TRAINS OF THOUGHT

All my life I have been thrilled by the names of famous trains. The Orient Express from Paris to Istanbul, the Train Bleu rushing through the night to the Riviera, the Flying Scotsman and the Brighton Belle rolling north and south from London, the Twentieth Century Limited, the Santa Fe Chief and Super Chief crossing the vast continent of America — these were magical names to people of my generation, but on a dark November evening in 1963 the rather dingy train awaiting us in the Zurich station offered no interest until, at a second glance, I noticed that under the grime it bore a name in letters which had once been of polished brass — the Wiener Waltzer [Vienna Waltz]! My spirits rose. How charming, how romantic and how right, I thought, for I was on my way to Vienna to play the part of Johann Strauss in a picture.
–Brian Aherne, English-American actor (1902-86)

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I, too, have long been fascinated by trains — probably since the age of 12, when I traveled with my family by train from Cincinnati to Mexico City. Perhaps my most vivid memory of that trip: the elegant dining car, lined on each side of the aisle with tables covered by immaculate white tablecloths topped by spotless linens and tableware, at which we would sit like ‘big wheels’ eating leisurely meals as the scenery rolled by. “Dinner in the diner, nothing could be finer” — like the old song, now echoing back over time.

On the wall near where I sit as I write this post, hangs a large 1966 calendar published by the Union Pacific Railroad (“Road of the Domeliners”). Above each month is a color photo of a scene which is presumably within viewing or dreaming distance of a Domeliner: Sun Valley, Idaho; Morro Bay, California; Heceta Head Lighthouse, Oregon; Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona; a covered bridge somewhere in northern California; and so on. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge in 51 years.

But the handwriting was already on the wall for iconic streamliners in America by 1966. Numbered were the days of such storied trains as the CHATTANOOGA CHOO CHOO and railroads like THE ATCHISON, TOPEKA AND THE SANTA FE. Sad to say, the new kid on the track, AMTRAC, would lack their imagery….not to mention, their soundtrack songs from films such as SUN VALLEY SERENADE (1941) and THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946):

Those were the days, my friend. Clickety-clack, echoing back. It’s enough to give one the….

NOTE: I will be taking a one-post break. Until my next post on June 20, keep your dreams intact and your hopes on track.

 

 

HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU, KID

All I ever wanted was for someone to know what’s inside me. -Dane Clark to Ida Lupino, death scene, DEEP VALLEY, 1947

Surrounded by color,
now we look back
at memories of ourselves
and see that no
one knew us as did
our celluloid stand-ins.
Not our parents.
Not our siblings.
Not our friends.
Not even ourselves.

The stuff dreams
were made of?
It was all
up there
in black
and white.
But
it
all
wentbysofast.

 

LONG TIME, KNOW, SEE….

[To] someone with a longer perspective, someone looking at us, we’d look like a bunch of ants on a log, running around. And every hundred years, it’s like somebody flushes the toilet and the entire planet is changed. –Woody Allen

I have lived, not a hundred years, but almost as long as the 78 year old Woody Allen —  long enough to appreciate where he’s coming from. It’s a different world from the one I grew up in the years preceding, during and after World War II, with a culture so completely changed that if I’d fallen asleep in that generation and awakened in this one, I might think that either I or the world had lost its marbles. Indeed, it’s like somebody flushed the toilet, and the marble in space we call earth became a different planet.

Now, I’m nostalgic about a lot of things, but I’m not one of those antedeluvians with rose-colored glasses about the past. There have been changes for the better and for the worse, and as much as I mourn the loss of what was (or seemed) wonderful then, it wasn’t all wonderful by a long shot. Those who “want their America back” want an America that never was whole or without shortcomings.

I would love to get that America back where drugs were a relative anomaly.

I would hate to get that America back where racism was as normal as everyday life.

I would love to get that America back where mean-spirited discourse wasn’t fuckin’ de rigueur (if you’ll pardon my French).

I would hate to get that America back where censorship trumped artistic freedom.

I would love to get that America back where the good things in life were more intrinsic than superficial.

I would hate to get that America back where the likes of McCarthyism fanned jingoist fears and ruined careers.

I would love to get that America back where popular music knew the meaning of sophisticaton.

I would hate to get that America back where the average lifespan for men in the year I was born was 56 1/2 years. By all rights, if I’d fallen asleep in that generation, I should’ve died before I woke up in the present generation. Talk about exceptionalism! Is this a great country, or what?