When I was in college, pre-Kathy in my particularly angsty days, one of my favorite things was a solo trip on the commuter rail.
The commuter rail that spread out from Boston was a glorious thing, a system that should exist everywhere: for a cheap price, often little more than a subway ticket, you could hop on over to North Station or South Station and have a sweet ride out of the city, a simple and easy escape. And it was so organized; there was just the one system, run by the MBTA, trains stamped with the T against a dark purple circle, no need for transfers, just get on and go south, west, north. I took a lot of commuter rail trips with other people; a lot with Sam, and a few with Kathy, too, later, and others. But when I got the chance, I liked to pick a spot on the map and head out alone, for all the reasons I always like to do things alone: to clear my headspace, to see someplace new, and to take pictures.
One of these solo trips spread to another state, albeit the tiniest one: Rhode Island. I visited Providence again later with Sam to check out the zoo--as briefly mentioned in Koln, we had a thing about exploring zoos in random cities--but I like the pictures I took on my solo trip the best. I remember it being overcast, which was appropriate for the film I had in my camera, 100 speed. When you want good, crisp pictures, when you want to capture action, the higher the speed the better--800, 1600 if you're super fancy. 400 is generally the standard for whatever. But 100 is perfect for an overcast day, for low light, for moody black and white emo shots: The grain is the thing. Of course, none of this really matters these days with digital, but, it still matters to me.
When you leave the train station--as all I ever knew of the cities I traveled by commuter rail to were what I could walk to on foot from the train station and still return in time for a decent train back to Boston from--you see this beautifully manicured canal with a lovely backdrop of buildings and a pleasantly cobbled walkway.
I feel like this happens a lot in cities: this one new, perfectly manicured spot. It's entirely enjoyable, yet entirely disjointed from the rest of the roots and bones of the old town. Once I left it, the streets seemed to wander in a somewhat haphazard fashion, and many of them had the slightly dilapidated feel that a lot of New England towns have. It fills me with this feeling that's simultaneously on the edge of depression and on the edge of comfort. It feels like so many of these towns are aching for an uplift, like the streets are just a tad too empty and a tad too shifty, stuck a decade or two behind. But at the same time that's their charm, and there's something wonderfully blue collar about it all. And all of it is perfect for 100 speed film.
Traveling places with a companion, or several, is of course always much more fun. There always comes a point in these solo journeys that I feel a stab of anxiety, or loneliness, or just a desire to be back on familiar ground.
But still, the need to hop on a train, or jump in a car, or just head out on foot, by myself--with film--just for a short jaunt--will never leave me.