I try to stop myself from typing in “Amtrak sleeper” in the Google Images search box. But it’s no use. I’m off on another daydream about what it will be like when I first step out of that cab a few months from now, at around 11 p.m., armed with nothing more than a backpack and a messenger bag, each full of things I’ve deemed essential for survival for the next fifteen days.
What will it be like to sit in the Amtrak station here in Pittsburgh in that last hour before I am no longer a train-virgin? How many other people will be there waiting with me? Will some of them be so used to this routine that they’ll be nodding off out of boredom? How will I not stick out like the newbie I am?
And what will it finally be like when I climb onto that first train, headed for Chicago overnight? I’ve chosen a simple coach seat for the first nine hours, despite those nine hours coming between midnight and 9 a.m. I wanted to save my money for roomette and bedroom upgrades later in the trip. Besides, I know I’ll be too keyed up that first night and won’t sleep anyway. Might as well sit in my roomy, comfortable coach seat (I finally found a benefit of being 5’1”), with this little laptop open, typing my eager thoughts about the train—the sights, the sounds, the smells (good grief, don’t let there be too many smells in coach, though!).
But today, more than three months before my trip, I open a browser and type in the word “Amtrak” and thousands of images start popping up. Many I’ve seen before, since I do this dumb sort of daydreaming at least once a week. Now that I’ve purchased the tickets and the trip is set, I suspect I’ll daydream my way through many lulls in my schedule in the ensuing weeks.
And I admit, sometimes I fall asleep at night trying to imagine what it will be like once I am cocooned in a tiny roomette, where I will wake up hundreds of miles from where I fell asleep.
Oh sure, I’ve done that on a plane. I’ve done that on a cruise ship. But soon, I will do this on my very first train trip—a dream of mine since childhood. What adventures await me? What misadventures? I’m ready for all of them.
Bring it on, Amtrak. I’m ready to see America.
Want to help a gal make her way across the country to write a book about it? You can get a copy of the book for only a coupla bucks by backing me on my journey! Go here:
I bought a money belt for the big train trip in May. I’m not sure if I already feel safer, or if I’m going to end up in a seedy hostel in California, bleeding in a bathtub with my pancreas harvested for money. (Joke’s on them, though. I’m diabetic. You couldn’t give my pancreas away on Craigslist, even if you tacked on a free Hatchimal.)
The money belt itself is fine, but it came with a little flyer labeled “Useful Travel Safety Tips.” I’m eager to read anything that even tangentially relates to this trip, so I sat down to read through their list of 50 helpful (and not-so-helpful) tips. I’ll elaborate more on these in an early chapter of the book, but here’s a glimpse for the voyeuristic among you:
“If possible, take a self-defense class.”
Great. This hadn’t even occurred to me. Do fistfights routinely break out on Amtrak trains? There’ll be a fight over the good seats in the observation car somewhere around Colorado, won’t there?
“Bring a portable door or window alarm.”
The first time I read that, I saw “Bring a portable door” and panicked that the trains might not have doors. Still, even with the rest of the sentence factored in, I find this suggestion a little disturbing.
“Be on the lookout for anybody who is offering to help you with your bags at a train or bus station.”
Because it would be horrible if a Red Cap actually HELPED me lug that suitcase up to my Roomette! The horrors!
These next four really are back to back on the flyer:
“Trust your instincts and use your intuition and gut feeling when dealing with strangers.”
“Make a local friend.”
“Try to dress like a local.”
“In some places, it helps wearing a fake wedding ring.”
I don’t even know where to start with these four. All I know is that, by the time I finished reading #7, I had so many questions that I was weeping uncontrollably.
What if my gut instincts tell me NOT to make a local friend?
To dress like a local in Los Angeles, do I have to wear an Ed Hardy shirt and Birkenstocks and grow a hipster beard?
Why can’t I just wear my real wedding ring? After all, it looks fake in the right lighting…
“If you get lost, do not look at your phone or a map in the middle of the street.”
… because you’ll get hit by a car. Duh.
There are 42 more of these gems in this flyer. After reading all these, I may not be able to work up the courage to get to the station, let alone get on the train.