It's generally agreed, railroads failed to adjust their fixed capacity to changing demands. It's less certain Philadelphia was pulled down by that collapsing rail system.
Having eight grandchildren provides a reminder that June is a time for graduations. So last week I returned from one in Virginia on a very full train, early in the morning, somewhat sleep deprived. High prices of gasoline had forced people onto trains who would otherwise have taken an airplane or driven a car, so the conductors were unusually hassled to service tickets between stops, and were rather brusque. It's likely I was the only passenger wearing a jacket and tie.
The conductor in my car came by with terse orders to sign the tickets, perhaps unnecessarily brisk about it. We only exchanged brief maneuvers, long enough for me to see that this representative of corporate authority was wearing, well, dreadlocks. Both of us were wearing symbols.
As we passed Wilmington, Delaware, I fell asleep. The next I knew, I woke up looking out the window at 30th Street Station, realizing with horror the train was already moving forward. Jumping to my feet, I encountered Conductor Dreadlocks, who asked where I was going. My answer, "Philadelphia" was met with his order, "Follow me". He pushed some buttons, brought the train to a stop, and let me off.
I was then the only person on a long platform; the train remained stopped for two or three minutes. It was a very long silver snake, stretching out of sight in both directions, live but motionless. Looking up, I saw the conductor looking out the vestibule window. So I waved at him.
And he waved back.
Originally published: Sunday, June 15, 2008; most-recently modified: Friday, May 31, 2019