Taking it slow and watching a train ride

I just watched a seven-hour long video of a train ride. I suppose to be semantically correct I should say that I finished a seven-hour long video of a train ride. I didn’t strap myself to a chair and watch it straight through. I did, however, over the course of a week, watch every minute of “Train Ride From Bergen To Oslo” on Netflix. It’s part of a series called SLOW TV, a Norwegian production that, true to name, documents wholesome, commonplace activities like train rides and knitting in long-form pieces of content. Like, seven-hours long. Or in the case of their “Telemark Canal” video, eleven and a half hours long.

I suppose I should back up and make sure we’re on the same page. When I say a seven-hour long video of a train ride, it’s more correctly a seven-hour long shot of a train ride. It’s as if someone plopped a camera down on a train and let it record for seven hours. One has to admire the people at SLOW TV’s commitment to living true to their name. And yet, all seven hours are strangely compelling. I began to watch it as I thought the continuous rumbling of the tracks would help me drift off to sleep. And it did, but as I began to watch it more carefully, I began to appreciate it more for what it really is.

Immediately I noticed the placement of the camera, which is why it’s so compelling. The camera is inside the train at the front, looking out down the landscape and the unending twin metal tracks that guide it. There’s an ever-present glare on the windshield and on the top right corner, one can sometimes glance passing reflections. The camera’s position inside the train lends itself to capture the sound, one of the main reasons I watched this so intently. Once in a while, we hear the train’s conductor announce each stop and welcome the new passengers, but other than that, just the rumbling of tracks. About an hour in, I turned the closed captions on so I could understand the conductor’s greeting. In the monotonous rumbling, a caption appeared: “[faint laughter].” I listened more closely, and soon enough, I heard it again. Then, even quieter, faint conversation. As my ears adjusted to pick up the shadows of conversation, I was overcome with nostalgia. It took me back to childhood road trips, drifting off in the backseat while Mom and Dad’s muffled conversation lazily drifted in and out of my consciousness. It was so distinctly and genuinely human, it made me think of the irony in watching its beauty.

Or something like that. Truth be told, I don’t really have a good reason why I watched seven hours of train rides. Truth be told I don’t have a good reason for most of the time I spend. I’ll wager most of you are in the same boat, I mean you just did the only thing more boring than watching a seven hour train ride: read me describing watching it. As I look back on the twenty years of life, I keep thinking about time. Looking back, how did I spend it? Looking forward: how will I spend my time? It’s easy to criticize or doubt our own usage of time (why the heck did I watch a train when I should have been writing my religion paper?), but it’s near impossible to allow ourselves to answer. The good news is that we’re young and we have a long time to look for answers to these questions. The bad news is that it’s so easy to forget the good news. I keep thinking about the faint laughter on the train. Maybe that would be a better name for what the video I watched was, and maybe that’s how we should think of life. Not the starting point or the destination. Just looking out the window. Enjoying the ride.

For those who’ve read my pieces this year, thank you. It’s been a pleasure sharing my thoughts with you. Best of luck on finals, and I hope you all have a summer of fun, sun and growth!

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