Note: This is the final episode of TRAIN TRACKER, my version of a travelogue by train. To make any sense of it whatsoever, you’ll probably want to go back and read all the previous thrilling episodes, namely, TRAIN TRACKER: Season One, TRAIN TRACKER: Season Two, TRAIN TRACKER: Season Two, continued, TRAIN TRACKER, Season Two: Episode 3, and TRAIN TRACKER, Season Three: Stranger Things on a Train.
And now, for the final, thrilling conclusion of TRAIN TRACKER!
Season Three, Episode 2: I Want My Wi-Fi!
I’d just left Chicago on a train bound for Tucson when I discovered, to my horror, that my train was not equipped with Wi-Fi. I took the following selfie as proof of my misery:
I wanted my Wi-Fi! I wanted it as badly as Mark Knopfler wanted his MTV. But did I write a chart-topping song about it, like he did? No. I was too bummed out to be able to think of anything that rhymed with Wi-Fi.
Of course, now that I’m home, it’s clear to me that “sci-fi” rhymes with Wi-Fi. So, with apologies to Queen, here’s the first verse of my new song, “Cross Country Rhapsody.”
Is this the real life?
Is this just sci-fi?
Caught in a train car
Ain’t got no wi-fi.
I’ll let you know if I win a Grammy.
Meanwhile, I can tell you right now how I managed to get through the 66-hour train ride home without any high-speed internet access:
I read a book. Namely, Andrew Sean Greer’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel, Less. It’s a comedy about a gay man named Arthur Less who’s on a trip around the world. Entertaining and enjoyable.
If you’re going to bring a book on the train, I recommend the type with actual pages. You never know – an attractive stranger might notice it and start up a conversation with you. Or, you could use it as a fan in the event of A/C failure. If it’s thick enough, you might try wedging it behind your back for lumbar support. I actually did try that.
I watched part of a movie. Before my trip, I’d rented three movies on iTunes, but somehow I’d only downloaded one of them. (Silly me — I thought renting and downloading were the same thing.) When I tried to play the movie I’d downloaded, I discovered that my iPhone headphones (the only ones I’d packed) didn’t fit my new laptop.
So when we stopped in Chicago, I bought a $10 pair of headphones. Problem solved — or so I thought. One problem, though: the right earbud was dead. Undeterred, I tried watching the movie anyway, in mono, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I needed subtitles to understand the British accents that were buzzing through my one and only cheap earbud. After fifteen minutes, I gave up.
OK, I thought, I’ll just watch one of the other two movies I’d rented. But this was not to be, since, as you already know, and as I was finally realizing, there was no Wi-Fi on that train!
I watched an intelligent stand-up comedy special. I had a link on my phone to Aziz Ansari’s new show, Right Now. I was able to watch it on my phone because I “had data.” (I don’t really know what that means. All I know is, it worked!) Aziz Ansari has had some bad P.R. lately, but he addresses it honestly right at the beginning of his special, and he comes across as genuine, sensitive, and “woke.” It’s really good, and funny, too.
I tried Zen train walking. About a week before my train excursion, I happened to come across a strange little book, Zen Driving. It’s all about how to drive a car in a more calm, aware manner, using Zen ways of thinking (or not thinking). I decided to try applying the techniques I read about in Zen Driving while making my way down the aisle of a moving train car. I tried gliding, I tried focusing straight ahead, I even tried bounding down the aisle. I think maybe it helped, because I never fell in anyone’s lap, not even once.
I watched the scenery go by. This could be done from my seat, which had a pretty large window, or from the observation car, which was practically all windows and also had tables where people could eat, play cards, etc. I saw the Gateway Arch and Busch Stadium in St. Louis, the “burrito lady” in El Paso, rainbows, sunsets, forests, flooded fields, farms, cattle, goats, sheep, vultures, pronghorns, cattle egrets, and more.
I listened to classical music on YouTube. I’m trying to expand my musical horizons by working my way through the book, Year of Wonder by Clemency Burton-Hill. It contains one-page descriptions of 365 pieces of music, one for each day of the year. I listened to James Ehnes performing Paganini’s Caprice Op. 24, and I was absolutely astounded at how good it was. Check it out!
I interacted. I met interesting people from all walks of life, usually in the dining car:
One woman from Chicago told me where to find the best pizza, corn bread, jerk chicken, and soul food in that town.
Three women (including the one above, her stepmom, and a lady across the aisle who wanted to join our discussion) talked with me about politics. We all supported the same candidates!
A grandmother who was born and raised in Texas shared her love of books, her koi pond, her grandsons, and her dogs. As I got up to leave, she added, “I hope you have a blessed trip. My name’s ___, and I’m on Facebook.”
A man explained to me the reason for his trip: he was returning home after having achieved his goal of riding on the “Big Boy” – the world’s largest steam locomotive.
I translated a few sentences for a woman who spoke only Spanish and needed some help. Another Spanish-speaking woman helped me out in turn. I had asked her in English “which way to the dining car.” (I told you I have no sense of direction.) But when I realized she spoke only Spanish, I switched to that language and she understood, even though I’d made mistakes. People just love it when you try to speak their language.
As in real life, it wasn’t all pleasant. Four teens almost got kicked off the train for getting into a heated argument among themselves; a tipsy woman lifted her shirt and showed off her gall bladder scar. An older woman trying to walk through the observation car suddenly lost her balance and crashed violently into a seat when the train lurched suddenly. (She wasn’t hurt, but I really think trains need to be made safer for people of all ages and for those with disabilities, as well.)
Friends have asked if I’ll take this trip again. I probably will. It was nice to sit back and enjoy the ride, knowing that I had three full days ahead of me without any obligations, without having to be anywhere or do anything else.
In a way, I think it was as close to a Zen experience as I could have asked for while crossing the continent. And you know what? I’m actually glad that I didn’t have my Wi-Fi!