My Amtrak Writing Retreat: Who and where am I?

Day three of the retreat got off to a rocky, rumbly start. The train was shaking so damn much, I had no choice but to give up trying to sleep at around 6:00 a.m. Central time (I think). All meals in the dining car are included when you book a sleeper car compartment. Still, I decided to skip breakfast; even though I did fine at dinner the night before, my social anxiety thanked me for just having coffee and a muffin in my cabin.

I did venture down to the dining car for lunch. I thought maybe it wouldn’t be as crowded as breakfast or dinner, but I was wrong. Still ended up eating with three nice older folks, including a guy in his late 80’s who would not stop talking about everything. On the upside, he did keep me from having to fill the silence.

My mobile hotspot coverage may be spotty, but the scenery on the Southwest Chief is pretty nice. It was a partly cloudy day when we cut through the mountains and mesas of Colorado and New Mexico. When the conductor announced that we’d be pulling into Las Vegas in a little bit, I was first confused, then a little excited. We had just left Colorado; weren’t there a few more states between us and Nevada? It wasn’t nighttime yet, so the lights of Sin City wouldn’t be as impressive, but still, it’s Las Vegas, baby!

Oh. Different Las Vegas. Never mind. 

Albuquerque, or ABQ, as the hipsters call it, was the next leg-stretching stop. The train was scheduled to be there for about an hour as various train staff transferred out. I thought I’d switch it up and get something to eat from a nearby restaurant. Well, there weren’t any; there was only the snack bar inside the bus/train depot. Their featured dish was the “Al-burger-que,” a name so clever that I almost got one. Decided at the last minute to just get a double order of fries.

Part of the Southwest Chief route through the southwestern U.S. runs right along original Historic Route 66. Gallup, New Mexico; Flagstaff, Arizona are train stops as well as song lyrics.

I like the way this pic came out; thinking of framing it and putting it up in my office. 

Toni, the train attendant, came by to remind us that we’d be getting into L.A. around 8:00 in the morning, and that breakfast was at 5:00. In the morning. Well, to my own surprise, I was awake at five, so I ambled to the dining car. Thought because it was so early, I’d get a table to myself, but no. The chef sat me across from a man all dressed in black and white, with a long beard and no mustache, and gold-rimmed spectacles. I was pretty sure he was Amish, but didn’t want to come out and ask. When he pulled out a Nokia flip phone, I figured he was either Amish or a time traveler from the 1990’s. We had a nice conversation while the train was stalled just outside San Bernardino, California; he did ask some tough questions though. When I told him I was a writer, he asked, “How does one make money being a writer?” Umm, Be Stephen King or James Patterson? Convince Oprah to select your book for her book club? Write by day, and rob banks by night? I dunno.

Finally made it to Los Angeles, where I spent a few days sleeping on a non-moving bed, with no train horn lullabies. I called Los Angeles home from about 1988 until about 2002, so I mostly knew my way around. Did some driving around, visited the old University Park campus, had a delicious authentic Mexican dinner with a college buddy, then got my mind right for the return train trip.

Me, back at the old alma mater. Not gonna get confused for a high-schooler this time, I bet.



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