Amtrak: a writerly recap

Grain-fed outside of Fort Worth

All of the great Twitter buzz about Amtrak needing to institute a writing residency (which they later did) had me laughing to myself. Don't get me wrong--it's a lovely idea! I've been a romanticizer of train travel from way back. I bought my first North American rail pass on Amtrak in early 2000 (maybe 2002/2003?) and spent that December traveling to Halifax, Nova Scotia and then later down to Dallas, Texas. The idea was to spend the time writing on my way to visit family and friends, and it was awesome. The train was comfortable and not overly crowded. I met such interesting people, including a fellow budding writer looking for quiet inspiration, gazed at whatever landscape we were passing in the observation car and dined with strangers. I can't say that I got a lot of writing done, but I left inspired and fulfilled.

In fact, it held such warm memories for me that I decided to travel to Texas via Amtrak again in December 2011. I can't decide if the marked difference in my trip was the result of more people looking for a railway adventure or the fact that I was roughly ten years older and in need of more comfort in my life. Instead of a romantic journal across a swath of America, laptop and idealism in tow, we're talking Lord of the Flies and a descent into madness. Before I re-read my Twitter account of the trip (below), my initial inclination was to offer a bit of reality for all of the starry-eyed dreamers. However, after reading through my notes and thinking back on the trip, it occurred to me that even in its most uncomfortable, trying moments the trip provided me with stories, rich characters and the knowledge that this girl will book a sleeper car for anymore long train journeys. So, go ahead, sign on up!

Departure // Washington, DC to Austin, TX

Train travelogue, hour 9: I have read (a lot), drafted one blog post, and carried on one lengthy conversation. #thrilling

Train travelogue, hour 10: Once again demonstrated my prowess at changing into comfortable evening attire in a bouncing train restroom.

Train travelogue, hour 22: 2 Bigelow teas, 1 Starbucks Via, water. Caffeine deprivation is a concern.

Train travelogue, hour 28: Shooting video clips from the observation car and continuing to change my mind on where I'm hopping off in TX.

Train travelogue, hour 34: Spending time in common areas has led to interaction w chatters. Do believe I've heard my first line of the trip.

Train travelogue, hour (almost) 36: There is now banjo playing in the observation car (as we roll through the ozarks).

Train travelogue, hour 39: Found a corner of the floor to curl up in. Hoping for sleep.

Train travelogue, hour 45: My seatmate finally got off the train, so I'm trying to hold onto my solo seat. I. Need. Sleep.

Train travelogue, hour 49: Stopped in Dallas, I feel my final destination is within reach. Also, After the Apocalypse is my #FridayReads.

Train travelogue, hour 52: It will prob disturb you that I think I look better than I should after this long. http://t.co/KzXxOG96

Train travelogue, hour 55: Here.

Return Trip // Austin, TX to Washington, DC

Train travelogue, hour 4: Close to Fort Worth. Spotted what appeared to be starving cows a couple hours back and am still haunted by them.

Train travelogue, hour 8.5: Watching mating rituals in a condensed setting makes me realize even more that I'm not cut out to randomly date.

Train travelogue, hour 9: The observation car is like a crazy, mad bazaar. Screaming children, conversations in at least 4 diff languages.

Train travelogue, hour 11: Have I told you that some serious drinking occurs on trains? They sell booze, and people very much byob.

Train travelogue, hour 14: Seatmate got off in Little Rock, and I survived the new influx of passengers. Safe for at least 2 hours. Sleep.

Train travelogue, hour 23: I survived the night and was rewarded with sunrise glancing off the St. Louis arch and a dusting of snow.

Train travelogue, hour 27: I'm about an hour away from Chicago and in desperate need of this layover.

Train travelogue, hour 30: I take the train in order to people watch and absorb atmosphere. However, Chicago's Union Station is my own hell.

Train travelogue, hour 33: My people watching has stooped to a new low. Am periodically peering over at my seatmate's salacious chat convo.

Train travelogue, hour 34: Broken, I reached for the wine. Yes, folks, I have been driven to drink white zin by the train.

Train travelogue, hour 38: Honestly, I'm super prickly. Just stopped in Indy, and a family of about 30 loud assholes boarded. #midnight

Train travelogue, hour 46: Not even wine could salvage what we had. The train and I have broken up.

Train travelogue, hour 49: Outlook brightened by conversation with a nun about bears and dancing in a meadow at night. Also, waterfalls.

Train travelogue, hour 54: Running 2 hours behind schedule. Disembarked in Staunton in favor of rental car. Fuck this (chanted internally).