Adventures in urban commuting
Downotwn Albuquerque station
I am a train addict.
As a kid I wanted nothing more, during a family trip to Washington DC, than to ride the subway. Sure, there was history and pandas at the zoo and, well, whatever. I’d never been on a subway before and that was what I wanted to do.
Last spring I took a trip to Europe, the progressive continent filled, at least in the American mind, with trains. I rode from Oxford to London, London to Paris (first class—a meal, white and red wine, plus champagne!), regular class on the way back and up the coast of Ireland after an all-night ferry across the sea. I’ve got stubs from the urban trains in Dublin, London, Paris, New York, Chicago and St. Louis, all from the last 13 months.
I feel like I could ride the train forever, but I live in Santa Fe. Aside from an occasional day trip to Albuquerque, there’s not much reason to ride the train, until now. Now that I’ll be commuting to Albuquerque a few days a week, I’ve got my monthly pass, figured out how to load my bike onto the Rail Runner and have even tweeted using the WiFi.
It just so happens that today is “Take the Bus or Train Day,” according to the City of Albuquerque web site. I’ve been a bike commuter for years and was disappointed I wouldn’t be able to take part in Bike to Work Week—which ABQ has modified into “Strive Not to Drive”—because of the commute. Instead, I’ve now got the best of both worlds. I’m a super commuter, biking to the train station, riding between two distant cities, and again hopping on my bike to do errands around the city.
In the coming weeks and months, as I transition to from Santa Fe village life to that of a full blown Albuquerque city girl, I want to break the unspoken cardinal rule of public transport: Mind your own business. I know why I’m here, but I want to know who else is on the train, why they want to ride the rails between the two cities, and what they do to keep occupied during the hour and a half-long ride.
In Santa Fe, if we have to drive more than 15 minutes, we consider it a road trip, complete with drinks and snacks. When my friends found out I’d be riding the train they thought I was crazy, “all the way to Albuquerque!?” several have gasped.
“It’s better than driving,” I always respond. (Plus, some local businesses in both cities offer riders discounts! w00t!)
Coincidentally, I just finished Haruki Murakami’s Underground, a fascinating look at the victims of the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin gas attacks. Nearly everyone Murakami interviewed had a commute between one and two hours each way. It’s an everyday part of city life, but instead of being stuck in a tunnel, I get glorious views. Of course, I also get [ahem, hint, hint] a fairly inconvenient train schedule that either forces me to leave Albuquerque by 6:30 pm, stay the night or drive.
It’s easy to understand why the train isn’t part of everyday life for people in both Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Though trains in the West have a romantic history, the Southwest is a car culture. No one thinks about Route 66 and imagines a train, we think of fenders and the open road, of roadside diners and rattlesnakes. Trains here are for freight, or tourists. But in a world where it’s cheaper to send plastic bottles all the way to China for recycling, it’s also time to connect distant cities without ruining the landscape that sits between them.
That’s especially important for us in New Mexico. We stay here because of the mountains and open space, we don’t want our cities to sprawl and connect the way Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs have done in the last 30 years, but we also don’t want to be completely isolated from one another either.