The Space Between Trains

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Amtrak train in the ‘burbs of Chi city.

An enjoyable way to plan a day trip in Northeastern Illinois is to take an Amtrak train into the city. If you wanted to spend a day or two in Chicago, this is the best way to ditch inevitable interstate backups and painful city parking fees. If you aren’t a frequent train commuter, riding in stiff seats in close quarters with strangers and being jerked around from stop to stop gives you a somewhat exciting yet brief experience of city life.

On long stretches between stops the Amtrak moves quite fast, blowing its whistle as it breezes through railroad crossings. Occasionally the train will approach another moving the opposite direction. Upon the encounter with another train breezing by, there is a head-rushing whirr of wind and a rattling of wheels on tracks between the two people-carriers. The trains, which must not be more than five feet from each other, fly furiously past each other for just a few seconds, then split their separate ways by the cabooses.

To me, this can sometimes be reminiscent of the verbal exchange between two people.  Energy reverberates through the air with the emittance of various noises, your brain waves are stimulated by the event of something besides sitting in your own silence. When the encounter is over though, the trains are just streamlines traveling toward a pre-determined destination. Could you remember any of the faces in the cars opposite yours? Did you even look at the faces? Did they look at yours?

Certainly communicating requires the investment of interest from both parties. During our storytelling exercise in last week’s class, my partner Claudia did an excellent job re-telling the story I gave her about my childhood. I feel we both set each other up well enough to do so – not interjecting during each other’s stories, laying them out somewhat chronologically, and attempting to make an emotional connection with the listener.

I had to go through the very same exercise during my Preparing Future Professoriate class several days later, and I was not as satisfied with the experience. I felt as if I retold my partner’s story quite well, however she completely botched mine. It was difficult not to cringe when she said something inaccurate about things quite personal to me. I wondered – was this my fault? Did I not tell the story in a way easy to understand and recite? I felt as if I slowed my train down for her, while hers just whooshed on by.

Perhaps some people are like the Amtrak though – even if you want them to stop and take interest, it is simply in their nature to fly onward past you and to their destination. However, scientists are generally persistent people. It is our job to continuously try and spark that interest and make that connection. It is our job to give people the excitement about science like that of a day-tripper to the city, as opposed to the daily commuter.




1 thought on “The Space Between Trains

  1. I was worried that people taking both the PFP class and GRAD 5144 the same semester would find the PFP workshop to be redundant. . .but I should have known (I DO know!) that we learn new things from these exercises every time we do them. How interesting that you did the same thing just days apart and had such different experiences! Thanks for writing about that, and about the experiences of communicating in general.


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