Feet up on the windowsill of the observation car, journal on my knees, coffee balanced on the seat next to me, I listen to music and life buzzing around me. The train is such an odd thing in this country. It is a melting pot of incredibly interesting people– in a glance, I see a man with an ACDC shirt and unkept hair, a woman taking notes from her book into a journal, looking like a grad student, a large Amish family playing cards at multiple tables and constantly moving up and down the stairs to get sandwiches from their coolers in the luggage area, and a single mom with her 3 children all watching movies on their tablets. There is so much…life. So many backgrounds.
To date, I have met an Australian social worker who was watching “American Crime Story” and wanted to know my opinion on OJ Simpson, a very liberal cyclist from Boulder who apologized for all the Republicans on the train and later offered to give me his travel pillow and blanket when we reached Chicago in exchange for my opinion of Hillary Clinton (Lord, have mercy), an animated mother/daughter on their very first vacation together to shop in NYC, some sweet teenage Amish girls who were surprised at my knowledge and speed with Dutch Blitz and taught me some German, a couple traveling from Montana with their two sons just to see if they could all handle it, a youth pastor traveling with 20+ teenage boys back from a week at summer camp (Lord, have more mercy), a group of Mennonite women going to see a friend get married, a Scottish couple also going to a wedding and rather desperate for the cafe car to open so they could get a beer, a lot of tiny Southern grandmothers who called me “honey”…a mixing pot of life.
Lots of people have been asking for my review of train travel on Amtrak. Is it fun? What do I think?
Well, it’s an adventure, if you’re willing to approach it that way. If you approach train travel in the United States with low expectations, then it’s super fun! There’s far more space to stretch out and roam around than on an airplane. If you’re not in a hurry, and want to enjoy the countryside without the stress of driving, then yes, it’s wonderful! If you are expecting luxury, or great food, or large bathrooms…well, prepare to be disappointed. If you’re a germaphobe…it’s about the same level of cleanliness that you can expect on an airplane. I have approached the entire trip with very low expectations, and have been pleasantly surprised. I’m in no hurry, I’m in it for the experience, I’m looking at every part of it as a potential adventure, and I’ve packed snacks…so, it’s delightful.
My other favorite observation is that 90% of the train stations I’ve been in (with the bizarre exception of Charlotte, North Carolina) are incredibly beautiful historical buildings. They are either restored or just built to last, with high ceilings and marble floors and columns and detail…so much detail. They offer something that no airport offers, and I often feel like I’m walking into another era when I walk into one of the train stations. Charlotte was a fluke, I think. Some old Greyhound dumpy place…weird and a bit disappointing, since the South often has some of the best historical architecture.
Several other people have commented on my bravery, which is a bit awkward for me to hear. It’s been a fun experience, but I don’t know that such a word should be used for an explorer…maybe “bravery” could be reserved for people who risk themselves in service of someone else? I don’t know. In spite of the fact that there is literally NO security at train stations (a very very strange thing), I have not once felt threatened or accosted on a train or in my traveling this time. The conductors and their assistants come through the cars and make themselves available throughout the trip, and keep an eye on the passengers. Bravery might be too strong of a word, in this case. It’s just fun!