Train Delays and the People of America.

Steve and I woke up this morning to the flat, red Arizona desert, lit up by the sunrise. It’s a different land out here. I know I’ve already talked about how much I love this trip, but the decision to go by train really gave us a little time to transition away from our lives in Chicago. I’ve had time to mentally put away thoughts about friends, jobs, career interests, etc. over these two thousand miles, and at the same time, start doing things I’ve been hoping to do for a long time, i.e. start rereading the new translation of The Second Sex, learning about economics from a bootleg copy of Mankiw’s Essentials of Economics (thanks, Heta!), and begin doing some photography and writing. It’s given us more time to say goodbye and to begin figuring out our new chapter.

Sunrise over the red desert of Arizona.

We’ve also gotten a chance to witness some of those famous Amtrak delays. As I type, we are about five hours late getting to Los Angeles. At first, it was mid-afternoon in La Junta, Colorado, when one of the two locomotives pulling our train started being just plain unreliable. Half an hour to forty-five minutes was spent hitching on a BNSF engine, which, being freight, couldn’t travel at more than 55 mph, whereas the regular locomotives can do 79 mph and above. So we pulled in late to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where they swapped the BNSF engine out again for another functional Amtrak locomotive and also changed crews of engineers and conductors. Steve and I were two of a crowd of people snapping photos and waving video cameras as they connected and took apart the locomotives. (Since working for a STEM program, I’ve started to get excited whenever engineering is casually discussed.) Over the night, we’ve made up a little bit of time, flying through Flagstaff, Arizona, and other towns. Overall, the train delays, as we have nothing to catch in L.A. until Wednesday, have simply provided more time to take in the sights of small town America and fodder for conversation with the numerous characters we’re sharing our train with.

Cornfields in Iowa.

And the folks we’ve met on Amtrak are just the most exciting part. No small part of this trip for me is about meeting people around the world; so far, we’ve had dinner with a music teacher from Lawrence, Kansas, a mother and daughter (9 months!) who live in the Bay Area, a father and son pair out of Ohio (I embarrassingly thought the son was in college, but he turned out to be a good five years older than me), two men who live in River North and used to own the Music Box Theatre on Southport, an Army nurse and child development specialist who told us how he and his German wife met during the First Gulf War, and an older couple who are driving up the Pacific coast. They are all incredibly nice, interesting folks who loved hearing where we were onto, and had tons of suggestions about where to visit (Prague, teensy towns in Vietnam as well as Saigon, walking around Kyoto).

Lunch in the dining car.

It’s been awesome! And Steve’s now addicted to train travel, just as I planned. Now for two days of L.A., seeing friends, checking out USC’s MPP program, and then on Wednesday, a flight out to Tokyo. Oh, and I’ll make Steve update the blog soon too. =)


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