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Pierre R. Berastaín

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Meeting Amtrak's Cross-Country Passengers

Posted: 09/08/2012 9:57 am

Train travel was the primary form of long distance transportation during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Trains were romantic, glamorous spaces and even served as luxurious hotels.

Today airplanes have largely replaced trains, but while airplanes pass over landscapes, trains cross them. As a result, travelers no longer see areas of the country that were accessible only by train. In a post-railway era in which airplanes dominate long-distance travel, we might be surprised at what the American experience and landscapes look like from the train.

Social dynamics of traveling, too, have been affected by this change of transportation modes. The different social spaces within the train allow for personal mobility and prolonged social interactions that do not occur in other forms of transportation.

This virtual installation not only revives the romanticized nature of train travel, but also hints at issues of class, race, and gender, the politics of a federal transportation system, and the environment. The images in this exhibit aim to capture fleeting encounters: trees appear and disappear, streams meander against the direction of the speeding locomotive, and we meet companions with whom we connect deeply, though fleetingly.

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  • Grandpa and Grandson Playing

  • Family Playing a Game of Poker

  • Mom and Son Playing with Mickey

  • <em>“Racism is not as bad now, but it’s still there. One time, an old white man told me he wanted to give me a tip as he was getting off, so I extended my hand. He gave me a burning penny. I cursed him like no other.”</em> --Patricia, first-class attendant Here we see an attendant walking through a first class hallway. These hallways are so narrow that two people cannot pass through at the same time. Each sleeper car, which accommodates first class passengers, is served by an attendant, traditionally a black person.

  • “You need a smoke, you know? That’s why some of us go to the luggage car, and smoke there. Everybody does it. But don’t tell nobody!” --Patricia, first class attendant When Amtrak allowed passengers to smoke inside the trains, smoke stops were not as necessary as they are today. Passengers and employees, who work up to eighteen-hour days, are always looking for a de-stressor. These stops also provide an opportunity for interaction among travelers.

  • Many boy scouts and backpackers take the train in their desire to penetrate and explore areas of America inaccessible by other forms of transportation.

  • Many boy scouts and backpackers take the train in their desire to penetrate and explore areas of America inaccessible by other forms of transportation.

  • At the Snack Bar

  • <em>“We want people to meet each other. We want the experience to be social one; it’s good for people to disconnect from their iPods, computers, and video games.”</em> --Martin, conductor. When passengers enter the Amtrak dining car, they partake in “community eating.” That is, passengers are randomly assigned to a table such that all individuals seated do not know one another.


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