It has taken a while, but I finally feel part of things, engaged with civic life, in San Francisco. Of course, don’t take ‘civic’ that literally. Beyond the 49 square miles that comprise this city there is a lot that needs attention. Such as the railways. Which is what led to today’s lunch with someone from California’s largest rail passenger advocacy organization. Which, let me point out, numbers less than 500 members in a state with a population of 40 million.
This fact alone floored me. How can this be? Several rail lines move people in and out of California towns and cities. Don’t passengers see the virtue in organizing? Maybe. But not enough to join a group. Oh, there are some advocacy groups for commuters here and there. But even they are short of members.
Blame this on the Internet? Or see the Internet as a symptom? I do not know the answer.
What I do know is that the man from this particular railway group has been trying to improve rail transportation in California, and elsewhere, for almost 40 years. He will keep on trying. And since I am volunteering to get involved, that makes at least two of us. But two is not enough.
That, and we are old guys. What does this mean? Well, first, it means that we have some time available. No small thing, after all. The other thing it seems to mean is that we are slightly washed up, far from the mainstream, no longer part of the vital and vibrant economy. Naturals for riding old, slow trains. And even if the trains aren’t old and slow, we are. Wear our trousers rolled, indeed.
And this is the thing. Somehow staying engaged in a time of national decline. Somehow staying hopeful. Actually, I have been through this before. The Britain I found in the early 1970s was wracked with gloom and doubt. There were serious problems with the economy. Britons departing on holiday, could not take more than £50 out of the country, for example. Everything seemed to be in decay.
Humor ran to the cynical. Still, even in those darker days, Britain managed to pull off some large projects. Take the railways. A 125 mile-per-hour passenger train debuted. Life went on. Good thing the railroad guy who came for lunch happened to be British. He understands. Both of us understand. Life does go on. And as wise people know, decay is part of the lifecycle.