Web Exclusives: Inky Dinky Do
a PAW web exclusive column by Hugh O'Bleary
April 10, 2002:
Thirteen Ways of Looking at
(With apologies to Wallace Stevens)
By Hugh O'Bleary
As a media darling: The Dinky is a celebrity. This little gleaming
single-car train that links the campus to Princeton Junction
and thence to the Northeast Corridor rail line, and thence to New
York, Philadelphia, and the world was the subject of a more-than-full-page
feature in a recent edition of the Sunday New York Times (all right,
it was the New Jersey section, but still...). The writer, J.D. Reed,
recounted the history, lore, and glamor of the line once known as
the PJ&B and declared the Dinky to be "as necessary as
morning coffee" to Princeton commuters. Amen to that.
As one train that will never inspire a country song.
Oh, that honky-tonk angel brought me nothin but pain
She punched my ticket on that Dinky train
As a rolling "Wheres Waldo?" (Or Toni? Or John?
Or Joyce?) Princeton is, of course, virtually choked with celebrities
academic, literary, scientific; you cant swing a cat
without hitting a schizophrenic Nobelist and most of them
at one time or another ride the Dinky. Reed termed it a "green
room for the ultimate talk show."
As a rolling village square: Famous or not, the people in this car
are truly your most intimate neighbors; you see them every morning
and every evening, year in and year out. You may not even know each
others names, but you exchange good-morning nods and good-night
grunts, maybe even a word or two about the weather or last nights
basketball game. Race, class (as in social standing as well as year
of graduation), even politics mean nothing. You are all fellow travellers,
citizens of the Dinky Nation.
As an amusement park ride: Keep your hands and feet inside the Dinky
at all times! It is not uncommon to see a mother, or perhaps a mother
and a father, taking a young child for a ride on the Dinky. Just
over to the Junction and back. No rat-race slog into the city for
the little guy, just a taste of the romance of the rails, the clackety-clack,
the whistle as the old train pulls into the station. Maybe theres
time to duck out onto the platform at the Junction and watch the
Acela swoop past, but then its back onto the Dinky, face pressed
to the glass, for the thrill of the ride back to town.
As a time machine. Just think youre having essentially
the same experience that F. Scott Fitzgerald 17 and, in a
wonderful bending of the space-time continuum, Albert Einstein,
As the tide. Out in the morning. In in the evening.
As a lovers chariot. Nothing is quite so enchanting as the
sight of a handsome young couple Princeton students, no doubt,
all flowing hair, soft murmurs and laughter slouched together
and cannoodling on a double seat among the commuters. Of course,
nothing is quite so insufferable either.
As a large and sometimes fearsome beast. Arrive early for one of
the weekend morning Dinkies. The train is parked there at the platform,
doors open. The car is empty, the conductor and engineer nowhere
to be seen. You take a seat, maybe rummage through your bag for
something to read. The train is alive. It hums and quivers and sighs,
like a great sleeping dragon. Just sitting there once, a dozen years
ago, it almost killed a young man who made the mistake of climbing
on its back. And then it moves, roaring into life, gathering to
a great galloping speed. If you were foolish or unlucky
enough to stall your car on the tracks where they cross Faculty
Road, the Dinky would bite, sure enough, and drive you, wrapped
in a couple of tons of steel, all the way to Route One. There is
nothing rinky about this Dinky.
As a faithful though not completely faithful friend.
Step from the New York or Philly train, Amtrak, or NJ Transit, your
body bowed with the weight of a days work, and he is waiting;
open, cheerful, inviting, ready to bear you back to the leafy, lovely
campus. Unless, of course, your train was, say, ONE MINUTE behind
schedule, in which case Mr. Dinky will have split without so much
as a backward glance. You will wait or take a cab.
As the unlikely target of a terrorist attack or highjacking. At
least I hope so.
As a faintly embarrassing part of your life. "Well," you
tell friends who inquire about your commute. "I just take the
train to Princeton Junction and then transfer to the Dinky."
"To the WHAT?"
As the perfect link between Princeton and the real world. Ticket,
You can reach Hugh O'Bleary at "Hugh O'Bleary" firstname.lastname@example.org