I can't believe my residency is coming to an end. It feels like it only started, and yet tomorrow I will be in Chicago and after a couple days there will get back on the Empire Builder train and head home, to my beloved rainy Seattle. The plan was to write the whole first draft of TUBE, my new novel, while on this trip, but I will probably write only a third. It is impossible to ignore the views, the sights, the people, the excitement of travel, and so I was writing only for about 4 hours each day, reserving the rest of the time for gathering new stories.
Today's breakfast, contrary to every other breakfast, was unusual in that my three retired companions quickly found out that I'm a writer and spent the whole time asking me about the process of writing, my books, the number of drafts I do, and I happily chatted their ears of. One of them I just saw on his way out, and he informed me that he downloaded the first Siren Suicides book and will start reading it right away.
After eating (and Amtrak is feeding me so well, I'm afraid soon I won't fit through the door) I holed up in my roomette, as usual, and then the doubt settled in. Some heavy pains have come up in the story, and I was afraid to dive in, procrastinating instead, which is fantastically easy to do on a train. All I had to do was stare out the window. Especially in Temple, TX, where an old steam locomotive stood on display, a full set of rusted carriages trailing behind it. This, coupled with reading Anna Karenina, made me want to go back in time and ride it. Curiously, after we got back onboard, my doubts vanished. I imagined writing my novel by hand, felt guilty for procrastinating (guilt is a good motivator), and promptly typed out 2.5K words, being fed lunch in the middle of it which the train attendant always brings to my roomette, making me feel like a queen.
Right after I got done writing, we stopped in Dallas, TX, and an amazing thing occurred, thanks to social media. One of my readers, Joe, or an evil cyclist according to his Instagram name, followed my adventure via Instagram, and because it just so happened that today was his day off, he came to see me at the train station! We chatted only for a few minutes, and I had to get back onboard, and yet it felt surreal. We got to meet, in real life, and it only made my trip that more exciting. I wish I could see more people and there was more time to stop in each town we pass. Oh well. Next time!
The whole day today we were crossing Texas. There wasn't much new to see in terms of vistas except the speed with which the trees and shrubs I was passing on my way to LA have burst into flowers. And as I'm typing this, it's already dark, and tomorrow we will arrive in the city where it just snowed, and I still feel the sting on my face where I burned it on the beach in California.
Something I haven't mentioned much of is the food, and though the menu choices are few, the food has been excellent. (I now understand why so many travel books describe food at length—that's all you do, really, see things and eat things.) At dinner I happened to sit with a couple doctors who were on a date gateway heading for Chicago and a semi-retired contractor who restores historical houses and travels for work—and they turned out to be food connoisseurs. We talked pizza in Italy, and breakfast in Reykjavik, and best tacos and Mexican cuisine, and Russian borscht and three-course dinners with vodka, and the terrible things wheat does to your body, from which we switched to talking about a book called Wheat Belly, and from there to my books. I think we were the loudest table in the diner and got lovingly reprimanded for "having too much fun" by our server.
Then it struck me. Of all the people I saw on the train, everyone seemed to have fun. Either because they were on the train for the first time, or because they didn't have to drive, or because they met new people. It occurred to me that even on the long flights from Seattle to Moscow I have never met so many people so intimately. It has something to do with sharing space. We bump into each other in the narrow corridor and joke about who is the thinnest and will yield first. We use the same restroom and joke about brushing teeth in that tiny sink. We consult on whether or not we're lazy to take a shower or if it's okay to stay a bit "fragrant," we share dinner tables. I will miss this.
Riding the train felt like touching people's lives. Not just running past and scanning someone's face, but having meaningful conversations, sometimes hysterical, sometimes serious, but always real.
Look at me, getting all soppy. You see what you did to me with this residency, Amtrak? I loved it so much, I want to do it again.