(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.
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.
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.)
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!