The New York Times columnist Russell Baker once recalled going for a walk because he was stuck for an idea for a column due the next day. Someone threw a potato out of a window along the way, and it hit Baker in the head. Suddenly, he had his idea. As I recall from his memoir, he was never stuck again.
You could make a similar case for what that railroad crossing arm bonking me on the head did for me. I got a blog out of it, to be sure, as well as an opening for this one. Many who’ve known me for a long time would have wished that the crossing arm would have knocked some sense into me. But those same people know that train had left the station a long time ago. Instead, it appears all that bonk did was leave a bump, a sore spot and a bit of a scab.
This Monday, Carol and I will be boarding an Amtrak train in Los Angeles bound for Chicago two days later. We booked a bedroom suite for comfort, and with reports of TSA lines growing longer due to the government shutdown, the timing for an overland train trip seems perfect. It’s sufficient to accept the fact that it will take forty hours by train that a plane would cover in about four.
The biggest advantage on this trip is that Carol will be by my side for all forty hours of it, and she'll especially be with me in the dining car. One of the endearing aspects of Amtrak is its policy of seating total strangers together at mealtime. This is done in order to encourage conversation among these total strangers, fostering the goal of the meeting of new people, both activities I’d retired from since I was about eighteen. Though Carol can be quiet and self-contained, she is also polite and gracious - valuable attributes I'm told when meeting people for the first time. This should mean that the people we’d sat with at an earlier lunch or dinner will be waving generously at us as we enter the dining car to sit with them again. This would be in marked contrast to my previous solo trips where those same people would be pretending to read their menus (upside down in one case, as I remember it) in order to avoid making eye contact as I passed by. (How the hell was I supposed to know they were Trumpsters?)
In Chicago Carol will be meeting my side of the family, and then we will be babysitting my granddaughters for a couple of days. We arrive a full day early to compensate for the all too probable Amtrak delays in meeting its schedule. On my last trip into Chicago out of Seattle, the Empire Builder was more than five hours late in pulling into Chicago. Since most of those five hours accumulated in Spokane, that meant from Idaho through Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin, that train was hitting all its stops that same five hours late. On our most recent Amtrak experience from Solano Beach to Irvine, CA, a trip of about an hour, it took three due to the train being two hours late. The reason given to passengers was that Amtrak’s GPS was out of commission. My question is what does a train traveling on a fixed track bolted to the earth need with GPS in the first place? I love train travel, but riding Amtrak is like having a train set as a kid that is missing pieces of track, the locomotive and the transformer.
Looking over this piece, I can agree with many of you that I didn’t have much to write about in advance of our next trip. I just wasn’t lucky enough to have gotten hit in the head with a potato on my last walk. Anyway, that doesn’t seem to stop me, does it?