They are taking our train away, eliminating Colorado and New Mexico from the line that has stopped at Lamy, New Mexico since 1887; there is some problem with the tracks in Kansas, no one wants to pay for their repair, and so in two years my beloved Southwestern Chief may be southwestern no more, routed down through Texas, leaving us stranded.
Because its survival is threatened, the train is even more dear to me, every shake and rattle on the rails like the final shake and rattle of a dying heart. Soon, all these passengers will be dispersed: the elderly black couple making their slow way down the corridor, the Amish farmers with their large, uniformed broods, the Scout masters and their charges on their way back east.
None of these people will find their places on the airplanes that are too expensive, too hideously uncomfortable, too corseted with the restrictions of our fear-obsessed times to be feasible. How they or we or I will travel, who knows?
And where will these amiable porters, these conductors and engineers, find work? The world of the train is ending just as we are beginning to take the threat to the climate seriously, just as we are seeing that there must be an alternative to cars and planes.
Nothing makes sense anymore.
I am left with our secular religion: the great glittering mind-numbing mall here in southern California, hundreds of times bigger than Versailles, glittering with a thousand, a million lights, festooned with platoons of objects someone somewhere can’t live without. The ghastly fake cheer of Christmas submerges us this day after Thankgiving, the tinny recorded carols worn thin as shreds, the parking attendants in red hats with white pompoms—they will have to wear these for a month!—the signs for sales that seem like a subdued scream—fifty percent off, fifty percent more off what is already fifty percent off—but doesn’t that reduce the price to zero?—racks and racks of winter-colored gowns (this is what this particular trip is in search of) in eggplant, rust, black, dark green, festooned with this season’s password, sequins, some of them already littering the carpet. They will all be gone by the new year, dispersed not to buyers but to some ultimate sale which must result in the rag heap, containers full of dark-colored shreds shipped back to China.
How can there be a connection, what could it possibly be, between the train they are about to kill and this great palace of consumption, this alter to the gods of commerce, this obscene city of dreams?
Dreams bring us here, dreams of beauty, of love, of success, of renown, and then we go away again, not having found the magic that will restore to us what we know we deserve, but determined to come back again, tomorrow or the next day, to search the racks again, to solicit the advice of patient weary saleswomen who see the possible in the impossible—a tuck here, a hem there—and then are left beached on our refusal to find promise in what is lacking in all promise except for what is extracted by the price tag.
Each of these more or less hideous gowns must earn its space on the racks, its inch of display, and if our mood has been misjudged—not purple but magenta, not sequins but lace—the tremor of failure will be felt somewhere, in some remote salesroom or office. Someone will be held responsible although in fact it is the nature of our dreams that is responsible, the longing to possess what can never be possessed: beauty, love, life.
The train offers us a brief respite from the agony of dreams, or at least of the pursuit of dreams. The little temporary community created in the dining car where strangers talk to strangers as we never do in any other setting solves, for a half hour or so, the ache in the heart.
Now, beyond the palm trees of this resort town, the sunset has turned the sky a vivid blazing orange. Perhaps our only hope lies in watching the colors fade and believing that somehow, somewhere, there will be another day.