Journey didn't say WHERE the midnight train leaves from. But I can tell you one place to find it.
You get on at around 12 Midnight at the La Salle St. Station. Things don't look so strange at first -- if the train starts to move south. Ah, but this train, sometimes it starts off going north. That's when you know you've found the right train, because the La Salle St. Station is supposed to be the northern terminal of the red line. But, your train is going north. Where's it going?
Anywhere. Well, that's how the song goes, right?
That's the appeal. You don't get on this train lightly. (Okay maybe YOU don't.) You sit yourself down in a nice soft leather seat, one of those seats where there are two facing you across a small foot space, like you're just waiting for your 3 friends to sit down next to you -- only they won't, because this is the Midnight Train, and you probably don't have friends. Which is why you're running. Anyway you sit down in your lonely seat and as the train stops in various podunk, small-name cities -- Kankakee, Champaign-Urbana, Topeka, Cedar Rapids -- in that precise order -- you start to notice who's getting on the train, who you're sharing with. There's a lot of men with scraggly beards and thick socks in place of shoes, worn women muttering to themselves, people with big puffy jackets who will tell the whole car about the mercy of God. The train starts to pick up teenage kids with bad shoes and downcast eyes and torn jeans who won't say a word to you. The people who will talk to you, half the time they're running away from huge debts, and they know that their creditors won't follow them onto this train.
In your first few hours on the train, it will stop at random locations in the Midwest. Usually a small city. Sometimes a small TOWN. Sometimes a collection of houses laid along a single street and you wonder how they got a train track laid out here. Sometimes a trailer park. Best not to ask. Feel free to ask the people getting on the train what they're running from, though. The details change -- husband threw a plate at my head, all the dogs in town hate me, meth habit, parents stopped loving me, house foreclosed -- yeah, sometimes you get whole families on board. Anyway, almost all of them are running from something. Well, you might say the homeless people are always running, because the cops are always making them move. There's a lot of drifters as well -- in the summer, sun-browned seasonal workers hopping the train for a short ride, hoping to find another field to pick, or pale, twitching people hoping to find a crappy part-time fast food gig.
That's your first few hours on the Midnight Train. Not that you can tell the passage of time. It's always midnight on the midnight train. It is, after all, the Midnight Train. It can't pick people up at 3 PM! That would be ridiculous.
The lights in the Midnight Train are on sometimes and off other times. Kind of at random. It's hard to sleep on the train unless you get a sleeper car. They (whoever they are) probably don't expect people to ride for very long, or notice that the sun never rises. Midnight looks like 3 AM, what's the difference? You only notice when you get off the train in, say, Hartford, and it's Midnight, even though you got on the train at Midnight in Grand Falls, Nebraska.
Round about the time when you start to wonder when the sun will rise, the train starts making random stops much farther afield. Like Hartford, Connecticut, or Spokane, Washington. Winnipeg and Thunder Bay, Taxco and Cuernavaca. You start to get drifters from all over the Western Hemisphere, all of them hopping the train, hoping to make a new life elsewhere, or just find better opportunities. Immigration laws can get fucked. No, seriously, I found that in big letters on a poster advertisement in one of the cars. You start to meet all kinds of people when you stay on the train this long. I talked to a woman from Playa Del Carmen who said she'd run her car straight into the wall of the Grand Hyatt there, because she couldn't stand the tourism anymore. I met someone from San Salvador who used to eat the occasional Conch before the Club Med started grabbing them all for their expensive menu. There was a french guy from northern Quebec who ran out of money and couldn't heat his house anymore. The stories start to get more exotic as you start to meet people from walks of life far different than yours. Ah, but it boils down to the same thing: their personal fortunes tanked like a personal farm that had one too many bad harvests, and the debt collector is the same in any era. They grabbed onto this train and now they're running.
And you start to notice that some people are staying on the train a long, long time. Some of them have been on with you since the beginning. A person in a flat cap who has pancreatic cancer and doesn't know if they want to stay on the trian forever or get off in Mongolia and enjoy their remaining month of real time. A kid who looks like they cut their hair on their own without a mirror, and doesn't believe their future exists. A group of friends on the upper level who made a pact to stick together for the rest of their lives, and are waiting for a place to get off that they all agree with.
And as Midnight starts to look like eternity, the train's field of random stops widens. Kowloon. Walled Kowloon City. Suzhou, Qingdao, and Lishui in China. Herat, Afghanistan. Kabul. Annaba and Oran in Algeria. Still a bunch of drifters, mostly.
And everyone understands each other because they're all talking the same language: Escape.
The train picks up a hell of a lot of people when it makes a stop in places torn by war.
It was at that point that I chose to relinquish my comfy seat for the sake of someone who looked like they couldn't stand up any longer, and I went wandering down the cars of the train, hoping to find a dining service, or even the conductor. Well, I found a car full of vending machines all right, and eventually an automat, and then I started seeing a laundromat, and an exercise room, and I wondered if they didn't expect people to stay on this train forever after all. I never found the engine. I was pretty sure I'd seen one when I got on the train, but it was dark and I wasn't paying much attention.
I went back the other way and walked for what felt like hours, past car after car of the lost, the broken, the deserate, the mad, the holy and the damned, and I didn't find no caboose either.
Anyway. I'd measured about three days on the train and I started to notice that the people coming on, the new drifters and rollers and bums and lost, weren't exactly wearing contemporary clothing. At first they were wearing the kind of stuff you'd see in a picture book about quaint cities of the 19th century. Back when National Costumes were supposedly something people wore every sunday, and not all of the great cities had fallen to the Europeans and their empires. These particular drifters talked about how they were on this newfangled giant metal beast they'd heard of called a "train" and how it promised new adventure and progress and they were scared of progress, but they had to get away because the famines and drought had made home unliveable.
At the same time you start getting people with biomechanical limbs and cheap, downmarket electonic eyes who got tired of working on an intergalactic freighter and saw an opportunity to ride a vehicle that they had almost forgotten the existence of.
And then a day or so later, you start getting people who are wearing the crummy linen-shift-belted-with-rope-plus-wooden-clogs-over-cheap-leather-shoes of your less-than-propsperous person of Early Modern Europe, and the colorful this-is-the-only-clothing-I-own-so-it-has-to-look-nice stuff you get from 1600s India. Unless they're wearing the same stuff as a European peasant because their one measly Zebu doesn't provide enough milk to pay for good dyes. And at the same time, you get people on board who, whatever they're wearing, talk about how they miss their horses and cattle and life on the windeswept plains. Because one of the types of people that we've forgotten and legislated out of existence is nomads. Well, they're on the most nomadic beast of all, so they ought to be happy. Right?
At the same time, you get people who are basically robot bodies with thair brain encased in protective metal and fluids. They're usually a bit herky-jerky because, you know, bottom-tier biomechanical bodies will have a lot of bugs, and if you're a drifter you can't exactly afford the latest hardware and software upgrades.
The question is, do you, traveler, at this point, get off somwhere and somewhen that people can still understand you and you probably won't run into horrible diseases and incomprehensible, draconian laws, be they ones of the future or the past? Or do you want to keep going? Maybe living in medieval Lhasa is right for you. Maybe you want to try your luck in the radiation-blasted dustscape of earth after the great galactic wars sponsored the creation of nuclear-powered space battleships.
Or maybe you want to go farther? There's a point in your journey where the future times you visit will bring you people who are made of light and music. They're kind of entertaining, but you start to wonder what the hell is beyond that.
I got off after I looked out the window and saw the sun rise. If we were getting into a space-time when the Midnight Train could see the sun rise, I didn't want to risk whatever Apotheosis the train was carrying me into. I jumped off at the next stop and found myself in Chichen Itza when it was being constructed. Helped out a bit.
I remember, when I got off the train, the four friends had agreed they were going to stay on the train for a while longer, and the woman from Playa Del Carmen said she was going to be there forever. Well, I wonder if I begrudge them.
You've got a ticket for one of the sleeper cars?
What are YOU running from?