The Blue Button

April 21, 2011

It is a week of firsts so I’m going to jump right in. This is not Brooke, I’m Brooke’s sister-in-law, Heather. Brooke has kindly lent me her blog so that I can communicate with family and friends en masse for the next few days. So, if you are a faithful follower of Brooke’s blog, please pardon the interruption, your regularly scheduled program will begin again next week. For those who are curious about where I am, the trains don’t have wifi but I plan to post bits from my travel journallings when I get access to Internet at stops to keep you updated.

From 4/20, Larchmont, NY

My inner writing voice returned this morning at 5:09 a.m. as I was shuffling in the cold before getting into a car to take me to the first of many train stations on this journey, my journey. I can’t remember what first prompted me to ask whether one could still take a train across the U.S. A few keystrokes later I had my answer, and the beginnings of a plan unhatching with amtrak.com. “Plan Your Trip” the blue button prompted. I engaged on a whim, expecting some sort of error message in return when I typed NYC as my starting destination and Los Angeles as the endpoint. I couldn’t picture the type of person who would take such a trip by rail when flying is both so convenient and cost-efficient these days.

To my surprise, not only did Amtrak not return an error message, but it indulged my fantasy journey with multiple cross-country route options. An entire world of previously hidden train travel was revealed to me. It was as if I’d been given the map to a secret underground tunnel system — a living, thriving, abundant world of transportation in this country, my country,was revealed to me. I had to explore it.

As anyone who has spent a fair amount of time on planes knows, the airport system and plane travel lifestyle is a capsule of existence unto itself. Captured well in the movie Up In The Air, the system of clubs and points and airport lounges and hotels that make up the air travel lifestyle can become a separate existence for those who indulge in it too often. In my life, I’ve run the gamut from dipping my toe into air travel for pure recreation to drowning in it as a weary weekly part of my life for work purposes. It has been fun and exciting as well as painstaking, isolating and life-sucking. I have had an air travel life, air travel experiences and an air travel story.

My train travel story pales in comparison. I’ve taken short train rides from NYC to Boston many times or from NYC to DC, basically the plane equivalent of only having flown on shuttles from NYC to Boston or DC.

And, for once in my life, I have nowhere else that I shoulda, coulda, needta be for the next 5 days.  I feel an inner pull to be sitting on a train, with my fellow rail passengers, communing in the delights of this form of travel that brought so much expansion and promise to our country. And so too I hope it brings to me as I sit eyes and ears wide open for the experience. What do the U.S. railways have to offer? What is it about this age-old form of travel that has kept the trains chugging along like the lifeblood of our country, despite so many advancements in travel? Who takes 5+ days to travel across the country by train when you can travel for much less money and in 5+ Hours by plane? I guess I’m about to find out…

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One Response to “The Blue Button”

  1. Aunt Tob said

    Good morning Heather,
    Wow, I think what you are doing is so cool. When I think of an extended trip on a train alone I envision what sick days in bed feel like when you aren’t really sick–just retreating into a world of coziness, peace and freedom from the have to’s of life and everyday dynamics of interaction with others!
    Enjoy your adventure Sweetie and thanks for inviting us to experience it with you. All my love and prayers, Aunt Tob

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