Can’t We Stop?
In the early morning light the autumn sun shone on the sea as my train passed along the coast. I looked up from the book I had been reading and suddenly noticed the view. I’d seen it countless times before but that morning it was so beautiful I smiled unselfconsciously and looked around at my fellow passengers. I was hoping to find another appreciative soul I could enjoy the scene with. No one was paying a scrap of attention, had they been deadened to such beauty?
I turned around in my seat and looked at the conductor in his compartment behind his glass wall dressed, like a magician, in his impeccable black uniform and white gloves. I thought of getting up, leaving my seat, tapping on the glass and asking him; “It’s so lovely looking at the sea, couldn’t we slow down a bit to enjoy it? Or perhaps even stop for a few minutes?” I looked back at the view and thought about how nice it would be to walk along the thin strip of sand beside the water.
“Attention passengers!” the conductor announced over the PA. “A passenger on this train has requested that we slow down or stop for a few minutes to enjoy this lovely morning by the sea!” Everyone on the train looked around wondering who the madman might be.
“Let me remind you,” the conductor continued in an emotionless monotone, “that transport by rail is the most predictable, least creative and therefore safest form of motion man has ever devised.”
“May I inform you that, unfortunate as it may be, for your own safety a train driver can never say; ‘It’s such a beautiful morning! I think I’ll slow down as we head along the coast so we can all enjoy the view! I might even stop for a few minutes!’” People shook their heads. “As I’m sure you appreciate, a train is built to run on time, on a schedule that cannot be changed without months of notice and planning. Even a minute of delay causes massive disruption, at least!’”
“Moreover, please consider the consequences of a train driver saying; ‘I wonder what’s down that track? Perhaps I’ll just drive down and find out!’” People on the train nodded at the logic. “It must be made clear that a train can only ever travel on its own tracks, any deviation, any unplanned turn, is instant disaster! Regrettable as it may be, for public safety a train always travels the exact same route with never a centimetre of deviation!”
“Finally, please understand this most important fact; this train will run the same way at the same time for years and years and years. Thank you for your attention!”
The train turned inland away from the sea and across what was once a flat, featureless plain, now cloaked in mile after mile of grey industrial and suburban misery.