I went on a train trip this month. It’s been years — really decades since I traveled on a train. When I was a teenager, my parents would put me on a train to travel along the California coast to Morro Bay. Oddly, the only thing I remember about the travel is seeing the familiar streets when I was coming home.
This train trip was from Washington, DC to Raleigh, North Carolina. There was a science fiction convention in Raleigh, which is about a 5 hour drive from me. I’d been sort of thinking of not going just because I really don’t like to drive (Washington, DC will do that to you. The drivers are terrible and very Type A, Me-First types). But I saw an article in the Washington Post about personality and different modes of travel:
- Airplane: You’re in a hurry or on a timetable.
- Car: You want to be in control.
- Train: You want someone else to do the work.
So I booked the trip on Amtrak. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. All my more recent experiences with travel have been long, dull, driving trips or jammed into a seat on an airplane. I’m a short person, so jammed in really means something. Never mind the added problem of go through security …
I hunted all over the Amtrak site for how long in advance I needed to be there, which it didn’t have, and settled for 90 minutes. I’ll tell you, looking at Union Station from the outside, you’d never even know there were tracks behind it. Very hidden.
They boarded like airlines. First class, senior citizens, then everyone else. As we went out the cars, we were separated out by where we were going, so I ended up in the last car. I was able to sit by the window (yay! I do that even on an airplane. There is always something to see!). The seats were large and roomy, with lots of leg room. The aisles were also relatively wide. I didn’t feel like a sardine packed in like I do on an airplane.
I’d brought my computer and thought I would write along the way, but as it turned out, it was fascinating watching the world g0 by out that window. This time time of the year, everything was green and really growing. Sometimes I could catch glimpses of the engine as we followed the curving track, and I heard the horn every few minutes.
I got up at lunch time and went down to the dining car, which was quite a hike. The dining car has tables so you can eat there or back at your seat. I stayed and read as I ate, and watched as we passed through what looked like warehouses. When I came back, I saw this one man at the end of my car, looking out the window. I was curious, so came up behind him to look, too.
Seeing the tracks falling away behind us gave me an instant pang of homesickness. It reminded me of leaving things behind, like leaving my parents when I went to Morro Bay. A plane kind of depersonalizes the trip because you can’t really see anything.
But on a train you can see what’s ahead and what’s behind.