’s the platform, a single track with little shelter in a downpour, no signage of any kind, and all in all, it makes Haddenham and Thame Parkway look like Euston Station. At least Thame can spring for a on-track noticeboard as opposed to train delays being communicated by whisper and rumour.
So, yes, in my infinite wisdom, I decided to take the train to Charlotte for my trip this weekend. I looked at the Megabus but thought that a Friday night would see me get caught in traffic, and flying would just have been silly (though I ended up doing it quite a bit when I was flying out to LA a couple of years back). And besides, I hadn’t taken the train south before. What could possibly go wrong?
Two hours later than planned, and somewhat wet, we finally boarded the train. As much as I give Amtrak a hard time and needle Americans about the state of their railways (come on, I’m British - we have to hear everybody in Europe laugh at our rail network - when the shoe is on the other foot, it’s only fair), their rolling stock is pretty impressive - a hulking (if sometimes short) arrangement of bright shiny silver steel, almost comically oversized.
(and somewhat roomy. The train I’m on right now seems to be missing a row of seats in every aisle. Seriously, you could double the occupancy of a carriage and still have more legroom than you would on an average coach plane seat)
Unfortunately, arriving two hours late in Charlotte meant that I didn’t have time for any of the planned activities that night. And my meeting on Saturday morning got cancelled too, so there was nothing else for it. It was time to up sticks and go to South Carolina.
It turns out that Columbia, SC is only an hour away from Charlotte, and that’s where Tammy moved back to after she finished her course at Duke earlier in the year. So she came up to give me a lift and I ended up spending most of the weekend in a completely different state, being given a guided tour of her and Robert’s house that ended when dramatic cats became more interesting, a dinner party full of Yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes, but a horrifying lack of HP sauce, several hypnosis attempts, oh, and most importantly, my first ever hands-on experience with an iPad Air.
(kidding! It was a fun weekend, and we somehow managed to make enough food and in time for everybody turning up, along with also making two different types of hot chocolate. It’s almost like it was planned. It’s also great to meet people who have an even worse book problem than I do. It’s useful having a list of names you can give out to make yourself look better after Christmas when you’re hauling about ten hardbacks across the Atlantic. Er, yes.)
Meanwhile, it’s still daylight on my return trip back to Durham, and I can at last see he scenery. Lots of road, mainly, though some some nice views of old, seemingly abandoned farmhouses by lakes. Look closer though, and you can see cars parked outside. Must get cold in the Winter.
Old warehouses with spur railway lines that run parallel and merge with the main track, but overgrown and sunk into the ground. How they used to live.
Running through the subdivisions old and new, the trains coming in to see the rear of cities, the parts they hide from the cars and the roads. New developments, established suburbia, Main Street with a queue for people waiting to get lunch on a warm Autumn day. The train moves on, into industry, junkyards, concrete mixers, old tobacco factories with their huge chimneys, now transformed into offices that work on clouds. Next stop, Durham Station…