One day in the car on my way home from camp, I had the random idea of going to Seattle by taking the train. I looked into it, and even though it would take me five days (instead of maybe 8 hours), I really wanted to do this. I had visions of seeing the country and talking to people, and to be honest that is exactly what I saw and experience.
It was interesting to pack and get ready for this trip. I needed to bring clothing that would be comfortable to sit in for long hours. I needed to bring food items that won’t go bad nor would be too heavy, but would also be somewhat filling. I needed to bring a blanket and pillow to make sure that I would have something to sleep with. I needed small size toiletries as I would be flying back to NJ at the end of the trip. And I wanted everything to fit into something small that would not be difficult to move around and that would fit into an overhead bin when I was flying back east.
Going down to DC was uneventful. It is a train that I have taken many times when I was going down to Goucher. Here people get on and sit and read or do work. There is internet. Most people are there to do work, and so almost no one talks to each other. But it was a good time to just sit and think.
After about 4 hours (the shortest train ride of my trip) I got to DC. I had about two hours before I was to get onto the first long train ride of the trip. Walking into Washington Union Station is just amazing. It is just a beautiful building with a bunch of very nice shops. There I met up with a friend. Checked a bedika cloth. And just walked around till I got onto the second leg of my big trip.
This train was much bigger. It was only double-decker cars. They had people line up based on where they were going to. In the line the conductor gave each person a card with a seat number. I was originally put next to a guy going to Chicago for work, but who lives in California. He asked me what my ethnicity was, thinking that I was Middle Eastern. I am very much on the pale side, so it made me laugh a bit. I did say that I lived in Israel and was Jewish, but I am mostly Eastern European, so that is not part of my background. He then proceeded to tell me about his love for the Jews and the time he went to a synagogue. I found out from him that really a person can sit in any seat behind the card they were given. As there were a bunch of open seats behind us, I took advantage of that and went back a few rows so that I would at least have a window seat (in the end I got to sit alone for the entire trip).
After the train started and they checked our tickets we were allowed to go to the observation car. The observation car is the place to go and see everything. Even though there are windows in the main car, they are a bit bigger and the seats are a bit lower in the observation car. That is also the place to meet people.
I found a nice seat by myself at first. Slowly more people entered the car, and as there are a limited amount of seats, people will then ask to sit with you, and you just say yes unless there really will be someone sitting with you. A woman came up to join me.
Shortly after we were talking. She was on her way to her father’s unvailing in Cleveland. It turns out that she is Jewish, and was impressed and shocked by the idea that there are women studying to be Orthodox rabbis (we had a long conversation about that). She also had quite an interesting life- she worked for the foreign service straight out of college (she started at Peabody for a degree in piano performance). She was soon sent over to China to work (where she had a Seder, which seemed really fun), as well as Yugoslavia. Even though she is now retired, she sometimes still gets to go work. She loves her work, and doesn’t really know what to do without it, so she looks forward to those chances. Sitting next to us was a guy trying not to eavesdrop (it is really hard not to, and really no one expects you not to- that is how conversations start), who eventually joined our conversation. He too was a pretty interesting guy. He has a multiple degrees including one from a Russian university. He works for the US Defence Department. And between the three of us we spoke for quite some time. (I felt so young and not accomplished next to them to be honest- why they wanted to continue speaking to me; I’m not 100% sure). We ended up speaking up till dinner, and even made plans to meet up after dinner to continue our conversation.
A good question to ask people on the train is why they are there. For the woman it was because of the beauty of the train and she wasn’t in a rush to get to where she is going. For the man, it was because all the planes were shut down in DC and he had to get to Chicago, and this was a sure thing. Also he loves train travel, and even took the trans-Siberian railway when he was living in Russia.
I slept pretty ok on the train. I was lucky that I was able to get two seats, but really the foot rest does go up, and the chair leans back (there is way more room than any plane I’ve ever been on). The gentle rocking of the train helps with falling asleep I think. The biggest challenge was changing in the bathroom, as they are tiny! Like smaller than the bathroom on a plane (although I learned later that there are some with a changing area…)But I figured it out. It was also really nice to change into PJ’s and actually get ready for bed, and I think helped with the start of the feeling of living on the train.
We pulled into Chicago early, and it was the morning so I had quite some time to explore and
eventually meet up with a friend.
States Passed Through: New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington, DC, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois