Things look at you with expression when you know how to look. I don't know what things look at other people, but me, I get stared at by paneling. Hopeful looks, angry looks, flat looks, disinterested looks, uncaring looks, imploring looks. Paneling, seatbacks, walls, doors, counters.
Airplanes were once furnished with the materials of luxury and privilege. Wood, brass, chrome; gold plating in the very top-flight birds. Leather. These would smirk at you or tolerate your plebian entry into their realm, sleepily stare back at you in the lav as you shaved some fifteen thousand feet over the Atlantic, or doze peacefully above your seat thinking of a year ago when they were a cedar tree rather than a luggage rack.
Now it's different. Pressed flat planes look hopefully into my eyes as I pass or sit or stand and smile weakly, fluffing their half-hearted woodgrain patterns at me from atop surfaces of melamines and amides. Ultam paneling, rollercoaster words like thermoplastic polyetheramide resin, all done up in industrious oblongs with aircraft aluminum trim to keep those fibers from unraveling.
I can't take the depression sometimes. All those substances which once in the Golden Age of science stood in the klieg lights of BIG PROGRESS now reduced to holding our inflated asses off the worn carpeting of the overstuffed 767s that ply the airways where the grand Pan Am Clippers once soared.
Burnt fuchsia spun nylon carpeting, all character and springiness leached from it in the holy name of Toxic Loading and Combustion Decomposition Safety, governments and lawsuits combining to crush the very scenery of travel into the ashen sameness of the Snooze'n Express that lurks off the exit ramp from a road that was superseded by an Interstate some ten years before - mildew prevented by the dry climate but the disuse and disinterest with a smell all its own.
The trains were once a bastion of honest steel and brass, now the coldrolled polysyllabic stuff has crept in. The panels all just barely fail to fit precisely, dark lines of imperfection yawning millimeters along seams of weary-looking plastics overhead and at the walls. Somewhere behind there might be honest metal - viewed from without, the train car is in fact reassuringly solid, corporeal, there - you can thump it with your fist as you get in with no more result than a smudge of old-tyme grime upon your hand, not even a decent sound from the mass of metal that makes up the rolling stock.
Inside, though, that has been hidden from the traveler by the creeping scourge of aluminum and resin.
It's not like trains need to save weight, is it?
Automobiles have long gone the way of weight savings and of aromatic polyvinyls, although (of course) money can and will upgrade you to leather, wood and billet aluminum or even the more modern raw material of carbon fiber. Your car can share its basic stuff with life itself, spun out of tough and grippy elementalism.
Once in a great while, I come across a piece of art or forgotten architecture or simple worn material in an airport, in a skyscraper, in a station, where age-shining wood or blackened but unrusted steel presents itself, and I have to pause a moment to rest my hand upon it - imagining as I do so that it has closed its nonexistent eyes in silent satisfaction, as a faithful dog might when its human absently rests a hand upon its head for a time.