I edited some of the stories out of the quick read, American Voices. Here is one of the stories about commuting between Norwalk and New York.
Once upon a time, Norwalkers and out-of-towners could glide serenely on steamboats that docked in the landing on Water Street.
Many pleasure-seekers would also use this means of transportation to get to Roton Point amusement park. As industry transformed the world and contributed to the quickening pace of life, railroads became an important means of ferrying passengers and cargo to different destinations. New Haven Railroad inevitably became a major commuting line into New York City. Images from an earlier era depict tracks at and commuters waiting to be transported to their destinations. Horse or ox-drawn carriages lumbered down Washington or other Norwalk Streets, possibly carrying returning commuters who had to run errands before heading home.
Let us fast-forward a few centuries and focus on our current lives. Commuters (who do not wish to be stuck on I-95) still trek to South Norwalk Train Station. Today they are hopping out of their cars and rushing by strangers to their different destinations. Sleep-deprived workers usually nap during the hour-and-a-half commute to Grand Central Terminal in New York City, while others are wrapped in their digital cocoons, updating online friends or checking email. Likewise, the mantra "go, go, go" also applies to commuters heading towards New Haven and other destinations.
Few people pause to embrace moments of silence and beauty along the way, because there is simply no time. Who has time to get to know the barista who sells you coffee in the morning (unless he or she messes up your latté) when you have two minutes to board a train that will take you to a critical meeting? Who wants to stop to listen to a Vivaldi concerto played by musicians in Grand Central Station when that means missing your train and therefore a parent-teacher conference about little Johnny's temper tantrums?
The truth is that progress has come at a price. The lightning pace of life has become our new reality. The push towards economic expansion seems to have obliterated an apparent serenity and peace of mind that came with life in a bygone era. Realists argue that no sane person would want to go back to a time when it took ages to get from New York to Norwalk. They would have a point if they expressed a preference for paying the astronomical cost of gasoline today rather than scoop horse manure along the unpaved roads leading to their houses. They may grumble that rose-tinted views of the past omit having to find a good eighteenth-century handyman when a wagon axle breaks in the wee hours of the morning. They may also bluster that stress existed centuries ago and it is still a fact of life today. One should simply deal with that reality.
How do we surpass these grumblings to recapture some of the stress-free aspects of yesteryear? A short-term solution may be the Amtrak Quiet Car program that has now been expanded by Metro North to select trains. The New England essayist and poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, once said: "Real action is in the silent moments." Fans of the Quiet Car program may well restrain themselves from bursting into applause when reading this quote. Other people may loudly disagree, simply because they prefer to let off steam within earshot of strangers. Imagine if one could adorn the walls of their favorite hangouts with art and history from the Norwalk Museum and other places, so that they are constantly connected with a local heritage as they talk about their lives. Their children could view similar images at schools, churches and other real-world gathering places. The Nobel laureate, Pearl Buck, reflected, "If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday."