Last updated on: Nov 16, 2018
This post is a continuation of Finding Love on an Amtrak Train: Part 2. One of the parts of this that I haven’t shared much about is the culture of train people. Simply put, all the nicest people ride trains.
It makes a lot of sense. Firstly, no one is in a hurry. I f we were in a rush, we would have taken a plane. Secondly, we know that we’re in the big rolling steel tube for days together. You don’t treat people like crap when you’re going to sleep next to them tonight!
In any case, the trip across Montana was great. It’s open and very relaxing.
Brenda went to her seat to listen to music and maybe nap. I sat reading a book and looking out the window.
As we neared North Dakota as evening was closing in, the conductor told me that I needed to make a bit of room. Every row was occupied by one or two people. Someone was getting on Williston, North Dakota, and she asked me to share my seat.
I moved everything over, put some stuff up above on the shelves, and got ready to share my seat. It’s important to note again: Brenda was in the middle of the car that I was in. I was at the back.
The train stopped and the conductor went down to open the door.
You could hear the woman as soon as the door opened.
“My mother is going to meet me in (wherever she was going). I was visiting my aunt. I hope I get to sit next to someone nice. Is the train really full? I hate it when the train is really full.”
Oh, my, but she didn’t stop talking. And she wasn’t quiet. She was speaking in a full voice that was really big!
I heard the conductor say, “Most people are sitting by themselves, so sit anywhere you want.”
The woman arrived at the top of the stairs with conductor behind her.
You can guess what the woman did next. She chose a seat next to Brenda. Brenda hurriedly cleared the seat, but the stream of words didn’t stop.
“Oh, you listen to music? I have music too. Maybe we could share music. That would be fun. Are there two pillows? I need to two pillows.” People started handing pillows forward and back. Three pillows arrived at the seat where Brenda and her new friend were sitting. “Oh, I can’t use three pillows.” A pillow goes flying out of the seat and lands on a woman sitting a couple of seats back.
I didn’t stop. Finally, Brenda stands up and says, “I’m going to go to the smoking car,” to her seatmate. She gets up and fairly runs to the back of the car.
As she ran by, I tried to tell her she could sit with me, but I was pretty sure she’d seen a ghost.
I met her in the smoking car. If you’ve ever seen a smoker under stress, they tend to draw on a cigarette like a guy leaving a desert and being handed a fire hose. She was laughing, freaking out, and a bit upset.
In fairness, Brenda’s seatmate wasn’t a bad person. I was clear that she was a bit mentally handicapped and really didn’t know where the lines of social decorum were.
“You can sit next to me,” I said. She didn’t say anything, but she heard me.
When we got back up to our car, she told the woman, “I’m going to sit with a friend of mine back there so you can have this seat all to yourself.” She gathered up all of her stuff and moved to my seat.
We went to dinner in the dining car. Of course, they only have booths.
“I should sit on the outside since I’m left-handed,” I told her.
“So am I,” she said.
Ok. I was done.
I need to tell you a bit about Brenda here. She has blue eyes and a face that looks, to me, a lot like Milla Jovovich’s little sister would look. She wore jeans and t-shirts, with a denim jacket and an odd-nylon purse with pins and patches on it. She has a funky little Wisconsin accent.
Well, back to the traveling part, since that’s why you’re reading this. Amtrak trains don’t serve 5-star food, but in truth, I have eaten in restaurants that serve much worse food. The service is great and, since the dining car is usually packed and you have to make reservations, you get to eat with strangers and learn more about the world.
The biggest thing that train travel gives you that no other form of land travel does is time. Time to walk around. Time to meet people. Time to see the world as it moves by slowly enough to enjoy it in its beauty and charm.
That night, Brenda stayed with me in my seats. The seats on the train are comfortable enough to sleep pretty nicely.
She fell asleep leaning on me, but by the midnight, she was laying on the seat as best she could. Her butt was pressed up against the wall and her shoulder was digging into my thigh. I’ve never stopped giving her grief about it, but she slept with her head on lap and that was pretty cool.
The next morning would be Brenda’s last on the train. We wandered around, inseparable. People started calling us Bonnie and Clyde. We exchanged numbers and addresses.
We laughed and told jokes. As the train neared Milwaukee, we became a bit less excited. It was going to be tough to say goodbye.
At about 2 pm, we arrived in Milwaukee. She got off the train where she was being picked up by a guy friend. I knew I was in trouble when I started getting jealous of a guy who was driving her home, driving home a girl I met two days before and hadn’t even kissed. We hugged goodbye and that was that.
I cried leaning against the window on the train.
In a little while, the train arrived at Chicago’s Union Station. It’s an art deco relic of the golden age of trains, gorgeous and huge.
In a while, I boarded the last leg of my trip to New York, another overnight and a lot of hours thinking about Brenda.
About three days after she got home in Milwaukee, I got a card from Brenda saying that she had a nice time. We started emailing back and forth. Soon we were talking on the phone every night for hours.
I visited her in Wisconsin for Halloween. In the early part of December, she came and visited me in New Jersey. We went to New York City for the first snow of the year. There is no place on earth more magical than New York during the first snow. We saw Times Square and Rockefeller Plaza. She even got in trouble for touching the giant Christmas tree.
There’s another story involving Tiffany’s in New York and a hideous necklace, but that might be another time.
If you want to fall in love, if not with a person, at least with a nation, ride the Empire Builder and see America the way it was meant to be: slowly and with every moment leaving an impression on your heart.
Related post: Finding Love on an Amtrak Train: Part 1
Related post: Finding Love on an Amtrak Train: Part 2