On a recent Tuesday, I rode the Amtrak into Philadelphia and met up with my soul-brother and fellow life traveler, Dave, for a trolliday. For the uninitiated, trollidays are days set aside for the express purpose of riding trolleys and trains, among other things. And since this is Dave I'm talking about, and since Dave is a man who means business when it comes to his trolleys, and since Dave's and my friendship is marked by soaring conversation that covers all ground, this trolliday promised to be an especially special one indeed. (They all are, really.)
And so it was.
Dave and I met at work nearly 14 years ago and immediately built a strong rapport, but I would argue that the crucible of our deep and lasting friendship — the one that transcended the temporary circumstance of working in the same office building — was a day trip we took together to Philadelphia sometime in late 2005 or early 2006: the first trolliday. Dave's and my shared enthusiasm for trains and passion for public transportation are what initially signaled our camaraderie to each other and inspired the trip to Philly -- which, importantly, is a city with street cars.
We took the Amtrak out of Penn Station and disembarked at Trenton, whereupon we scampered across the platform to the River Line, which we rode down to Camden. I lived in Queens at the time, and it was my first trip from NYC down and across New Jersey to the Philadelphia metropolitan area. I vividly remember being struck by the impossible speed our train seemed to achieve between Newark and Trenton. And I remember the River Line taking us right down the middle of the street -- through an old median — in a quaint little town somewhere in Southern New Jersey. I felt like I was a character in a diorama, or in some sort of living, moving time capsule.
I had never ridden a trolley before Dave took me aboard one of the PCCs that serves Philadelphia. Dave, who is native to the Boston area, had grown up with them; the sound of a PCC trolley clanking and screeching along its tracks is part of the formative soundtrack of his life. I had recently grown fascinated by the history of trolleys in smaller towns like the one I grew up in near Binghamton, New York, but they were an abstraction for me; they were long gone by the time I was born, as was, in fact, passenger rail service of any kind to any part of Western and Central New York's so-called Southern Tier, which stretches along the state's Pennsylvania border. The experience of being on the trolley jogged loose a childhood memory of noticing, rapt, the half-buried remains of a trolley track in the crumbling asphalt at the end of my street.
I mused then, as I have many times since, and many times since with Davey, not incidentally, what our communities might look and feel like today if our once-prodigious intra and inter-urban rail networks hadn't been dismantled (with practically zero input from the communities they served, at that). How might they have informed urban and suburban design? How might they have supported our sense of connection and community? How might they have facilitated our ease of mobility, literally and socially and economically? We'll never know.
Dave and I have covered that ground, righteously, many times in the years that have passed since that first trolliday. We each have an idea, he and I, about what sorts of structures and institutions constitute a fair and rational society — one that puts people at its center as the guiding concept. As jacked up as much of the world is and seems today, I see signs everywhere that there are many who share our sensibility. Dave in particular has a knack for drawing people out and attracting to himself, kismet as his guide, the sorts of people who talk about these very same things -- and, in many cases, do extraordinary things about them. It's as if word has gotten out about trollidays, to which I say, good.
As I said, we took our most recent trolliday recently, and in essence, we are unchanged since our first. Laugh lines are deeper, perhaps, and gray hair is slowly asserting itself upon our heads, but we are unchanged. This is life, viewed through the lens of two laughing soul-brothers. The world we envision is ripe for the picking. There remain plenty of fights to fight; we will fight them, and we will win. And we will eat our fill and enjoy the hell out of ourselves along the way.
Life is better with a friend who can lift and inspire and make you laugh, and with whom you can enjoy and appreciate — whatever it happens to be. Davey is my friend, and my soul-brother. Here's to our next trolliday.