Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Train Travelogue, Part 2

Riding the train is a good chance to meet some people that I normally wouldn’t intersect with during the day. My train ride is now long over, but there are a few personalities and one little story worth sharing.

On the last day of my trip towards Portland, I met a guy in the lounge car who kindly pointed out some of the more interesting landmarks. He had worked at the National Park and grown up in North Dakota and was on his way back to his home in Portland after his father’s funeral. A while later as I was enjoying the sunset in the lounge car he called me over to join him and a few others and help him eat the many snacks he had brought along on the trip. Upon sitting down, he invited me to dig in to the assortment of junk food. I nibbled on a few M and Ms.

- Help yourself to anything. I’ve got lots of snacks. You know, I had to clean out the house after the funeral.

My first thought was -I’m eating a dead man’s M and Ms??

-Really, I think I ate too much already....I brought a lot of snacks along, too, so you know, I don't want to over eat....

A bit later in the conversation the topic of Haiti came up (it always does, doesn’t it?). An older man with white scruff and his red baseball cap slightly askew piped in.

- I had a friend who lived there. He got kicked out by that dictator.
- Duvalier? Baby Doc?
- Yeah, yeah. He worked at a casino, was married to one of the locals and got himself real messed up. They did a number on him. Kicked him out of the country and hasn’t been the same since.
- Did his wife return with him?
- No, no. She stayed and he’s never been the same. I don’t know what they did to him.

Who knew I’d run across this story on a train in Montana? On the trip back I came across a few more interesting characters. I didn’t meet them directly, but they sat at a table directly behind me playing cards and I picked up on a few interesting stories. One, Buckey Allen, is a professional rodeo-rider. He happened to be wearing a long-sleeve T-shirt with his sponsor and his name on the back. This complimented his belt-cinched Wranglers with a flask in the back pocket. Another guy, Mike, was on his way from California to New York (that’s one heck of a train trip!) to get back together with a his “girl” that he’d dated 7 years ago and decided to get back together with. If he wasn’t playing cards he was on the phone talking to “my girl”. A third was a young woman with wearing cowboy boots, knickers, a loose jacket and a hobo cap with a long feather. She was on her way to New Orleans with her grandfather to meet up with his Marine Corps buddies. She smelled of patchouli and said she’d joined the circus at a young age. Currently she is living in Idaho making pottery that no one buys. They guys suggested she put in on E-Bay.

The interesting people part continued on my train trip to NY. (Thanks to Shan for dropping me off at the train station!) I sat next to an Indian engineer from South Bend to Penn Station, NYC. A real Indian- he came for a niece’s wedding in Chicago and was using the rest of his tourist visa to see New York and Seattle. I also met a Yogi and an elderly gentleman who’d lived in New York all his life and wanted to tell me all about it during the stopover in Albany. I was most impressed with how his T-shirt pocket was stuffed with stuff. Not only the pocket, but he was able to store Kleenex on his shoulder with the stretch of the shirt holding it in place. Interesting.

So, if you ever want to break out of the mold, meet some interesting people and enjoy the scenery, take the train!! And you might get to claim, like I can, that you’ve slept my way through Fargo, ND- twice!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Train Travelogue, Part 1

Jess, I know you're anxious to hear about NY, but I have to get these stories out of me and on to paper, too. I know I'm back tracking a bit, but hang in there and I promise to post more soon.

September 9, 2008
There are a lot of strange people in this world. I might be one of them. There certainly are a different variety of people who take trains versus those who take planes. Trains are so much more accessible than planes. Although, not many of us know this or take advantage of it. Most people are very friendly. Some of them are 'train fans', others just trying to get from one place to the next at the lowest price. The most striking person I came across today was a long-haired blond guy pushing his crate of belongings through the 'B' track waiting lounge. I'm guessing he's a 30 something with a solid frame, but not one that hits the weights if you know what I mean. He was loudly proclaiming something, but I didn't quite hear. Maybe something about justice or inequality of not being able to get his bags checked. The next time I saw him was in the lounge car hunched over and asleep in a pair of observer deck chairs. Other interesting people include a family of the Amish. They boarded on the same train I did this morning in Grand Rapids. I overheard that they're coming from Mio in northern Lower Michigan near Grayling. I'm curious as to where they are going. Everybody's got a story.

The train is a nice experience. A slower pace and certainly not as invasive as a trip through your local airport; no x-rays, body checks or bare footing through the security line. As I go through the day, I'm picking up little hints and tricks on how to make the most of the train. So far I've learned that if you aren't in a sleeper car, the lower level coach seating is the place to be- lucky me, I was intuitive enough to get a lower-level ticket when I made my reservation. It's a smaller cabin with only 12 seats, there's no through passage, so there aren't constant streams of people walking by, there are electrical outlets next to every seat, and it's only steps from the bathroom.

So far this train experience is a good one. For some reason or another as soon as I get on the train I feel like I took a sleeping pill. I have a weird drugged out sort of feeling and just want to close my eyes. I'm forcing myself to stay awake though because before too long it will be dark and I'll have a lot of hours of possible sleep time all through the night, all in this seat. But, back to the good experience part. The scheduled three hour trip between GR and Chicago was a little longer than planned due to a late train and, yes, construction on the track. Once in Chicago I immediately sought out some coffee and was directed to go up a few levels out of the bowels of Union Station (yes, we NEED to invest in better public transportation!) and found Caribou Coffee. And, I'm glad I went. Not only did I get rid of the caffeine headache with a Mocha, I also received a free bag of coffee beans which will provide me with a fresh coffee smell all the way to Portland. With coffee in hand, I spotted a few of the Amish folks going outside. I followed and found myself next to the river on Adams Street in downtown Chicago. It was a gorgeous sunny day with a cool breeze. Ah, to be outside in the city! I love people watching and this was a fantastic place to do it. People on their lunch break, people waiting for trains and some just milling about. I soaked in as much sun and people watching as I could before heading back down to the grungy train station and boarding for a two day ride to Portland.