AMTRAK RESIDENCY, DAY 1
Adventure! Adventure! I’m going on an adventure! I was so excited to leave on my Amtrak Residency trip that instead of taking ample time to sleep in (and that is after to weeks of running on no sleep to finish a book), I woke up at 6 a.m. I hugged the pillow for another hour and a half and then finally gave up. Sleep truly is something that may perhaps grace me with its presence when I’m dead. Anyway. The adventure started close to 9 a.m. You see, my train was not to leave till 4:40 p.m., but around 9 I got a call from Amtrak. “The service has been affected by a schedule change. You will now be traveling on alternate transportation over part or all of your trip. To speak to any Amtrak representative about alternate travel options…” At this point I think I dropped the phone. “Oh my God, I’m not going anywhere! It’s the end of the world! I want to die!!!” A fit of conniptions followed. Well, almost. After I got myself to breathe I called Amtrak and talked to a very nice lady who nicely told that I have nothing to worry about. I only have to take a bus from Seattle to Everett, and there I will get on the train. Whew. My life has soared back to heaven. After hours of frantic running around and doing laundry and packing I have finally made to the King Station, from where a lovely bus driver with an excellent sense of humor (“In case of landing on water, use your seats as flotation devices, which won’t help you, by the way.”) ferried us rather quickly to Everett. Apparently, the rain good or whoever it is who makes rain up there in the clouds has overdone the norm and all that water moved a bunch of soil (I would hope with curious artifacts like bones in it) and caused a mudslide. 20 miles of train tracks got covered in debris. The train, I hear from the conductor, slowly made its way through and in the next 40 minutes finally appeared out of the blue ether. I clambered onto the second floor into this cute little wall pocket called “roomette” with two navy seats opposite each other and a window onto the trees and sunset running away (we started moving by then). For the next 10 minutes I stared around instead of unpacking and settling, because I still couldn’t believe I was on a train. On the second floor. All on my own. Oh, to write a new book! To read! To—
Dinner time. It was announced over the intercom, and it was a “first come, first serve” kind of arrangement. My stomach reminded me that it’s rather hollow (with all this running around I forgot to eat). Delicious steak made it’s way to my plate quickly (fantastic service), and I inhaled it, while talking to Sylvia and Victor, a charming retired couple who sat at my table. It’s a thing on Amtrak, you share tables when eating. What a great way to make new friends. Which I did. We ended up talking through dinner and then in their room and then they bought my books (I didn’t even try to sell them, I swear, it just happened). Should I mention that Louis, the attendant in my train car, is a fantastic photographer whose pictures are on display right by his coffee stand? He unfolded the bed for me with a practiced move: you pull the seats and flip down the backs, and they dovetail into each other, making a cozy shelf-bed. Mind you, all of this was happening against the background of gorgeous views blurring past the window, so my ADD was going “SQUIRREL!!!” at the speed unbeknownst to me before (at home my writing table faces the wall). After sitting on this bed, anticipating a sweet long night of reading The Exorcist (it’s this adorable bedtime story) and finally forcing myself to unpack, I managed to brush my teeth over a tiny sink without spilling much of the frothy goo anywhere (are you proud of me?) and changed into my pajamas, and then realized I was dead. Dead tired. And internet connection got dead tired too. As I am typing this, at this precise moment, the train is passing through the woods that are so black (it’s night) that I can’t see my hands. It’s a paradise for a writer, this lack of Wi-Fi, and this pitch-black darkness, only I have no juice left. The last of it was spend on typing up today’s story, which did’t include so many other stories I wanted to tell, of so many people I have spoken to. Louis like to ride motorcycles and take pictures. Sylvia is a retired teacher who want to write children’s books. Victor is a pilot and a ballroom dancer. And—oh, there are too many stories. The thrill of it, the thrill of becoming close neighbors for a a day or two, is only possible on trains. Can you do this on the airplane? On a bus? Nope, trains is it.
And now I shall try to sleep. The lull of the movement, the rhythm, the muffled heartbeat of the wheels—this is my lullaby. Good night.