The need for speed

Faster transit might even impress a homebound poet.

I like to see it lap the Miles —

And lick the Valleys up —

And stop to feed itself at Tanks

And then — prodigious step

Around a Pile of Mountains...

Unlike Emily Dickinson, who wrote the lines framing this piece, Jeanne and I have chugged about the world. Dickinson proved that you didn't need to travel in order to be a writer — she seldom even left her house — but I'm convinced that if she were alive today, free from the thumb of her strict Puritan father, she'd be strolling by the bookstalls along the Seine, with a Eurail pass in her pocket. Hmm, I can imagine her thinking, St. Germain des Près, how charming, Saint Germanus in the Meadows. Sounds like Amherst... And off she'd go, winding up, big-eyed, in the nearby Café Deux Magots...

We make fun of the French, but their government long ago figured out what their citizens need to enjoy a decent life. And it's not just the French.

One of the joys of visiting Europe is that, generally speaking, you don't need to drive. I believe that Americans who've never been to Europe (or Japan and China, for that matter) have no idea how much easier and more pleasant traveling by train can be, whether you're heading to the airport, or Disney World, or Atlanta or Chicago. America, dominated by mega-oil companies whose overflowing coffers pour steadily into the pockets of Republican legislators (and some Democrats, of course), is a car country. Economically dominated by a youth culture, we love our cars. Our first experiences of love occur in the back seat of a Ford, followed by hamburgers at McDonald's: speed is what we like. We'd like high-speed rail, too, if we ever got it.

Governor Scott's high-handed short-sightedness in canceling the rail bill, heavily funded by the federal government, will immediately cost us thousands of jobs and eventually billions of dollars, because as our roads get packed bumper to bumper we'll need to do this anyway, and every year we put it off, the price goes up. Far from stimulating our economy, this will set us decades behind everyone who's betting on rail.

High-speed is good, but it's just a link between big cities; we need train connections to our airports and, where it's not feasible for high-speed, we need regular trains, and where it's not feasible for trains at all, we need efficient bus lines. We city dwellers should be able to walk a few blocks and get a bus or a train to near and far destinations. A recent report shows the Tampa Bay area is one of the nation's highest in automobile accidents, and getting worse. Think of those costs.

In 1956 Pesident Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Bill, the hugest government project in history, and this has served us well for half a century. Now we need leaders to take similar bold steps with a Railroad Bill, to create jobs and help our economy at the same time. As President Obama said, Let's stop being afraid.

Emily Dickinson was one of our most sensitive poets — she could never have met Governor Scott face to face: she would have smelled the sulfur in his words, his vacant smile would have cut her like a sword. But she might have written beautiful letters to Pam Iorio, maybe even Charlie Crist, describing her excitement about the new railroad...

...And neigh like Boanerges —

Then — prompter than a Star

Stop — docile and omnipotent

At its own stable door —

—Both quotes from #383 by Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

"Boanerges" means "the son of thunder," Mark 3.17

Peter Meinke and other poets will read at the Yellow Jacket Press's 2nd Annual Poetry Party, 6-9 pm, Friday April 29, in the Flamingo Room (CEC), at Eckerd College.

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