I’m tired of airports. I’ve started to dread traveling just because of the airport hassle. Major airports loom as huge, impersonal places. Security measures are, at the very least, awkward and repetitive. So it was a big relief, and my return to an older and quite civilized mode of travel, when I took the TGV from Paris to Nimes last week.
It was easy. I just walked from my hotel in the Marais, found the right platform at Gare de Lyon, and stepped on to the train. A little while later, on the speeding but quiet train, someone politely asked for—and scanned—my ticket. There was no security line. There was no baggage check. Yet, I felt more comfortable than ever.
In a European station, trains arrive and depart on time. Yes, there is waiting, but it is all within view of the platform, in the light of the station, and with the diversity of humanity. Families and lovers kiss as they say goodbye, and wait expectantly to greet and kiss again on arrival. Children travel in groups. Their delight with train travel is clear. In a light-filled, vaulted train station, everyone moves freely.
I read that President Obama has proposed a high-speed rail system in the U.S. If there were a fast rail system between my home in L.A. and San Francisco, I would take it. Consider the time: from Paris to Nimes was less than three hours, and a similar distance. It would be far easier than the flight, or the long drive that I’ve made a hundred times. I’d take the fast train to Chicago in the winter, too. I never want to be stuck on an icy runway at O’Hare again. Building this kind of infrastructure seems brilliant to me.