1 hour down | 43 to go
Back in July, I decided it would be fun to go to Seattle to celebrate Thanksgiving with my brother Roy. I happened to see that Amtrak had a deal, so in a fit of whimsy, I bought a train ticket. Today I begin #44HoursInATrain, which simultaneously feels like the best and worst decision of my life.
The whole thing is new to me. At Union Station in Chicago, I wandered to what I thought was my gate. I got in line behind a group of Amish men and women, only to find out that all of us were not allowed to be there. I went back to the main terminal, marching with confidence. It must have looked fake, however, because a big Santa Claus of a man asked if I knew where I was going. I thrust my ticket at him and asked where I ought to go.
“Just get on my cart and I’ll take you there!” he offered.
“Um. Can you just point me in the right direction?”
“I’m going that direction. Just get on.”
I stared him down. “Alright, I’ll trust you,” I said, with enough of a low voice that he knew I really didn’t trust him.
We rode down a hallway, where he stopped to let three elderly women hop on as well. I offered to walk so that someone else could get a ride, but Santa Claus said, “Just sit still. You’re fine.” The old ladies and I introduced ourselves – one was Asian, the other black, and the third white. Together with me as the awkward 20-something, I thought the four of us might have made up a fun sitcom.
The Asian woman, Ava-Su, was the only one going all the way to Seattle, so we rode to Door 6. When I got off Santa Claus’s transport, I realized my good luck. By hitching a ride with the elderly, I’d gotten first pick of seats. Naturally, I went all the way to the back to be as far away from everyone as possible.
I’ve been in this seat (both seats – pretty much everyone has got a row to themselves, hallelujah) ever since. I will eventually have to get up, if for no other reason than I have a reservation for dinner in the dining car, but for now I am obeying my prey instincts. Because I’m in a new situation, my introversion feels very strongly that I ought to sit still, shut up, and observe everything. By tomorrow night I’ll be roaming freely. Hahaha, oh my gosh, I’ll still be here tomorrow night, and I’ll still have twelve hours to go at that point.
5 hours down | 39 to go
Oh my gosh, I just had the most fascinating dinner.
I made a dinner reservation for 6:45 in the dining car (the cafe car has cheaper foods all the time, but I wanted to experience a fancier meal while I still feel clean and mostly human). They seat you in groups of four, which I was initially unhappy about. Especially when the first person to join my table was a guy who sat beside me in silence.
“Well, hello!” I tried.
“It’s really weird that they seat us with strangers,” he said, not even attempting to return my greeting.
“Sure is,” I said, glaring at his profile.
We were soon joined by Ava-Su, my elderly Asian friend from earlier, and Nice Woman, who rides all over the United States on Amtrak lines. We all found a fun conversational rhythm, even Oless, the guy who apparently just needed some alcohol in his system to become friendly. He was born in the USSR, which I thought was going to be the most interesting fact from our table. But then Ava-Su said, “I used to be married, you know. But my husband decided—well, no, she has always identified as a woman. Anyway, my husband had a sex change, and now she is a woman.”
I was absolutely delighted and enthralled. “What was that like for you?” I asked.
“It was okay,” she said. She thought for a moment. “We didn’t have sex very much. Maybe once a month. But that was okay by me.”
Ava-Su talks a lot, but her life is super compelling, so I mostly sat across the table, gaping at her with an open smile as she told us about visiting Australia and New Zealand where everything is upside-down and how she is a performance art dancer at the age of 73 who can still do a handstand. She can’t hold it, but she can get up and then fall over. She doesn’t regret marrying her husband, although she wishes she had stayed with him one more year so that she could get the retirement benefits that come with staying married to someone for ten years. I love her intensely.
Dinner’s over now (oh, I ordered salisbury steak, salad, bread, mashed potatoes, vegetables, and red wine – much better than plane food), and even though it’s only 8:00, I’ll probably fall asleep soon. The rocking of the train already threw me into a cat nap while I was listening to an audiobook earlier. It’s been dark for over three hours now, so it feels like the middle of the night.
One day down! Just….one and a half more to go!