Thursday, September 2, 2010

Cloudy Windows

The view from inside a plane, train or automobile can be remarkable. It seems to change depending on which you choose. The view from a bus is something else entirely.

When you see the world from an airplane things look magical. During the day you get to see the patterns that make up our living space, at night you get the perfect understand of what impact electricity has on our lives. This experience can be magical and frightening all at the same time. Last month I had the opportunity to fly into Minneapolis/St. Paul airport at around midnight. Luckily I was in the window seat and I was just amazed at the view of these two cities from 20,000 feet. First Minneapolis with its countless grid patterns linking together in the most awkward ways followed directly by St. Paul in its state capitol-esque majesty with arcing thoroughfares making slowly increasing broken circles around the capitol building. The view from this plane was quite impressive.

When riding in a car, in a new place, can give the impression of wonderment, seeing cityscapes as fresh as they are, in the country the cloud patterns, hills and prairies are strikingly beautiful. There was a summer a few years back in which I had the opportunity to travel from Detroit to Atlanta by car alone. This drive gave the the opportunity to drive straight through the Appalachian mountains in the middle of the summer. In the heart of the mountain range, at its peak, I was so close to the clouds that moisture was condensing on my windshield. On a similar trip this past summer I drove through the most rural parts of Wisconsin. The views were like travel photos from the plains of Scotland, rolling green pastures marked by the occasional free standing tree. These two drives comprise me some of the most beautiful images stored in my head.

Train travel is something completely different. The view from an Amtrak train is typically fleeting yet natural. Because of the remote location of most of the tracks the landscape is comprised of the most remote locations out side of major cities. When a train enters a city it is almost exclusively surrounded by industrial desolation. There is something poetic about this stark juxtaposition. This poetry is usually brief due to the speed at which a train travel, leaving the rider with very little opportunity to observe his/her surroundings.

The city bus is the only mode of transportation that can take all of the wonderment from traveling. It is as if the fact that someone else has sat in the same exact seat, seeing the same exact views makes everything that you see recycled. Each and every route of travels over the same streets day in and day out, countless people get on and off in different places. Every trip that you take on the bus has been traveled before. The windows are covered with the film of frequent use and the people looking through have the air of obligation. In my final visit to Minneapolis before I moved here I spent the day walking across the city, taking in all of the wonderment that urban life can provide an outsider. After spending at least 5 hours walking I was too tired to walk all the way back to where I was staying. I decided to get on the bus to provide my feet with a little rest. As soon as I picked my seat all of the wonderment that I had experienced in the hours before had completely dissipated. Surrounded by strangers I traveled back through downtown and the views that had captivated me moments before were now some how muted, as if the film on the windows removed the and intangible quality of the images I was seeing. Maybe it's the culture of the bus or maybe it's the shear lack of novelty in riding the bus but there is something unique about using it to get from here to there.

Image courtesy of edenpictures

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