Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Stepped Onto a Steam Train.

Traveling by train is a different sort of experience. Time stops, in a lot of ways. When a freight train is coming in the other direction, we pull of and cede the tracks. Sometimes you come in through the downtown, although most times you skirt the edge. Some stops are within 30 minutes of each other, and some are hours apart. We're going to be about 4 hours late arriving into Chicago, which means we will miss our connection to DC. The trains are not equipped with WiFi, so I have no way of figuring out an alternate plan. The Conductors are telling us, however, that they know about all of us missing connections and we'll be greeted on the platform with a personalized rescheduled itiniary. So, for another 8 hours, we just sit back and listen to the wheels rolling along the tracks, and trust we'll have a plan when we arrive. I'm supposed to be at a training on Friday, and I'm holding out hope we'll be back by then, but there's nothing I can do about it now, so I'm trying to let it go.

As I mentioned yesterday, part of the reason for this trip is to avoid air travel. I have learned to hate air travel. It really is a hurry up and wait sort of experience.-- you have to get to your airport a good 90 minutes early, to have enough time to take off your shoes and empty your pockets and unpack half your stuff to get through security. We walked onto the train without having to show our tickets-- just gave the conductor our names and he pointed us in the right direction. I was pleasantly surprised to be able to walk on with our open coffees; there are people with full coolers to avoid concessions altogether. I am also finding the staff has a different demeanor-- they are truly here to serve us, and the apologies about the delays have felt sincere. "Amtrak will do everything they can to get you to your destination." The conductor told us they've sent vans to get passengers to their next connection, paid for bus tickets, or put them up in a hotel. "No one will sleep in Union Station tonight-- unless that is your choice to do so." What a welcome change from United texting to tell me my flight from Portland might not make the connection in Newark, and we were confirmed for a flight leaving 24 hours later. Granted, flying is a lot faster, if you make all of your connections-- and on journeys this long, probably even if you have to wait in an airport for 24 hours. But the airlines know that, and they don't really seem to care if you're comfortable, or scared, or if your plans are all shot to hell because of the delays.

The passengers are different as well. I've seen quite a few elderly folk, as well as families with young kids. I have seen quite a few people who need walkers or canes to get around. Lack of balance is a concern, but I'm sure getting around in airports is an even more daunting thought. There's a guy who just rode his bike from Virginia to Seattle, and a younger couple traveling all around the country by rail. The dining car has family seating, so if you're not in a party of 4, you get seated with someone else to roundout the table. Our sleeper seats have already paid for meals; Cate and I aren't big breakfast eaters, so just Dave and Ben took advantage of that, and Warrior eating Dave wasn't hungry for lunch, so he sat that out. It's an interesting way to meet your fellow passengers-- and way more fun than being crammed into airplane seats together. There's a family of what I'm assuming to be Mennonites, dressed in black from head to toe, except for the white bonnet. I finished reading Caleb's Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks, and found myself wondering if the religious guilt poured over Bethia and other 17th century Pilgrims living in the Massacheusetts Bay Colony has lessended for these woman any. When they boarded, I knew instantly I'd never have encountered them on a plane, a thought that had never crossed my mind before. Suddenly my Lutheran upbringing doesn't seem so strict. My mom was raised Missouri Synod, which is less strict than Wisconsin Synod. Looking around me, I see that to be true.

Big Sky Country is behind us; rolling hillsides and more prominent tree lines in front. We crossed the Mighty Mississippi and are into LaCrosse, WI. It's an old brick station, and makes me wish for platform 9 3/4. Most of the stations don't have WiFi-- I did sneak on for a quick minute in Red Wing, MN, and almost got a guest connection from Winona State University-- too bad for them, because I would have recommended them as a school for someone to check out-- but I'm really doing ok without it. I only wish I had it to look up info about all the places we pass through. or to find where we are on a map. There are bars near every train station-- casinos, too, back in Montana and North Dakota. Restaurants, too, but the bars face prominently. Wild Light is singing to me about their hometown in New Hampshire. The country side looks like they have 4 generations of families with personal histories. The train runs on a diagonal across the town streets, showing lots of dead ends and hidden spots. I saw the old part of a major route coming out of Winona, MN-- the road ran below the current road and is only visible from the tracks. You see things you wouldn't otherwise see, and have the time to think about them. There are more hidden to the road family dumps, people with junkyards that rival the one back at home. I wonder if those fences are discussed at town meetings, or if being evident only by the tracks shields the owners from the ire of their neighbors? Tomah, WI, and the mennonite family is here to greet their weary travelers. It is like a scene out of Witness, and I am a hapless voeyor.

The kids have spent the day in the roomette, Ben reading his book (he was making progress when I saw him at lunch) and Cate on her iPod, both dozing. We're not supposed to have rooms for the rest of the trip home, so I'm glad they're taking advantage of it. Dave has been next to me, when he hasn't gotten restless and gone exploring. I doubt we'll travel by train again with all 4 of us-- the rooms are so expensive, and it's a long way to go in coach, but I could see Dave and I traveling this way when it's just the two of us. I don't like the "guilty until proved innocent" part of air travel. With that thought, I realize I am becoming my mother. Is train travel less crazy than using a camper as your primary vehicle? I guess only time will tell.

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