Florida to Oregon by Train: Day 2
I'm taking the train from Jacksonville, Florida to Portland, Oregon for the AWP conference, where the Write.as team will exhibit. This is the story of that journey.
Sleep last night was punctuated by a sore hip, a stiff knee, a quick lateral jerk by the entire train, seemingly going faster than usual, I guess to make up time (it was about 40 minutes late getting into Jacksonville). With my footrest down and my legrest up, I slept about as good as anyone can in that position — my only enemy was a giant, undimmed light hanging over the vestibule door, shining directly into my eyes at my slightly-reclined angle. So I covered my head with a hoodie and slept quite deeply, between the random jarring moments.
However, as we got into Virginia, the hoodie needed to serve two purposes: keeping me blind and keeping me warm. A quick adjustment (carefully avoiding waking my sleeping seatmate) and I was back asleep — until it got too cold. By this time it was 5:30 am, a good enough hour to wake up.
I'm scheduled to get into DC at 7:07 am. Despite being so late at Jacksonville, and a protracted stop in Savannah while the conductors were looking for a person who didn't get off, the current status says we'll only be 7 minutes late in DC. I guess they did make up that time.
I move to the cafe car again and wait for 6 o'clock, when I can buy a hot coffee. The right side of the train sees a sliver of light on the horizon, while the left is still in complete darkness. The rails have gotten smoother; I could probably write, if I wasn't already typing.
I overhear a conversation between a passenger and conductor about how someone got on the train in Richmond and started yelling, cursing, and preaching to everyone. The woman says she had kids; the guy preaching didn't have the right to infringe on everyone's right to sleep peacefully in the car. The conductor mentions trying to talk the man down, but failing. He says he had to bring the cops in. As we roll into the Fredericksburg stop, I see one police SUV quickly pull up to a stop sign, then two more behind it. Fifteen minutes later, as we started to pull away, I see an older man flailing his arms and talking to three officers — I guess he's the preacher.
A pit-stop in DC means a few things: I can arrange a business meeting with someone who lived in the area, and I can grab lunch with family who live in the suburbs. So I do both.
While riding the train is enjoyable, getting on and off one is painless, as well. In many cities, you'll find the train station right in the middle of anywhere you'd want to be, near other transportation options.
(Of course, Jacksonville is a bad example — the station is nowhere near the city center; it's accessible only by car or a 0.6 mi (1 km) walk from the nearest bus stop on a sidewalk-less, 6-lane road. The area was made for moving things—not humans—and it shows.)
But in DC, you're right downtown. A several-hour “layover” doesn't mean a half-hour ride into the center of town, like one at an airport might. You can hop off, do whatever in the city, then get back on just as easily. And while there are no lockers, luckily Amtrak is happy to hold on to my 50 lb. luggage while I wander around.
The Amtrak observation car is the type of thing only someone who loves train travel would invent. It's a two-story car, cafe on the bottom, viewing lounge on the top. Upstairs it has swiveling seats aimed outward, straight toward the windows, with curved windows at the top of the car so you can see anything taller than this already-tall car.
It's late evening when I board train 29 to Chicago, so the sun is beating down through these extra light-portals. Still, looking down the inside of the car, you get the effect of being underwater — waves of overarching tree branches rippling from the far end up towards you as you race through a valley, along a river.
The chairs swivel, but not all turn completely around, so choosing one side means neglecting a perfectly good view on the other side. And if you try to catch all the best views, you may end up switching your seat just as the side you switched to starts facing a bland mountainside, as I did. It's best to pick one side and fall in love with it, not worrying about what the opposite might hold.
I'm thinking about creativity today. This car wouldn't exist if its designer didn't love watching the world go by. It wouldn't exist if you just wanted to maximize the number of humans you can cram into a vessel. It wouldn't exist if you needed an attraction for the train at low cost. It turns out to be a unique selling point, sure, but nothing guarantees a seat in this car; nothing assures good views. It seems to be built with the best intentions in mind, for the chance that people like us, the ones sitting here, might enjoy it as its creator would. I think that's an important place to start from when you're inventing.
I've been on a #keto diet for the past five months, mostly in an attempt to lose my beer gut. It's worked wonders on me, but unfortunately is pretty difficult to adhere to while traveling — especially while stuck on a train. So tonight when my bag of pecans didn't sate me, I opted for an Amtrak cheeseburger — a microwaved affair that is surprisingly satisfying, considering its preparation. While I was already loading up on carbohydrates, I paired my burger with a Stone IPA that Amtrak very smartly serves on board. Lucky for me, my diet has eliminated any tolerance I had for alcohol, so the single expensive beer did the trick for me.
It's night now, and I can see the Orion constellation in one of the small windows at the top of the observation car. I listen to music — not a random playlist like normal, but a full album straight-through. With no pressing demands on me, for once I can focus on the music again, watch the world go by, let my thoughts drift, until tomorrow...
Next: Day 3