A Selection of Trains and Train Platforms by
(40 Stories)

Prompted By Planes and Trains

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I’ve always liked trains, especially those that are clean and fast, and headed south to Pennsylvania Station in New York, and before that Grand Central Station in New York.   Come to think of it, only those trains.

I've always liked trains, especially those that are clean and fast, and headed south to Pennsylvania Station in New York...

I didn’t like the endless overnight milk train from DC to Back Bay Station in April, 1975, when the car was frothing with heat from a busted heat system, and grungy transients hopped on and off in the wee hours at the many Palookaville stations along the way, spreading distress that they might come close to me, unless they happened to be winsome girls as lonely as I, which they never were; and then disembarking into the pale Boston dawn faced with no prospects, assuming none of the long shot interviews I was in DC for bore fruit, assuming those are deemed prospects rather than dead ends, not the romantic prospect kind I was in the market for, the career prospect kind that felt like strangulation.

I also didn’t like the train I escaped Prague on (headed West on the eve of Soviet tanks invading from the East), back in August 1968, because I came close to disaster on that one when I stepped down to the station platform somewhere in Bavaria to buy a sandwich, and no sooner did I turn my back to the train then it started chugging out of the station with all my possessions on board. “Whoa,” I yelped, jumping back aboard, barely. I don’t know what might have happened. I don’t remember whether my passport was with me or on the train. I suppose things would have sorted out in due course, unless I did something stupid, something else stupid, which put me alone in the dark, on a ghost train, or following crumbs to a Gingerbread House, in smiling Deutschland (home to the Holocaust).

I felt badly about the fate of the Czechs , re-iron-fisted by the Russians from then until 1989. I have always wanted to learn from history.

I also hold melancholy memories of standing on the train platform at Rte 128 Station waving goodbye to my son or daughter as they headed back to college or work after a vacation home. Catching a glimpse of the future, as the train disappeared. Chugga chugga choo choo.  And not to be forgtten, my childhood dream featuring my blank-faced mother, sitting still in an MBTA trolley, leaving.

A college friend of mine reportedly became a hobo and rode the rails, like you read about in the hobo literature and see in the hobo movies and hear in the hobo songs. “Freedom’s just another word for nothing else to lose…” sings Janis, with my accompaniment.

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Here is what I said about myself on the back page of my 2020 humor/drama/politico novel "The Debutante (and the Bomb Factory)" (edited here, for clarity):

"Jonathan Canter Is a retIred attorney; widower; devoted father and grandfather (sounds like my obit); lifelong resident of Greater Boston; graduate of Harvard College (where he was an editor of The Harvard Lampoon); fan of waves and wolves; sporadic writer of dry and sometimes dark humor (see "Lucky Leonardo" (Sourcebooks, 2004), funny to the edge of tears); gamesman (see "A Crapshooter’s Companion"(2019), existential thriller and life manual); and part-time student of various ephemeral things."

The Deb and Lucky are available on Amazon. The Crapshooter is available by request to the author in exchange for a dinner invitation.

Characterizations: funny, moving, well written


  1. Suzy says:

    Actually Janis sang “nothing LEFT to lose” rather than “nothing else.” I realize it’s the same idea, but thought you would want to know.

    Wonderful story about mostly terrible train experiences. Glad you made it back onto the train in Bavaria. And that you like the Boston-to-New York trains, even if not any others. This was fun to read! Puzzled about your pics at the end though.

    • All of my experiences, good and bad and hard to tell, go into a giant cauldron where they boil and bubble like premordial glop. Turning into crunchy stew. Food for thought. Scraps for the dog. Glop.
      Thank you for the lyric correction.
      I like the Bobby McGee song a lot; Janis recalls or invents a paradise on the road, just the essentials: Me and Bobby singing every song we ever knew. I understand that Janis was a lonely girl. See anecdote in Just Kids; Janis gets ditched at the end of the night for a prettier girl. At the Chelsea Hotel bar.
      The end pics? Some perspective on great distances in space, and over the ocean, and time. The middle pic is courtesy of the Hubble camera on the left and the new more advanced and vivid spaceship 🚀 camera (infrared) on the right.
      The top one you will recognize as our Moon, shining through the clouds. The bottom is the well trodden path to the sea. Yes, not a linear collection. Looking out the train window.

  2. Marian says:

    Jon, what an evocative, moody story about many trains. I really enjoyed learning these memories, even if all of them weren’t happy ones.

    • Marian,
      I am pleased that you enjoyed these selected memories. Not all of them happy? Well, I’m happy to recall them, and add some embroidery, and share them with you. And for what it’s worth, I felt great happiness catching up the departing train.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Haven’t heard the word “hobo” in a long time, Jon. “Freight train, freight train going so fast, Freight train, freight train, going so fast. Please, don’t tell him what train I’m on, so he won’t know where I’ve gone.” I loved singing those old folk songs at camp.

    You’ve had many sad moments on trains, caught up in history – both of the world and of your own. Thanks, as always, for sharing your thoughts.

  4. Dave Ventre says:

    This is a haunting, stream of consciousness sort of tale. I like it but it is sad.

    Luckily my train memories, though relatively few, are good ones. Ridin’ on the City of New Orleans in a sleeper car with Gina, she sleeping as I stared into the night. Watching the cops arrest people near the tracks in Memphis was a highlight. The train from London to Paris was so civilized that I am shocked there is still air service between the two cities. The TGV from Paris to Tours was exciting as I watched the countryside fly by and tried to not think how damn fast we were going down where the cows and cars are. Sitting in a Red Line car in Boston, staring at the floor as usual, only to look up to realize that the guy across the aisle was Garrison Keillor. As you can imagine, we didn’t talk.

    • Dave,
      Trains blow that lonely whistle, you know?
      I like your train memories, except why didn’t you say hey to Garrison? Fellow riders, maybe. As to Janis, I agree her voice and delivery of it were powerful, but I think she was unhappy in herself. There is a poignant chapter about her in Pattie Smith’s memoir Just Kids, hanging w a cute guy at the old Chelsea Hotel on a Saturday night until he dumps her for a cute girl even though Janis has great pipes and is a star.

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