It may not be the fastest, but train travel is arguably the most inspiring way to get from Point A to Point B. The imagery associated with the train is in itself capable of inciting magical thinking: a conductor standing alongside a monstrous exterior in a uniform that, no matter how contemporary, always seems emblematic of the past. Inside, windows stretch vastly and you, or someone just like you, sits and peers outside, in awe of a mountainous view she could not have imagined.
It’s the backdrop of countless works of literature, a source of inspiration for poets, and the iconic backdrop embellishing our most-loved films–if you’ve seen Before Sunrise starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, for example, you, like me, have probably spent the past 20 years preparing to fall in love with a stranger onboard. In other words, artistic representations of train travel have always led us to believe that our ticket aboard has the capacity to take us straight to our next life-altering moment.
But it’s not all about romantic love—the platonic bonds formed amongst passengers is a whole other story worth telling.
Whether it is the knowledge of a long journey ahead, the close proximity of strangers, or the gentle, comforting, and consistent sway, train travel incites even the most introverted to extend past their comfort zone. At least that is what Brittany Spencer and I found when we travelled out west with VIA Rail.
In June, Brittany and I boarded The Canadian in Vancouver with the goal of capturing great conversations amongst passengers for Challenge for Change. There, we met Linda Baca and Janice Harvey, two women journeying back east to Toronto. When we met them, Linda and Janice were enjoying a glass of wine each, swapping stories as they looked out the window in one of the train’s observation decks.
They had been travelling separately, one on her way to a wedding, the other heading home. After being seated in the dining car together on their first day aboard, two women who were perfect strangers just days prior were suddenly fast friends, waking each other up in the morning and spending breakfast, lunch, and dinner time together.
It was a familiar scenario for me and Brittany. Although we went to journalism school together, we had been set on different tracks early on, her pursuing documentary film while I took on feature writing. We hardly knew each other before we started working at Challenge for Change, but after months at a job that has taken us from coast-to-coast together with little space apart, it is safe to say we found friendship aboard the train like so many others.
Newfound friendships are almost synonymous with train travel, as passengers prepare for long journeys with people they have never met but are sure to grow fond of. You’re likely to strike up a conversation sometime in the hours or days-long commute. You may even share a reading nook with someone, or start jamming on the guitar to pass the time. You’ll likely be dining with a new group of people each day, sharing stories in between sightings of wildlife that, for a brief moment, will unexpectedly appear just outside your window.
Connections like this is what Challenge for Change is all about. Everyday, we miss opportunities to relate to one another, but aboard the train, nobody stays a stranger for long. It may be that the connection that we so desperately need is best found there. Afterall, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey, and you never know where a great conversation can take you.