This is what the train was like, both there and back again:
Time lost all meaning. Hours would pass, or minutes would pass, and it was never easy to tell how long it had been since the last time we checked, particularly at night. When daylight means hours upon hours of Nevada or Utah, where things are pretty in kind of a desolate way, it all starts to run together in a blur. Our body clocks got all off and we ate almost constantly because really, there wasn’t much else to do. You don’t know if your’re hungry because time means nothing, so you eat just in case. The enforced lack of exercise plus grazing is going to have me in the gym 2 hours a day for the next month just to make up for it all.
We sat, in the observation car, for hours and hours, watching out the window, reading, playing hand after hand of gin. The trip out, I won most of the time, but the trip back we were not alone – the Red family from the first trip was on our train back to Denver and we taught the two younger boys (8, 11, and 14 incidentally; I was a year off) how to play gin. Hulk also picked up a game book and some new and interesting pieces at a game store in SF with which to play new games on the way back.
The train goes faster. The train goes slower. The train stops in the middle of nowhere, because passenger trains have to give way to freight trains at all times. At least this trip there wasn’t a shopping cart on the tracks that made the power go out for 45 minutes. The train is rocking, and you walk like you’re drunk because you’re trying to keep your balance. The brakes smell like burning rubber, and the bathrooms smell like dirty airplane bathrooms, and in between the cars smells like oiled metal.
Hours and hours. More hours. Saturday we watched movies after it got dark (our train left Emeryville an hour and a half late because of engine trouble, so we started off late and got later) – it was dark by Truckee, so we saw the bright awesome lights of Reno and watched Alien and Fellowship of the Ring. Yesterday we didn’t feel like fighting over one of the few precious outlets or dealing with the laptop so we just continued to read, talk, sit, stare at the black nothingness after dark. I had brought a bunch of knitting but never felt like it; the motion of the train and the seats were not conducive to comfortable knitting.
Sleeping was better on the trip back. We were well prepared with pretty lavender eye masks (Hulk looked fetching in his), little pillows, a $4 fleece blanket from IKEA, and (most importantly) EAR PLUGS. Because on the way out, the lady friend of the guy who’d kept us up all night with his apnead vocal stylings told us they’d be on the same train on the way back. We didn’t get to their stop until about 11 PM at which time I’d already fallen asleep, but I was armed with my ear plugs and only barely noticed when they got on the train and sat in seats across from us (ugh).
Poor Red family. They were not prepared for the man, whom the youngest Red called “Walrus Man” for his physical characteristics and frightening noises. Apparently Red Mom and Littlest Red didn’t really sleep at all. In the morning, after Walrus and Companion woke up and went into the cafe to eat or drink or what have you, I went back into the coach to get something and saw that EVERYONE around where we had been sitting was sleeping. I think most people didn’t sleep very well.
Walrus Companion was an interesting person. We had to eat dinner with her on the train ride out because there are 4 seats at a table so they fill all 4 at a time. Our other dining companion, a student at CU Boulder, was lovely, and we tried to have a conversation, and this woman insterted herself into everything – I told her what I did and she asked me where her severely autistic grandchild should be going to school or what programs she should be in. Lady, I’m just a bureaucrat with no specialized knowledge about autism or appropriate environments for autistic kids. Every bit of tid that people discussed, she had a related story or anecdote and would interrupt someone in the middle of a sentence to share. I was glad I didn’t see her much for the trip back. I think she found a kindred spirit in another lady seated near us, because they seemed to spend most of yesterday drinking and playing cards in the cafe car (below the observation car).
We sat in our seats for the last few hours of the ride last night, utterly bored beyond belief at sitting at the same observation car table and staring at the blackness. Walrus, Companion, and Other Lady loudly and drunkenly discussed grandchildren and shared pictures. Companion has granddaughters named Madison and Emily (shocking!) and Other Lady mentioned her daughter, Brandi, and her grandchildren, Azpen (girl) and Neveah (BOY!?!)(“It’s heaven spelled backwards!” she explained when Companion looked confused). OK, so I can see naming a kid Aspen if you’re a hippie or if that’s where the kid was concieved, but this kid lives in New Mexico or something, and the name sounds like a bad energy drink (AzPen! Now with more obscure extracts that will turn your pee purple!), and it should be spelled ASPEN. And I’ve heard of Neveah for a girl, it’s really really trashy (like naming your kid Dezztinie or Princess), but for a boy? He will never forgive his parents.
The train backs into the station in Denver. Just when you think you’ve arrived, you have to wait another 15 minutes so people getting on the train to Chicago have “a view”, though I’m not sure what of at 11 PM. We finally got off the damn train into the cold Colorado air and waited nearly 45 minutes for our luggage to be carried the 5 feet from the train to the station. Red Kids were all punch-drunk, particularly Littlest Red (btw, those kids all had good names, not a Jaeden/Braeden/Cayden in the bunch), and I felt bad for them having to go to school in the morning. We finally got our luggage and ran for the solitary mall shuttle that tools around at that hour on a Sunday. We got home at 10 minutes to midnight and I had just enough time to blop, after which we hosed off our stinky 2 day train ride bodies and collapsed into bed. The kitties are still with HulkRents because our train was so late (the original plan was for them to pick us up at the station and bring us and kitties home) and I think we won’t see them until Wednesday. 😦
The train ride was probably some of the most relaxing travel I’ve ever experienced, but I don’t ever need to do it again. Spending 4 of 9 days on a train pushed my tolerance for enclosed spaces and sitting and shared tiny stinky bathrooms and gin playing and I am so glad to be home.