Yes, I really am from Las Vegas. No, my mother is not a stripper

Viva Las Vegas. Image: Getty.

And No. My mother is not a stripper. Nor is or ever was a showgirl. I have never lived in a casino.

Growing up, I was forced to make these statements …  all the damned time.

A few years ago, it happened again: “You mean people are actually from Las Vegas?”

Yes. And I am one of them.

From is a tricky bugger. Like all prepositions in all languages that rely on such things, it only seems like the most inconsequential part of a statement. From indicates the point at which something begins – a journey, an action, an everyday movement from one spot supposedly and eventually to another.

In other words, from denotes what has been left behind. Or at least it should. The problem is that endpoints make more sense in light of beginnings. 

Personally, I think beginnings are overrated. Who cares if I came from, let’s say, Los Angeles, if I am now in, let’s say, Baker, California. I’m in Baker, now (home to the world’s tallest thermometer!). But when you say I am from Los Angeles in order to indicate a starting point in a lifetime – a temporal as much as spatial starting point – that from acquires enough significance to be poignant and accommodating and frustrating and misleading. If you identify with your hometown, if you love the way its cultures communicate through your gestures and clothes and habits, wonderful. Lucky you. If not, good luck.

I love Los Angeles, by the way. Many people do not. I met a few of those people one weekend when I traveled from L.A. to Reno.

 “Hi. I’m James.”

 “Hi. I’m Ted.”

“Where are you from Ted?”

“I’m from Reno. You?”

“I’m from L.A.”

“I don’t like Los Angeles.”

Great. Did I give you the impression that I cared?

The father of my sister’s college roommate did something like that to my father. The exchange went like this:

“Hi. I’m Nick.”

 “Hi. I’m Ted.” (It’s always a Ted.) “Where are you from Nick?”

“We’re from Las Vegas.”

“I am opposed to gambling. I don’t like Las Vegas. ”

Great. Thanks for letting us know. I am also not big on gambling, but casinos did give my father the chance to raise himself up out of poverty. (By the way, my father is technically not from Las Vegas, if that even matters.)

When people insult your city, it feels like they are insulting you, doesn’t it? Even though the relative beauty and interest of a place need not necessarily reflect onto the beauty and interest of its residents. One’s relationship to their hometown is as arbitrary as is the year of their birth. Imagine this scenario instead: 

“Hi. I’m James.”

“Hi James, I’m Ted. What year were you born James?”

“1980.”

“Ugh. I’m trying to forget that year. I don’t like 1980.”

No one has ever said this to me of course, but if they did it would not bother me in the least. When someone insults my hometown, though, that’s different. Because the same rules that apply to in-group humor apply here as well. If you’re not African American you do not get to use the N-word in a joke; if you’re not from Las Vegas, or have ever even lived there, you don’t have the right to talk shit about it.

Though to be honest, people don’t talk shit about my hometown as much as say stupid shit about it (“Sure it’s a 100 degrees outside, but it’s a dry heat”). Which is fine. We all do this kind of thing. I used to detest New York. Why? Had something horrible happened to me there? No. I never even stepped foot in Manhattan until I was in my twenties. But I did regularly watch the Late Show with David Letterman, which was filmed, as the opening credits say, in New York, “the greatest city in the world”. Seriously? Fuck you. Think you’re so much better than everyone.


I later moved to Queens and ended up staying in New York for nine years; I love New York.

But I will never be from New York, even if later I told people that I was. This was after I had moved abroad. It’s so much easier to tell people outside of America that you’re from New York than Las Vegas. They smile; they don’t ask questions; many foreigners automatically assume a traveling American must be from New York. Keep in mind that, after I moved to New York, I told people I was from Los Angeles.

Why did I pronounce such despicable lies? Was it because, at the time, it seemed more truthful to pinpoint a more recent starting point?

That was when I was in my twenties, and like most people in their twenties, I was an idiot – unsure but ambitious, all-the-while assuming that it matters to other people which clichés they associate with my un-clichéd individual identity.

I no longer live in either Los Angeles or New York, and I haven’t been back to Las Vegas in years. But now, whenever anybody asks, I am always from Las Vegas.

From really is a tricky bugger. No one should have to take it lying down when someone violates their identity by slipping some irrelevant metropolitan clichés into it. That’s what we do though, when we tell people we’re from somewhere. We give them a free pass to do what they were going to do anyway – take someone’s from and project it into the present so they can use the easy stereotypes of a place in order to place you within a category you were arbitrarily assigned to and which you may have spent your whole adult life attempting to flee.

Which is to say, what was to you only a from, to other people becomes an in. What you may have only considered a starting point you long left behind, others often take to be a space you forever reside in, no matter where you have ended up.

And, really, that’s just fine. As I have gleaned from age, in is much less tricky than from. We influence things much more from the inside than from otherwise. 

 
 
 
 

What are Europe’s longest train journeys?

The Orient Express was a pretty long train. Image: Getty.

For reasons that aren’t clear even to me, a question popped into my head and refused to leave: what’s longer? Britain’s longest train joruney, or Germany’s?

On the one hand, Germany is quite a bit larger – its area is 70 per cent more than Great Britain’s. On the other hand, Great Britain is long, skinny island and Germany is much rounder – the distance from John O’ Groats to Lands End is over 1,400 km, but you never have walk over 1,000 km to cross Germany in any direction.

And it turns out these factors balance almost each other out. Britain’s longest train, the CrossCountry from Aberdeen in Scotland to Penzance in Cornwall, runs 785 miles or 1,263 km. Germany’s longest train, the IC 2216 from Offenburg in the Black Forest to Greifswald on the Baltic coast, is exactly 1,300 km. Germany wins by a tiny distance.

Except then I was hooked. What about the longest train in France? Spain? Italy?

So I did what anyone would do. I made a map.

The map above was all drawn with the Deutsche Bahn (Germany Railways) travel planning tool, which rather incredibly has nearly every railway in Europe. The data quality is better for some countries than others (the lines in France aren’t quite that straight in real life), and the measurements may be a bit off – it’s not always easy to find the length of a train service, especially when routes can vary over the year – but it gives us a good idea of what the routes look like.

Let’s start with the UK. The Aberdeen to Penzance route isn’t really for people who want to go all the way across the country. Instead, it’s a way to link together several railway lines and connect some medium-to-large cities that otherwise don’t have many direct services. “Cross-country” trains like these have existed for a century, but because they crossed multiple different company’s lines – and later, multiple British Rail regions – they tended to get ignored.

 

That’s why, when it privatised the railways, the government created a specific CrossCountry franchise so there was a company dedicated to these underused routes. If you want to get from Edinburgh to Leeds or Derby to Bristol, you’ll probably want a CrossCountry train.

The usual route is Edinburgh to Plymouth, but once a day they run an extra long one. Just one way though – there’s no Penzance to Aberdeen train. 

The longest train in Germany is weird – at 1,400 km, it’s substantially longer than the country itself. On the map, the reason is obvious – it takes a huge C shaped route. (It also doubles back on itself at one point in order to reach Stuttgart).

This route takes it down the Rhine, the biggest river in west Germany, and through the most densely populated patch of the country around Cologne and Dusseldorf known as the Ruhr. Germany’s second and third longest trains also have quite similar routes – they start and end in remote corners of the country, but all three have the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan area in the middle.

You’re not meant to take the IC 2216 all the way from north east to south west – there are much more direct options available. Instead, it’s for people who want to travel to these major cities. They could run two separate trains – say, Offenburg-Dusseldorf and Griefswald-Cologne – but making it a single route means passengers benefit from a bit more flexibility and helps DB use its rolling stock more effectively.

France’s longest train exists for a very good reason. Most of France’s high-speed lines radiate out from Paris, and it’s very hard to get around the country without going to the capital. Usually to get from Marseille on the Mediterranean to Nantes near the Atlantic, you’d need to take a TGV to Paris Gare de Lyon station, then get the Métro across the city to Gare Montparnasse.

Once a day though, this TGV avoids this faff by stopping in the suburb of Juvisy and turning around without going into the centre. This lets passengers travel direct between the coasts and reduces the traffic through Paris’s terminals in the rush hour. The exact length of this route isn’t clear, but Wikipedia says it’s about 1,130 km.

Spain’s longest train is very different. This is the Trenhotel sleeper service from Barcelona to Vigo, and it’s pretty fancy. This is a train for tourists and business travellers, with some quite luxurious sleeping cabins. But it is a regularly scheduled train run by the state operator Renfe, not a luxury charter, and it does appear in the timetables.

Being dry, hot and quite mountainous in its middle, most of Spain’s cities are on its coast (Madrid is the one major exception) and as a result the train passes through relatively few urban areas. (Zaragoza, Spain’s 5th largest city, is on the route, but after that the next biggest city is Burgos, its 35th largest,) This is partly why overnight trains work so well on the route – without many stops in the middle, most passengers can just sleep right through the journey, although there are occasional day time trains on that route too if you want to savour the view on that 1,314 km journey.

Finally, there’s Italy. This is another sleeper train, from Milan in the north to Syracuse on the island of Sicily. It goes via Rome and travels along the west coast of... wait, it’s a train to the island of Sicily? How, when there’s no bridge?

Well, this train takes a boat. I don’t really have anything else to add here. It’s just a train that they literally drive onto a ferry, sail across the water, and then drive off again at the other side. That’s pretty cool.

(As I was writing this, someone on Twitter got in touch to tell me the route will get even longer in September when the line to Palermo reopens. That should be exciting.)

So those are the longest trains in each country. But they aren’t the longest in Europe.

For one thing, there are some countries we haven’t looked at yet with very long trains. Sweden has some spectacular routes from its southern tip up into the Arctic north, and although the Donbass War appears to have cut Ukraine’s Uzhorod to Luhansk service short, even Uzhorod to Kharkiv is over 1,400 km. And then there are the international routes.

To encourage the Russian rich to take the train for their holiday, Russian Railways now run a luxury sleeper from Moscow to Nice, passing through France, Monaco, Italy, Austria, Czechia, Poland, Belarus and Russia. This monster line is 3,315 km long and stretches across most of the continent. That’s got to be the longest in Europe, right?

Nope. Incredibly, the longest train in Europe doesn’t actually cross a single border. Unsurprisingly, it’s in Russia, but it’s not the Trans-Siberian – the vast majority of that’s route is in Asia, not Europe. No, if you really want a long European train journey, head to Adler, just south of the Olympic host city Sochi. From there, you can catch a train up to Vorkuta on the edge of the Arctic Circle. The route zigzags a bit over its 89 hour, 4,200 km journey, but it always stays on the European side of the Ural mountains.

Bring a good book.

Stephen Jorgenson-Murray often tweets about this kind of nonsense at @stejormur.


All maps courtesy of Deutsche Bahn.