Stories » Gabriel Kahane's 8,980 miles on the train / The Economist

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Gabriel Kahane's 8,980 miles on the train / The Economist

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PLANES are practical, buses are cheap and cars grant freedom. But trains are for romance. A century after America's railway heyday, the country's ageing trains still enjoy an anachronistic glamour. Few people are immune to the charms of a sluggish, traffic-free chug across states, with the countryside unfurling panoramically. At a dark or uncertain time for the country, a long rail journey from one coast to the other may even inspire some patriotism.

Such thoughts helped spur Gabriel Kahane, a 36-year-old singer-songwriter, to take to the rails the morning after the presidential election last November. Feeling "increasingly imprisoned by my own digitally curated liberal silo", he was eager to leave behind his mobile phone and spend time with the kinds of Americans he never meets while shopping for quinoa in his Brooklyn enclave. Mr Kahane ultimately spoke with between 80 and 90 people over the course of his two-week, 8,980-mile trip , during which he slept and ate on the train. The effect, he says, was therapeutic, "a kind of salve". It also made possible a kind of cross-cultural engagement that he is sure he will never have again.