Tag Archives: documentary

TRAIN TRACKER: Season Two

(TRAIN TRACKER is a multi-post documentary about my train trip across the U.S.A. Click here for the prequel, a.k.a. Season One, and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog!)

Episode 1: T-Minus Zero

I’m on the train, which has just left Schenectady, and we’re moving fast. T-Minus Zero has arrived!

In this exciting episode of Train Tracker, since I’m on a moving train and being jostled around a little, I might try writing in a stream-of-consciousness style, without a whole lot of editing. Sort of like Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” but not nearly as good.

At 6:45 p.m., I arrived at the brand new Schenectady train station, bags in hand. The fact that the station was constructed in 2018 gave me a feeling of confidence as I awaited the announcement to board the train, scheduled to depart at 7:33.

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At 7:00 p.m. I got antsy. I decided to kill time by taking a quick photo of the station. I grabbed my camera and duffel bag and went outside.

After snapping the above picture, I returned to the waiting room, only to find it less full than before. Had the boarding announcement come during the one minute that I was outside? Just to be safe, I headed for the track. Several other passengers were already there, and they didn’t look too happy to see me taking their picture.

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But a few minutes later, a flock of cedar waxwings landed in the tree right across the tracks from me. (I took their picture, but they look like tiny ants. You’ll just have to take my word for it.) Cedar waxwings are favorites of mine, and I rarely get to see them. I think it’s a good sign.

At 7:27, the 7:33 train pulled in. (I’m not usually such a time nerd, but I was impressed with my train’s punctuality.)

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This is my actual train.

We boarded quickly, and the train started moving before most of us had found our seats. The first car was full so we walked to the next one which, to my relief, was practically empty.

(I’m going to start writing in the present tense now. I’m not sure that’s good writing, but I have a feeling Jack Kerouac would approve.)

7:35: I take a window seat. It has a curtain, which is closed. That’s okay. It will be night time soon, and there’s nobody else in this row.

The conductor walks by. I ask if the train from Chicago to Tucson is a double decker.

“Which train is it?” he says.

“The Texas Eagle,” I reply.

“Yes it is,” he says. “But wait. You’re going to Tucson? The Texas Eagle doesn’t go to Tucson.”

“Yes, I believe it does,” I say.

“No,” he says. “I ride that train all the time. It doesn’t go any farther than San Antonio.”

I look up the schedule online after he leaves. I am right, at least according to the internet … but maybe I’m destined for a new life in San Antonio.

7:39: I change seats so I can take pictures of the sunset on the Mohawk River. Most of the pictures are blurry, and the train windows could use a little Windex.

7:45: The setting sun is right in my eyes and the curtain is stuck open. I return to my original seat, the one with the closed curtain. I try opening that curtain and discover that it is covering up a blank wall. I remind myself that it will be night time soon.

I take out my laptop and try typing with it on my lap, but the top of my lap is not made for a laptop. It’s too round or something. Also, the ride is a little bouncy. This has nothing to do with my lap. I’m sure it’s just the train that’s bouncy.

The tray table is about four feet away. I lean forward and lower the tray table. I can type now, but the position I’m in reminds me of one of the more difficult yoga poses. I can’t sit in this awkward position for long. Lucky for you, my blog posts may have to be shorter than I’d planned.

Suddenly, I come to the realization that my tray table can be pulled toward me. Problem solved. So what if it’s tipped at a 10-degree angle? I can type with one hand while I hold my computer in place with the other.

All kidding aside, I’m about 1.5 hours into my trip, and things are going great! No complaints.

9:45 p.m. I’ve been so busy writing that I hardly notice that the train has stopped. Now a whole crowd of people are getting on (including a large family and a crying baby). It’s pitch black outside, and in the car, too, making it difficult to type because of the eye strain I’m experiencing.

But first this announcement, from the conductor. I swear this is what he said, word for word:

“If you make a mess in the bathrooms, please clean up after yourself, and PLEASE do not urinate on the floor.”

There is now a foul odor in my train car. By the way, I have forsaken the Jack Kerouac no-editing method. You really don’t want to know my exact thoughts at this moment.

10:16 p.m. I was going to watch a movie, but I’ve brought the wrong kind of headphones for my laptop. Hopefully, I can buy the right type during my 4-hour layover in Chicago tomorrow. And maybe some noseplugs! I’m going to listen to a podcast on my phone now. Good night!

 

TRAIN TRACKER: Season One

It’s T-minus six. The countdown has begun. In only six days, I’ll board a train in Schenectady, New York, bound for Tucson, Arizona. Who will I meet along the way? What exciting adventures will I encounter? How many times will I beat my head against the window wishing I’d opted for a sleeping car?

I’m calling this trip a train-umentary, and I’ve given it a summer blockbuster name: “TRAIN TRACKER.” Maybe Netflix will be interested, especially if true crime is involved! I’ll be blogging, taking photos, and maybe even interviewing people while sitting upright in a train seat for 62 hours, without access to a shower or bed. That’s a true crime already!

TRAIN TRACKER, SEASON ONE

Episode 1: Why A Train?

I live in Tucson and my family lives in New York. Out of necessity, I’ve flown cross-country annually (sometimes more than once a year) for the past sixteen years. I’ve enjoyed flying, but lately, due to plane crashes and what not, I wanted a lower-to-the-ground option.

Also, I’d wanted to bring my guitar with me this time. That’s actually what had gotten me started thinking about the train in the first place. Most airlines won’t let you carry a guitar on board unless you buy it a seat. Trains, on the other hand, treat guitars like carry-on luggage.

Episode 2: Why Coach?

Articles I’ve read, and sane people in general, strongly recommend the sleeper car, but I chose coach. Why? Price. By the time I decided to book my trip (two weeks ahead of time), the cost of one sleeper car ticket from New York to Arizona was $800 to $2000 depending on the date and route, while my coach ticket was only $219. I guess you could say I was willing to put up with the high probability of loud rumbling, screeching, swaying, shaking, a stiff back, swollen ankles, screaming babies, and odd smells for three days because I was too cheap to spring for a higher-priced seat. But I’d say I did it out of a sense of adventure. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Episode 3: Shopping

I went online two days ago, Googled “train travel tips,” and realized I’d need some extra items I hadn’t thought of before, like a blanket, a pillow, and maybe lots and lots of deodorant (for myself, and as free gifts to my fellow passengers). Did you know that Amtrak does not provide blankets and pillows? Well, I’m pretty sure they don’t, but I’ll check it out on the train and let you know for sure. (This is just an example of the fascinating, not -to-be-missed information I’ll be reporting on in Season Two!)

Here’s what I bought yesterday:

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The blanket should come in handy if I sit next to a baseball player, or to avoid eye contact with the conductor while I sneak into a sleeper car. I could also use it to throw over my head to hide from a train robber.

The red neck pillow scrunches up and fits in a round carrying bag, which I could always use as a stress ball if needed:

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Today I thought about train food and realized I’d probably be stuck with a diet of steamed hot dogs, Doritos, and canned soda for three days unless I packed my own refreshments, so I bought a few healthy snacks (and toiletries). I know my $219 ticket makes me seem cheap, but, after all, I did splurge on Fiji water. The granola bars and cashews should give me energy for writing. More importantly, they’ll go well with any adult beverages that I might be forced to buy if my stress ball isn’t working.

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Episode 4: Packing

Tonight, I made a pile of everything I’m going to need easy access to on the train, such as: camera, camera case, pillow, blanket, changes of clothing, water, snacks, sweater, toiletries, laptop, phone, and chargers. The pile was almost as big (and probably heavier) than my large suitcase. I guess tomorrow I’ll go shopping for a backpack for my carry-on items.

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode of TRAIN TRACKER!