AMTRAK RESIDENCY, DAY 15. THE LAST DAY.
And so it came to an end. It flew by like a blur, like this picture of the passing Amtrak train you see above. Today was the last day I wrote on the train, the last day I got to spend gazing out the window and thinking and reading and thinking again and listening to people's stories. As I'm typing this, it's dusk, violet dusk in the snowy mountains that we're rumbling through. There is no phone service, no signs of life save for train tracks and occasional service lights. It's been an amazing journey, but let me start from the beginning before I get carried away into the thicket of emotional farewell.
For the first time this morning since I got on the train 2 weeks ago I sat to breakfast with two young people, by young I mean my age (usually it would be retired couples or singles). Tanya was an ex-Amazon employee who does business consulting now and who was coming back to Seattle with her service greyhound. Gary was taking a trip for pleasure and because he loves train travel (he works for an airline). We talked trains, of all topics. We marveled at how many interesting people we got to meet, how American trains are slow compared to European speed trains, how it is cheaper to travel by train but also more unpredictable, with possible delays due to the risk of obstacles on the tracks, or the freezing of the pipes because they are too close to the ground, or a fridge catching on fire and the whole train having to wait for it to be replaced, or waiting for private carriages that anyone can hitch to an Amtrak train provided it's self-sufficient and you pay $1 per mile (I haven't researched how accurate this is). We also talked about Maglev train in Shanghai that levitates above a single track by way of magnetic force and reaches the speed of 430 km/h. I did not know any of this so I was listening with my mouth open.
Naturally, when breakfast was over, I wrote another chapter and ate lunch in my roomette (brought by Kevin, our wonderful train attendant). We came upon a short stop. I ran out of cash to give for tips in the restaurant and wanted to go to the station to use an ATM but was cautioned that we're only here for 10-15 minutes and I might get left behind. I asked Kevin if people get left behind a lot. He said, all the time. Once a family with two children saw a McDonalds not too far off and went to get some food (they left the carriage where they were not supposed to). The father made it back first and hung onto the door of the train to delay its departure while his wife and kids made it in the nick of time. They were lucky. Kevin says others weren't. He had an old gentleman leave his laptop and camera and everything and never make it back. Gary joined our chat and said that when he was on California Zephyr, lots of people would run off to a casino in Reno, Nevada, and not return on time. I suppose they were hoping to win a fortune in 2 minutes flat. Some people have amazing aspirations.
In the evening we reached the mountains of Montana and I kept running from window to window to try and take a good picture until Kevin reminded me that there is an observation car where I can see it much better. I got so sucked into my writing, I have completely forgotten about it! So I went there and stared at the mountains, and at the snow, and at the pines and furs and other tress the names of which I don't know. The observation car was full of people. Everyone tried to snatch a picture or a video. Next to me a boy took pictures with his phone non-stop. I don't think he had time to actually look out the window. I brought the heavy tome of Anna Karenina with me, thinking I would read. I didn't. Couldn't. There was too much to see, too much to reminisce about.
At the end of the car sat a group of teenagers (or maybe they were on the cusp of turning 20) dressed in their typical baggy jeans and sneakers. They loudly talked about something and I didn't pay much attention to them, until one of them walked up to another and they started taking right over my ear in amazed radiant voices. I don't remember what the first kid said, but the other answered: "I was crying earlier, it was so beautiful. I swear I was crying."
And I nearly cried myself at his words, because this beautiful journey is over. My Amtrak Residency is over. Thank you, Amtrak, for this unforgettable experience. I'll forever remember it, and I'll try to write as much of this beauty (and nightly creepiness of pitch-black darkness behind the windows) into my book as I can.
P.S.: I thought my adventures were over, but no, this morning I bumped into Tanya and she told me discovered the freight car that carries luggage and has an open door through which she shot pictures. Amtrak, please don't kill us. We snuck in there and took pictures and videos of the gorgeous succulent Washington state, green and fragrant and beautiful. I got so excited, I can barely sit still, and now I have one more scene for my book: a dancer being pushed out the freight car door and hurling to her death. I know, I know, I write charming stories.