In the midst of reading yet another ponderous article about how North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un believes the U.S. is disrespecting him, and then laboring through the writer’s admonitions about how Kim represents an existential threat to America because of the list of cities he’ll obliterate with the nuclear bombs he may or may not have, I look out the window.
I’m in a train traveling from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth called the Heartland Flyer, which is a clear misnomer since OKC to Fort Worth isn’t “heartland” and the train isn’t flying down the tracks. But as I tear myself away from the latest goings-on in Washington, D.C., and big cities elsewhere, I saw something interesting.
When I say “nothing,” I mean nothing of note, which is not the same thing as saying there’s nothing to see. Instead, I see nothing that matters to me.
If you haven’t ventured outside our city’s breathlessly growing urban playground lately for a train ride through the countryside, I can tell you what you’re missing in one word: Trees. Lots and lots of trees.
We hold trees sacred in Dallas, and they can’t be replaced or altered in any way without drawing someone’s wrath.
In the country, trees line the train tracks like so many birthday candles on grandpa’s cake.
There are other things to see gliding through the country, too. Fields of green and brown and black. Cattle and horses. Worn, old farmsteads abandoned long ago and beaten down by the heat and wind. Mostly deserted downtowns. The occasional oil rig. Mobile homes you can practically reach out and touch. Rusted fences and rusted storage bins and rusted fence posts and rusted cars with bashed-in windshields.
The people getting off and on the train at these remote outposts don’t appear particularly remarkable, either. Parents with small kids who can’t afford to fly. Oilfield workers. Old-timers who can no longer manage the drive up and down Adventure Road’s I-35. Large families traveling together.
They don’t seem worried about Kim’s nuclear arsenal. They likely don’t care about road construction issues in Dallas, or what’s going on with the city’s plan to privatize Fair Park.
To a person, though, people on the train are helpful, if for no other reason than the people running the train aren’t. Helping old people lug heavy bags up and down the train’s narrow, spiraling staircase. Pointing out how to open doors leading from car to car. Commiserating about the inevitability of the train’s late start, late arrival or, more likely, both.
Traveling on a train through forgotten outposts — forgotten, at least, by us city people — is a reminder of how the lives we lead, the concerns we cry about, matter so little to so many.
If North Korea blew Dallas clean off the map, life would go on everywhere else in those places the train glides by.
People in the country are living lives so far from the news — fake or otherwise — they don’t seem to even notice the few minutes it takes the train to lumber by.
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