I have always loved trains, even--or so my parents told me--before I could walk or talk. They said when I was a one-year-old in an apartment on Chicago's South Side Kenwood neighborhood, I would bounce excitedly in my playpen each day when the Illinois Central Railroad's futuristic "Green Diamond" streamliner whizzed by beneath the window of our sun porch. I have to take their word for it.
They also said my early passion for the rails was one reason they bought their first house very close to the tracks of the Chicago & North Western Railway in West Suburban Elmhurst. Again, I'll take their word. Whatever the origins, I was a train-lover from the get-go. My first crayon drawings were of steam engines (I'm dating myself) pulling strings of freight cars. Then I graduated to pull-toy locomotives and finally honest-to-goodness electric trains from Lionel and American Flyer and Marx.
Many kids have an early interest in trains, but I never outgrew it. I rode the commuter trains into Chicago at every opportunity as a pre-teen and teen, and they were my daily mode of travel when I entered the working world. Also, when I took the occasional business trip, I tried to find ways to travel by rail rather than fly.
Even today, with U.S. passenger service a shadow of its former self, I look for excuses to ride trains. On each European trip my wife and I have taken, there has been at least one long-distance leg by rail. And when I write my Steve Malek mysteries, which are set in 1930s and '40s Chicago, I frequently get Malek onto trains--including that very same Green Diamond that I gurgled at from that sun porch in those long-ago Depression days.
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