dispatches from the rails
Guess where I'm blogging from!? I'm blogging from the train! In COACH! ...Apparently trains get more civilized east of the Mississippi. Or maybe there's just fewer dead zones so that it seems worth getting a hotspot up and running. In any case, I'm on the Cardinal, having boarded at its originating station in Chicago and staying right on to its last stop of New York City. And there is wifi.
I'm heading to Montreal for Scintillation 2019. Everything sounds like a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to author readings, outings for dim sum and tea tastings, walking tours of various bits of town, tabletop games, and of course all sorts of panels. But I have to get there first.
It has been an adventure. I knew it would be an adventure going into this. I bought the fare reassuring the ticketing agent on the phone, "Yes, I know. Three nights on board. That's fine. I like trains." And I do! But, let me tell you, I have never been more glad of an impending twelve hour overnight layover than I am now.
My layover between Denver and Chicago was only to be three hours, which felt uncomfortably lean. Look, you take the California Zephyr with any regularity, you know there's a lot of potential for mishap and slowdowns between San Francisco and Chicago. And indeed the train was two hours late into Chicago, just late enough to keep me from relaxing. I spent the hour between trains walking one big and slow clockwise circle from track 26, around the track area, into the main terminal, over to gate C, into the line for boarding (pause for half an hour because boarding started late), then shuffling slowly in that line from gate C over to track 28. You will notice the proximity of 26 to 28, yes? Well. When my shuffling, shambling queue came alongside Train 50, I couldn't help but notice that proximity, either. Physically, mechanically, I could have stepped off Train 6, crossed the platform, and boarded Train 50 in under 5 minutes. Unfortunately, Amtrak connections don't work like that unless you're so desperately super-late that they're actually holding up the departure of the train just for you. And thankfully things weren't that desperate.
So, OK, I got my steps in for the day, as the kids with the FitBits do say.
Those two hours of late, by the way? There was this one half hour in there that was absolutely fascinating. Apparently Amtrak had left a car to be repaired somewhere east of, oh, Osceola, Iowa? Maybe? And it had been repaired. So our crew was tasked with picking it up and dragging it into Chicago. Like, "Oh, hey, while you're out, could you pick up some milk and a dozen eggs?" Only instead of groceries it was an Amtrak passenger car. So I was that passenger, the one who runs off to the back of the last coach to watch the goings-on over the engineers' shoulders. I was on my best behavior, though! I kept my mouth shut and did not bother them with questions. Some of the crew got out to manually throw (or shove) the switches that directly and visibly switched the lie of the tracks so that we could back onto the spur where the car for pick up was. The engineer on board kept saying into the walkie talkie, "Give me three more cars. Give me about a car and a half more. Twenty feet, nice and easy." And thus we backed, ever so gently, right into the orphaned car. Then they did a bunch of stuff I couldn't see to attach the car, then we waited a while, and then we went on our way, one car longer.
Anyway. Train 50, the Cardinal, has a single-decker coach with modern, comfy seats and, by Amtrak standards, very little leg-room. For comparison, in the upper level of the double-decker coach on the California Zephyr, I'd had so much room for my short little legs that I couldn't reach the footrest attached to the seat-back in front of me. The fold-down desk was just useable if I extended my seat's leg rest and sat on that rather than on the seat itself. Not complaining! It was spacious. It was comfy. Just, it was a bit of a surprise to be get on the Cardinal and be reminded of an airplane. First class in an airplane, maybe, but still.
And this worried me because I was going to be in that coach car for twenty-eight hours. (Twenty-eight! Haha ahaha ha. But see below.) Fortunately, I didn't have a next-seat neighbor until sometime past noon the next day, so I was able to curl up on my pair of seats and sleep cozily enough, at least until my knees started complaining about having been too long in a bent position. (Aging! I'm telling you.)
Did I write? Why yes I wrote. I have been writing. I have been doing all the writing every day on every train. I did some freewriting that turned into a flash fiction piece that has muscled its way onto the revision workbench despite said workbench already being occupied. I made some progress on the latest overdue Friday Fictionette. Also I battled 4thewords monsters and submitted a manuscript because, as stated above, there is wifi on this train, so I could do those things.
OK, well, much of West Virginia was dead zone. But then much of West Virginia was too beautiful for gluing eyes to the laptop screen anyway, so.
But here's the thing: Throughout today, this train has been getting more and more behind schedule. It had picked up a forty-five minute delay overnight, and this steadily increased to an hour and a half by the time we got to Charlottesville. Then we hit Washington D.C., where I gawked out the window at the Iconic Architectural Features of America's Capitol, like you do. (I saw the Washington Monument and I think I saw the back end of the White House. It was hard to be sure. It was dark out, and the big double rectangle between me and the recognizable dome could have been just a bigger version of any random IT office back in east Boulder.) And we came to the station, and we stopped, and we stayed there a long, long time.
They had to change off the diesel engine for electric, to start. That was planned. Then they had to do something arcane with the brakes, which was not planned. Then the other passengers in coach started shouting at the Amtrak crew like spoiled children, and I upped stakes and departed for the lounge car where it was quiet.
And then. And then and then and then. Just before the stop in Wilmington, Delaware, there is drama. There is a man who has been in the bathroom a long, long time and is not responding to the crew. I mean, he's not in medical distress, as far as they can tell, but he refuses to come out. And other passengers indicate that earlier conversations with said gentleman made them think he might be doing drugs in there. OR SOMETHING. And the coach attendant is all, "That's going to slow us down some more, because we're going to have to call the police to deal with him." Cue the shouting and the wails of despair and "Please, Lord, just let us reach Philadelphia!" I'd just returned to my seat toward the front of coach. I turned right around and parked myself in the last seat in coach, as far from the shouting and wailing as I could get. Because I've got a sleepless night in NYC ahead of me, and I need a nap.
The stop at Wilmington wasn't actually all that long. As we pulled away, I saw the aforementioned gentleman being questioned on the platform by three police officers. I suppose extracting him didn't turn out to be all that difficult.
So. I'm going to be at least two and a half hours late into New York Penn Station. Which is fine. Once I get there, I have until around 8:00 AM to board my next train. My only regret is, we're going to get in after all the groceries close, and I had wanted to pick up a few things. Well. One of them opens again at 5:00 AM, so maybe I'll get to do my shopping after all.
Meanwhile, you know what's open all night long in New York City? This Korean BBQ place. So it doesn't matter how late I get in, I'm still getting my order of kimchi kalguksu or maybe galbitang or, I dunno, something delicious. Also I have not counted the number of karaoke bars in the neighborhood but a glance at Google Maps tells me that number is upward of A LOT. So it'll be fine.
But I should probably take that nap now.