This was supposed to be another early train out (5:14 am), but as of bed time, the train was already 2 hours behind schedule (knowledge gained thanks to the Amtrak employee on vacation in Glenwood for telling me the app had updated scheduling info). I still set my alarm for 4:00, as “trains can make up time,” according to the app and texts (they’ll send you updates as your train nears your station). I was starting to feel the effects of the travel, the food, and the strange sleep cycles (yeah, okay, probably the endless stream of IPAs, too) and was actually thankful to be able to hit snooze for another 2 hours when I initially awoke to learn the train had lost another hour.
The other great thing about minimalist travel is that packing takes approximately 5 minutes. It’s amazing. Still, having next to nothing and all of it on your back creates a sort of panic every time you start to leave a hotel room. I can’t possibly have everything, right? Even with the added weight of the bourbon bottle and a gift I’d grabbed for Jen in Glenwood, I still had to convince myself that I wasn’t leaving anything behind.
When we finally boarded the train, it wasn’t as quiet as my early morning ride out of Provo. And, the natives were restless. The train kept getting delayed. And people kept getting angrier. For a large portion of the trip, we kept catching up to a freight train. We’d stop, and it would keep going, but their pace is slower. So, we’d catch it again before too long. Obviously, passing is somewhat implausible. Also, freight trains apparently have priority, which means that when we ended up next to one at a station, it got to pull out ahead of us. Adding to the frustration is pretty much a complete lack of views. This pic pretty much represents everything you see from the train in Iowa.
That’s it. A lot of corn. Some fields have taller or shorter corn, but that’s essentially the only variation. For the first part, I tried to focus on writing. At some point, I needed a break, and took my ear phones out. It was then that I noticed just how bad it had become. There were kids in front scream laughing and kids behind scream crying. A guy, presumably trying to keep his sanity but simultaneously eroding that of others, was singing “it’s easy like Sunday morning. Somehow, a couple people were sleeping through all this, because the occasional snore could be heard. I took a lunch break and ate in the observation car, where crazy had extended. There was a woman playing the ukulele and singing, and two guys next to me discussing their brief interactions with gang life and whether Fireball or Everclear shots were preferable at the end of the work day.
I returned to my seat to overhear a guy complaining to the Amtrak attendant that he wanted his money back and asking that they stop the train if we passed a horse, because he was confident it would get him to Chicago sooner. I turned to the woman next to me and laughed, asking her if it had been like this the whole way (she was on the train overnight). She explained that it had been a long trip, and that I had missed a guy getting escorted off the train during the night for transporting marijuana.
Perhaps not surprisingly, my rhythm slowed somewhat after this. The crowd wasn’t entirely to blame. I also had switched projects and was working on a substantial re-write of a paper based on some feedback from an editor. It was an informal review and she had hand-written her comments. So, it took me over an hour just to decipher what she had written. Between this and trying to digest the comments, I only managed to edit 1,583 more words before we hit Chicago, but the degree of progress made it feel almost as productive as the blitz in Omaha.
Upon arriving in Chicago, I did what everyone should do. Enjoy enough deep dish (accompanied by a local beer) to put one into a food coma. It takes 45 minutes for Giordano’s to make a personal deep dish pizza, but it is well worth the wait.