Modern train stations are not made with any sense of romance—that is a shame. I have been stranded a few times, for an hour’s time, at the Millbrae Caltrain/Bart station, which, in terms of the Bay area, is in the middle of nowhere.
“Please do not ride your bicycle while on Bart,” says a gritty speaker, somewhere.
Two years ago, maybe more, I was here at night, a reasonably temperatured night, and I was very hungry. I may have had a small dinner, but it had been at least four hours earlier. Knowing I had almost two hours before the next train would come because the late weekend trains are more infrequent, I wandered out into the urban neverness, seeking any kind of quick snack. There was a diner on the corner but I didn’t want to sit—it felt necessary to retrieve something for consumption at the station. Outside the diner and across the street, I saw a gas station with a convenience store, and went to it. The street was wide; it seemed like a dozen lanes in the night, like one of those giant black tracks through the unnatural land that acts as a slow urban artery—not the main vein, not an important one, but a thick one. I crossed it and went into the store and bought a candy bar with a bottled coffee drink. I used their restroom too—that was another motivator which I’ve just now recalled. And I came back to the train station with my candy and drink and unwrapped it, and ate it, quickly and lustfully. That word is a hair from what I mean to say, but in terms of candy and hunger, you understand fine. It was not very satisfying.
The station is all concrete and metal. I suppose all are. A French train station, like Gare du Nord or d’Orsay, which started out as a station, is also concrete and metal, but done right. Of course those kinds of stations are plentiful in America as well, I think, but not here; this is for business and those are for fun. Modern stations, or, transit centers, are made to work—and that is all.
That night at the station was as a little sad and a little lonely. The electric light is unfriendly, and the dead hum of the rails is foreboding. It had been a good day with a good friend in the city, and there was a nice kind of love between us, like we had been childhood companions, but weren’t. The day was over and the sun was down and I was alone eating candy in the cold of the train station with irritable strangers.
It is better today at the station, perhaps because I began the day alone and nothing was lost, and it was still good; the sun is not down and is kind with warmth—not the bad heat the can sometimes come in California, but the gentle sort of warmth of later afternoons. The station is still ugly and dead like a skeleton but I was smart enough, this time, to bring paper and pen for the empty minutes.