“When I was a girl, every manner of person rode the trains, and so one learned a lot about money, race and occupation on board. Yes, the wealthy often owned their own railroad cars or paid to have private compartments, but you could still see them when they boarded in a flurry, their expensive luggage piled high. Some walked about to people-watch like anyone else. Now almost every American rides in his or her own steel cocoon, never having the chance, as we did on trains, to chat with people very different from ourselves—at least on the surface.”—Novelist Rita Mae Brown, “Riding Into the Past at Full Gallop,” The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 14-15, 2015
The image accompanying this post is from the very fine 1974 film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Not everyone can get to be Hercule Poirot—here, an almost unrecognizable Albert Finney—but, if Ms. Brown’s experience is any indication, many a budding writer in the old days got their start by sizing up the great swath of humanity in the U.S. that took the railroad as its transportation mode of choice.