The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘trains’

All Aboard for Collectivists, and Other News

June 23, 2014 | by


A portrait of Ayn Rand. Illustration: Manuelredondoduenas, via Wikimedia Commons

  • Gordon Lish, at eighty, lives literally in the dark, because of his psoriasis: “His apartment is a crepuscular chamber, largely unchanged since his wife died more than a decade ago. With his heavy knit sweater and wild white hair, which culminates in a braid, he wanders these rooms looking like some cross between an old fisherman and King Lear … The problem with Lish is that he is all over the place. That also happens to be the best thing about him.”
  • “I hope you don’t have friends who recommend Ayn Rand to you. The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fiction. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail.” Flannery O’Connor hated Ayn Rand
  • … and Rand loved trains. More specifically, she loved to write about morally unworthy people dying in fiery train crashes: “The doomed include everyone from a lawyer who feels he can ‘get along under any political system,’ to ‘an elderly schoolteacher who had spent her life turning class after class of helpless children into miserable cowards’ because they believed in the will of the majority …”
  • Borges: not a World Cup fan. “Soccer is popular,” he once said, “because stupidity is popular.”
  • Further evidence that writing may be, you know, creative: scientists tracked “the brain activity of both experienced and novice writers … The inner workings of the professionally trained writers in the bunch, the scientists argue, showed some similarities to people who are skilled at other complex actions, like music or sports.”


A Week (or More) in Culture: Mimi Pond, Cartoonist

April 4, 2014 | by

GoatSaturday, February 28

We fly from our home in Los Angeles to York, Pennsylvania, so that my husband, the artist Wayne White, can begin building an art installation commissioned by York College of Pennsylvania. It will be constructed inside an historic former Fraternal Order of Eagles Hall in downtown York, now an organization called Marketview Arts. All of York is crazy historic, dating back to 1740! Temporary capital of the Continental Congress! Articles of Confederation drafted and adopted here! Home of the Underground Railroad! WHAT? This is a mind-blower for a history-loving girl from Southern California, where they tear down anything older than 1967 and replace it with a building made out of Popsicle sticks and Elmer’s Glue. Read More »


The Set

April 2, 2014 | by


William Evans Burton, comedian. Illustration from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, February, 25, 1860.

The problem is the beaming. For whatever reason, I frequently boast a huge smile when in public, and as any city-dweller will tell you, this is a bad idea. I may be grinning about a doll, a muffin, a soda label. “She’s mad happy,” a teenager once remarked to another as I passed their school.

Yesterday, at the Ninety-Sixth Street subway station, I know exactly what I was smiling about. I had overheard one woman remark to another, “As soon as we get to the baby gym, all he wants to do is take off his pants and get on the trampoline.” It was all I could think about as I prepared to see my psychiatrist—specifically, I was thinking that this was utterly reasonable on the (presumed) baby’s part, and that if I ever found a gym where de-pantsing and jumping on a trampoline was SOP, maybe I would join a gym. And all of which would have been fine, if I had not been the only person grinning while everyone else avoided the eyes of the man strolling down the subway platform. Read More »

Writing the Lake Shore Limited

February 19, 2014 | by

Trains as writers’ garrets.


A postwar ad for the Pennsylvania Railroad.

I am in a little sleeper cabin on a train to Chicago. Framing the window are two plush seats; between them is a small table that you can slide up and out. Its top is a chessboard. Next to one of the chairs is a seat whose top flips up to reveal a toilet, and above that is a “Folding Sink”—something like a Murphy bed with a spigot. There are little cups, little towels, a tiny bar of soap. A sliding door pulls closed and locks with a latch; you can draw the curtains, as I have done, over the two windows pointing out to the corridor. The room is 3’6” by 6’8”. It is efficient and quaint. I am ensconced.

I’m only here for the journey. Soon after I get to Chicago, I’ll board a train and come right back to New York: thirty-nine hours in transit—forty-four, with delays. And I’m here to write: I owe this trip to Alexander Chee, who said in his PEN Ten interview that his favorite place to work was on the train. “I wish Amtrak had residencies for writers,” he said. I did, too, so I tweeted as much, as did a number of other writers; Amtrak got involved and ended up offering me a writers’ residency “test run.” (Disclaimer disclaimed: the trip was free.)

So here I am. Read More »


Darling, Come Back, and Other News

February 14, 2014 | by


Photo: Jnlin, via Wikimedia Commons

  • In Taiwan, a commemorative Valentine’s Day train ticket sold out in less than an hour: it takes you from “Dalin (大林, pronounced similarly to ‘darling’ in English) station in Chiayi County to Gueilai (歸來, literally: ‘come back’).” A journey any of us should be willing to make after we’ve behaved badly. It’s love on a real train.
  • Voltaire in love: “She understands Newton, she despises superstition and in short she makes me happy.”
  • But we can count on literature to remind us that things are not always so sweet. Here are the ten unhappiest marriages in fiction.
  • Can atrocity be the subject matter of poetry? Our poetry editor, Robyn Creswell, on Carolyn Forché’s new anthology.
  • “I also like to catch dangling modifiers, because we all miss those … I have had authors who say that dangling modifiers are part of their style and don’t want to change them.” An interview with a crackerjack copyeditor.



If You See Something

October 16, 2013 | by


For the past week and a half, New York City straphangers have been hearing an unusual announcement during their commutes. “Police are seeking a missing child, Avonte Oquendo, fourteen. He suffers from autism and cannot communicate verbally.” The message describes his striped shirt, jeans, and sneakers; riders are instructed to contact the NYPD. The same message runs on the electronic sign boards on the platforms, between wait times for different lines. The MTA is running the alerts because like many people on the autism spectrum, Avonte likes trains, and the hope is that he will gravitate toward subway stations.

Anyone who has lived in a city recognizes the mask of defensive impassivity commuters typically wear. But change comes over passengers’ faces when they hear this public service announcement. In those moments every single person has the same hope: that he be found, that he be unharmed. By now, we all know his face, which is plastered all over the subway system.

Oquendo walked out of his school in Long Island City, Queens, on October 4 and has not been seen since. Hundreds of volunteers have been searching around the clock; the reward is now more than $70,000. Psychics are working with the cops; divers have started dragging the East River. Meanwhile, the MTA has taken the unprecedented step of suspending overnight track work and deploying employees to scour all 468 stations for the missing boy. “No one knows the subway system like track workers,” said Transport Workers Union Local 100 president John Samuelsen.

It has long been understood that those with autism and Asperger’s are often drawn to transit systems; the order of the schedules, the complexity of the timetables and maps, can be both soothing and engaging. Darius McCollum, the Staten Island man whose fixation with the New York City transit system (and, more to the point, his penchant for impersonating transit workers and occasionally commandeering trains and buses) has gotten him arrested more than twenty times, is sort of a legend, but his is only an extreme example. In recent years, educators have capitalized on this established correlation: the London Transport Museum has hosted teenagers in its timetabling department, while the New York Transit Museum runs a “Subway Sleuths” after-school program for seven- to eleven-year-olds that is designed to “use children’s interest in transit to help them navigate social experiences with peers.” Studies in the UK and Australia have found that children on the autism spectrum identified strongly with Thomas the Tank Engine; the parent company, Thomas and Friends, has joined up with several initiatives designed to help put this influence to good use.

Of course, to a child alone, the subway system can be anything but a friendly place. One need not enumerate the dangers. To most passengers, the subway is an experience to be borne at the best of times: efficient, affordable, and round-the-clock, yes, but hardly pleasant. It is strange to hear these announcements, and look around at each other, and know we are all realizing that there is a child who finds the same experience we are tolerating magical and reassuring, and that it is also endangering him, and that, at the same time, the whole, big, impersonal thing is being mobilized to try and find him. As the Reverend Wilbert Awdry, the trains enthusiast who created Thomas the Tank Engine, once said, “a steam engine has always got character. It’s the most human of all man-made machines.”

Chief of Department Phil Banks said that if anyone thinks they see Avonte, they should call the department’s hotline at 800-577-TIPS.