It was a bitter-sweet departure from Chicago. A bitter-sweet welcome onboard the Empire Builder. A bitter-sweet glance out the train window. The last leg of my Amtrak Residency adventure has commenced today. I'm going home, I'm going back to Seattle. Two more nights and one more day, and on the morning of March 31st it will be over. Why did it end so fast? Good things have a knack for flying by before you can blink.
This morning Jacquelyn, my lovely Chicago host, walked me to a local neighborhood coffee shop where we had coffee and breakfast, and then she personally delivered me to the train station three hours early (she had to work today), where I went to a lounge place thingy, this big room with wi-fi (YES!!!) where early birds like me can hang out and watch TV or read or have snacks or talk. I wrote. I thought, this traveling life is something that I'll have to face in the future as I'll be going to more conventions or readings or whatever, and I have to learn to write on the go no matter the place or time of day or mood or the amount of hours I slept.
And so I wrote some, then it was time to board the train already, and in my roomette I had a sense of home, home on wheels. I got so used to it by now that within minutes I plugged in the extension cord (take one with you as there is only one outlet per one roomette), plugged in my laptop, phone, headphones, started music, and sat down to write.
The sights were beautiful, frigid and cold, but beautiful. So was the sunset. I wrote, then read a bit of Anna Karenina (hey, it's 800+ pages, so it's taking me a while), then went to dinner with high hopes, high hopes to meet new people and hear new stories. I'm becoming an addict to those.
Meet Jacob, a walking encyclopedia who seemed to know everything from Amtrak's history to doing insulation yourself to making quilts with Egyptian hieroglyphs on them (I'm not kidding). Elisabeth who has been renovating a bathroom in her home and has learned everything there is to learn about shower heads and faucets, particularly those that are supposed to operate by someone waving a hand 4 inches away (it didn't work, of course). Frank the truck driver on his way to retrieve his truck. We had one of those conversations about all the things that made us laugh and were impossible to recall later. What is it that we talked about? It doesn't matter. We had fun. And then of course I have demanded that they all read my books. Or else. You know me. They ran out of the dining car, screaming.
One intersting thing I noticed though is this. Everyone I talked to, everyone whom I told I'm a writer, has said to me the same thing in different words: "I always wanted to be an artist too." Everyone recalled that dream of painting, or doing photography, or writing stories, or acting, and never having done it. Come to think of it, I haven't met another full-time artist on this whole trip. It made me sad. I tried telling people how if I can do it, they can do it too, and saw shrugging shoulders and disbelieving faces. Although in a few instances I think I fired people up. I hope they will do it. I hope they will pursue their dream, whatever it might be, and paint or draw or write of photograph or dance or act or sing. There was hidden disappointment in their eyes, and then a flicker of hope. It broke my heart.
We need more artists, more people making beautiful things, to make our lives more beautiful. I think what Amtrak did by putting 24 writers on its trains is a wonderful thing. I think we have touched hearts. I'm sure of it. I think it will create waves, like circles from a stone thrown into a lake. They will travel far and touch more people. And these journeys touched us, writers. I know it touched me. I will remember all the beautiful sunrises and sunsets I saw, all the vistas and forests and rivers and towns. It was an unforgettable experience.
But enough of this moping. I have a whole another day tomorrow, my last full day on a train. I'm sure it will be a good one. Good night.