My Amtrak Writing Retreat: It continues.

So, I bedded down pretty soon after dinner, as I had been up since 3:30 that morning. I slept about as well as one could sleep on a moving train. I vaguely remembered waking up and looking out the window as the train pulled into Cleveland, Ohio in the middle of the night.

Oh–forgot to mention this in part one: Did you know that trains have to sound their horn before they approach road crossings? Like every, single, crossing? Whether it has a light, bell, or crossbuck, or not? I guess I did, too. Well, did you know that when you’re in the cars directly behind the engines, you hear the horn the loudest?

What do you mean, “duh?”

I had brought a pair of noise-cancelling headphones with me, because when I write, I like to listen to music. But, I can’t wear them while sleeping, because I’m a side sleeper. Fatigue finally overtook my annoyance, and I managed to clock a few hours of Z’s despite the horn going off literally every 15-20 seconds.

Woke up a little after 7:00, Central time I think, as we made our way through rural Indiana, When it wasn’t fields upon fields upon fields, my scenery consisted of unkempt backyards full of appliances, car parts, and the occasional trampoline set.

We got into Chicago about twenty minutes behind schedule, but since I had about six hours before I’d be boarding my connecting train, it wasn’t a huge deal. Chicago’s Union Station is located right downtown, and it’s a busy, busy place. Besides the bus station being there, there were about 30 or so tracks with commuter trains, and probably some of those L trains I’ve always heard about. I stumbled off the train and made my way to the Metropolitan Lounge to kick back, and let me tell ya, Chicago’s lounge makes Boston’s look like a broom closet. It was two levels, and cushy AF.

Cool architecture at Chicago’s Union Station. This is the main waiting area. The lounge is down that hall on the left.

I unloaded my bags and did a little walking around outside; it was in the mid 40s, so my light jacket kept me warm enough. Union Station was just a block from the Chicago River, which was already green even though St. Patrick’s Day was still two weeks away. Maybe it’s always green; I dunno. Another block away was the Willis Tower, the third tallest building in the U.S.

As well as other points of interest.

One delicious lunch and a few snacks later, I was aboard the Southwest Chief and on my way west. This train was a Superliner, so it was a bit bigger than the Viewliner I took to get here. My roomette on the Superliner wasn’t any bigger or more comfortable, though. I settled in and broke out the laptop so I could continue to get some writing done; by the way, I’m working on two novels, and three short stories about such varied topics as people going to the movies, a young girl named Dippy, and killer chinchillas (not all in the same story).

Before we left the station, a man and woman in plain clothes approached my cabin. They started making small talk with me; where am I going, how am I feeling, etc. The guy asked to see my ticket, then said that since Amtrak doesn’t have official TSA screening, they sometimes do random checks of passengers and their luggage. He asked me if the bags were mine and if I had anything in there I shouldn’t. I told him unless he had a problem with a small plastic bottle of Captain Morgan, I’m clean. He and his partner proceeded to go through both my bags anyway. It wasn’t until hours later that I realized they never showed me a badge or anything. So after they left, I went through my bags, just in case some contraband made its way into my stuff. Still clean. Okay then.

I had logged into the Wi-Fi and was opening up files when the sleeper car attendant came on the speaker to inform us that the train didn’t have Wi-Fi, but they were hoping to get it soon. Turns out I was still on Union Station’s Wi-Fi, and that disappeared as soon as the train started moving. I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to save my work to the cloud if I couldn’t get online. I tried using my phone as a mobile hotspot, but that was only as good as T-Mobile’s coverage, which dropped out a lot while traveling through the plains states. I’d just have to save my work to the laptop and upload it whenever I could.

Dinner on the Superliner was a step up, too. The chef came through the sleeper cars and took reservations. La dee da. I wasn’t sure I wanted to eat in the dining car; since it was just me traveling, they’d have to sit me with strangers, due to the limited space. Introvert that I am, the very thought filled me with apprehension. But then I figured, what the hell, these people don’t know how shy and reserved I am; maybe I could fake being a normal guy. I had manicotti that was almost as good as I’d had at Olive Garden. Sat with a nice couple from Wisconsin and a single dude from Chicago, and we engaged in polite conversation. Meanwhile, the couple across from us were loud and profane, and it created unnecessary tension at our table. We all tried to ignore them, but it wasn’t working very well.

Went back to my roomette. I passed a couple of those bedrooms that I mentioned earlier; they looked like they were empty. Later that night, I overheard a couple who had booked a roomette upgraded to a bedroom, because they wanted more elbow room. I thought about doing the same thing, but then decided I’d just ride it out where I was at; It’ll build character.



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