“Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity.”
G. K. Chesterton

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Tussa silk and Lily Spindle
Trains: My Favorite Mobile Writing Retreat
Sat 2009-05-23 21:15:48 (in context)
  • 3,400 wds. long

Hello from Chicago, a surprisingly bike-friendly city! And hello from Wrigleyville--as bike rides go, not as far from Union Station as I feared. Seriously, other than the last 5 blocks of my ride, which were residential so meh, there wasn't an inch of route that wasn't marked with bike lanes or with "Shared Lane / Yield to Bikes" signs. How did Google know? I told it "Union Station to Sheffield House Hotel," it showed me a route including the interstate, I told it "No, walking" because I am neither a car nor a bus, and it gave me this. You might note that the second appearance of Milwaukee Road involves going the wrong way on a one-way street; well, on that one-way street, there are bike lanes going in both directions. That's how good it is.

As for Sheffield House Hotel... Put it this way; it's no Hilton. But it's reasonably clean, tolerably functional, cheap, and in the target neighborhood.

And as for biking, go me. I checked my bike on the train for the first time. I feel like I spent the entire week before my trip getting ready for that: buying tools, practicing removing or rearranging pieces of my bike, getting surprised by the need for new tires or the suddenly broken seat adjustment nut, & etc. But it was time well spent. When I got to Denver Union Station, it took me under 15 minutes to have the basket off, handebars lowered and turned, pedals removed, and the bike into the $15 box. They even let me stow my tool bag in the box, which Amtrak's web page says absolutely is not to be done.

Picking the bike up in Chicago was slightly more cryptic; you sort of just have to know that bikes won't come up to the baggage carousel, but that you have to go down to the basement in the hard hat area to claim 'em and put 'em together. And given that you're not going to ride away carrying that box, at least not as is, maybe you're resigned to buying a new one each time you check; maybe you talk to someone working in baggage retrieval and they agree to hold onto it for you. Maybe you stomp it into a flat 3" x 2" square and hope it'll reconstitute. Be creative.

But all of this is by-the-by. What I really wanted to blog about was how Amtrak is totally my favorite mobile writing retreat like ever. Which you knew, if you know me. But this trip totally rocked for writing.

It didn't look like it at first. The train ride started out... crowded. I mean, even for Memorial Day weekend. Crowded. Which is good; more people riding the rails means more likelihood of service expansion. But it also meant that they had trouble seating us all. Seriously, the train was rolling for a good 5 minutes before a crew member found me a home for the night. But that's OK; I never doubted they would. Amtrak wasn't my problem. No, we reserve that honor for Gripey McBickerson, father traveling with small son, who wasn't gonna let some Amtrak crew member tell him to wait in line like the other customers. Noooo.

Really, this is classic. Indulge me for a bit. You know that destructive nonsense about "the customer is always right"? Ever notice how customers who really believe it, bless their pointed little shoes, seem to think that they, themselves, are always more right than the other customers? In Whiny McSidlesneeze's case, he and his son were oh so much more important than the other, oh, 20 families including small children also waiting to board. He must be seated right now! Screw waiting in line like everyone else, seat him and his kid first! Before all the paired seats are taken! Such that he and his son end up at opposite ends of the train! Because Amtrak crew members can't possibly be adept at gently shuffling passengers around to ensure children remain safely with their parents!

I'm not going to go into the whole saga of Kvetching McSullenpants and his four year old son. Not here. It's not the point. Besides, the poor kid is clearly going to be embarrassed enough by his father as the years roll by; I shouldn't add to it. No no no no. The point is, when one of the coach passengers is obnoxious, suddenly no matter where you're sitting, it seems like you're bumping into them. And Mr. Whingiewoe Carp-n-Moan continued to be obnoxious after this point. He seemed quite sure that the rest of us would find his constant barrage of cynical, sarcastic commentary entertaining. And retold the saga of how some crew member tried to bully him around to one and all. And practically encouraged his kid to repeat the crew member's name with him, that they may remember it forever, that he might someday soon, any minute now, sic five lawyers on him for, y'know, not treating him like the special snowflake shooting star that he so clearly was.

And so on, and so forth, and this is my writing environment? But but but I must finish my rewrite before Chicago!

And yet things were wonderful.

So eventually, after the train's gotten as far as Commerce City, us last two end-of-the-line single stragglers are led to seats two cars down. And we settle in. And I take me, myself, and my computer, along with recently critiqued copies of "The Impact of Snowflakes," into the Cafe Car... where I discover, to my delight, that it's the sort with two outlets at every cafe table and two more at ever cluster of sightseer-style chairs. This is not to be taken for granted! On the California Zephyr, one never knows what the outlet situation will be in coach or in the lounge. By Summer 2011, all Superliners should have outlets at every seat (offical word from Amtrak rep), but until then, I tend to squee a bit when I see outlets. So I happily ensconce myself and read through my friends' comments. Then I sort of just sit there, composting it all in my head, and playing with the Mardi Gras silk that Avedan gave me for my birthday (depicted here with Birdseye Maple "Lily Spindle" purchased at the new downtown Boulder shop Gypsy Wool). It spins up pretty.

So that was last night. This morning I woke up as we pulled into Omaha, about 6:20 AM or so (a bit behind schedule), and went into the wake-up routine: teeth brushing and coffee drinking and Morning Pages scribbling. And then a little more spinning. And then--"OK, no more procrastination! Must have this done by 3:00!"--sitting at another Cafe Car table to revise "Snowflakes" over the next... five hours, I think. Great leaping Gods and Goddess. Five freakin' hours.

(Mr. Sweetiepie and son showed up a lot, but they were Not Allowed to spoil the happy writerly buzz. Headphones are good. So is Determinedly Enjoying The View or Doggedly Staring Into The Computer Screen. Still, allowed myself a small amount of schadenfreude when overhearing dad admonishing tantruming son, "Hey now, no drama." Because goodness knows Kvetchy McMutterscoff never caused any drama.)

So as it turned out, I had not brought my Canon BJ-10sx with me in vain. I plugged in the printer upstairs in the lounge car and finished printing out that story about 45 minutes before arriving in Chicago. Then into the Priority International envelope it went, ready to be toted up to the nearest U.S. P.S. customer service lobby!

First thing I did in Chicago, other than retrieve and reconstitute my bike, was stick that story in the mail Priority International. Because I have a March 31 deadline I'd like to beat, thanks! I'll let you know how it goes.

So it's later and I'm hanging around the Sheffield House Hotel lobby, posting this. And on the one hand, I'm feeling like, way to go me! Today, I Was A Writer! Good job! You have Accomplished and now you may go play. Which I did. I biked over to Blue Bayou and said hi to my brother--who was not, in my opinion, nearly surprised enough to see me riding my bike in Chicago. He just said, "Hey, you're a little late, aren't you?" Meh. I'll do the crawfish thing tomorrow. Today I was just saying hi. And then I went over to North Clark to a Japanese restaurant I'd noticed on my way up from the station: All You Can Eat Sushi. That appears to be the actual name of the place. I ate there. Now, I hurt.

But on the other hand - and this is weird, I think - I'm feeling both addicted to stress and addicted to the happy. The stress is, "Oh my Gods I have to get this stuff DONE today," and the gut level of it isn't necessarily affected by having actually got the stuff done. I have to keep reminding myself that I did my assignment, really, I can relax now!

And then there's the happy. I like Feeling Like A Writer! I should do it again! I should spend another four hours revising something so I can pop it in the mail so I can get that feeling again!

Seeing as how it's eleven o'clock at night, I've been up since six, and I didn't sleep very soundly last night, those 'nother four hours are at the very least not going to happen right now. But watch this space for developments; a much shorter version of it may happen tomorrow or Monday.

P.S. I'm on Twitter now, Gods help me. Click the link if hearing me jabber interests you; I'm doing a good bit of it since I'm traveling. Meanwhile, my uber-rss should start feeding to Twitter via TwitterFeed. Let's see what happens when I post this...

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