Train travel

The old Venturan Express

Train travel is the swish and the clack. The unfurling landscape. The suspended pockets of heat when air conditioning fails. I rode a cold winter train from Paris to Brussels and received tiny chocolates with my coffee. I rode a hot summer train from Florence to Riomaggiore, and every square inch was packed with Italian teenagers – nylon shorts, Invicta backpacks – smoking cigarettes, hanging out the windows to beat the heat.

Train travel somehow gives a trip a narrative. The land is dormant, the train is alive. Foreign languages pass back and forth; degrees of social rank perhaps seem less important. My father wearily spent much of his life riding a Metro-North train to and from Manhattan, he told me once, “Don’t ever commute.” But I’m pretty sure he enjoyed the locomotion of it, the time away from the suburbs, an hour or two alone to read or do the crossword. He and his commuting buddies used to tear down a poster advertisement for an impromptu card table and play Hearts.

Trains have moods, unlike airplanes. At dawn or dusk, the disposition changes noticeably in people, as if the dawn or dusk entered the railcar itself. It’s easier for me to be romantic about trains probably because I understand their machinery a little better: how an engine propels itself, compared to how jets miraculously fly through the air. A train ride makes me both meditative and optimistic. There’s time to realize I don’t miss home yet, and that I don’t know what I’ll be doing next.

All of this was prompted by an Amtrak ride this week, during which I rode an hour and a half from Burbank to Ventura in Business Class, which cost about thirty bucks. What does Business Class cost on a flight of a similar duration? Honestly, the amenities are practically the same.

Book update! Folks in the Midwest, catch me this Sunday on the radio with WGN’s “After Hours with Rick Kogan.” I was born in Chicago, where both sides of my family are from, so this should be a treat.

For anybody in Los Angeles, a couple of in-person (and Covid-safe-ish) events are being planned; watch this space.

A new excerpt from the book was published by The LAnd Magazine last week, a favorite local publication. I was also interviewed in GQ by my editor there, Geoff Gagnon.

I love the little nuggets you dig up about modern LA. Like this one: There are more than 90 languages spoken in the public schools. Which facts blew you away?

How about the wilderness side? According to researchers at UCLA, Los Angeles is home to more than 4,000 species of animals and plants, including several dozen endangered species – which is more than any county outside of Hawaii. I know L.A. has a reputation for being a concrete kingdom – for plenty of good reasons – but it’s also an incredible place to live if you enjoy the outdoors.

You can read the whole thing over here.

I’ve said it before, but let me say it again: thank you, thank you to everybody who’s bought the book, shared the book, hyped the book, left a review online somewhere, anything. I worked really hard on this book for about three years, mostly in isolation, so it’s been deeply meaningful to see it in so many hands.

What the what? A (mostly) weekly newsletter by novelist Rosecrans Baldwin of (very) short essays about things he finds beautiful.

Rosecrans’s new nonfiction book, Everything Now: Lessons From the City-State of Los Angeles, is available from BookshopAmazon, or your local store. Check it out!

Any other books mentioned in this newsletter are featured on a list at Bookshop.