Mobile Writing Retreat - Day 1

All aboard!

Actually, I never heard anyone yell that. Also, for anyone not familiar with train travel, here's a primer for you to lead off the Day 1 recap. 

I had been tipped off that cross-country train travel might provide a level of crazy that would tempt me to set aside the academic writing in favor of documenting the "interesting" people I met and observed along the way. Day 1 did not disappoint. In fact, T minus 15 minutes did not disappoint. As I sat there with my backpack, I watched a growing mass of people assembling with seemingly more stuff than I moved from Tallahassee to Boston (and perhaps almost as much as my brother-in-law seems to take takes on a 3-day trip to NYC). Oh, and how best to describe the crowd? Picture your last trip to the DMV. Put them all on the platform, but make them less angry and more confused. Needless to say, this was not the business class crowd I've grown accustomed to between Boston and New York. Things I saw before we even got on board: a family (carrying on a cake, it seems, among a dozen other pieces of "luggage") fight over the functionality of the Amtrak App, a guy so excited about the train's arrival that he was sprinting up and down the platform to snap pictures and videos between leaps and shouts of joy, and almost everyone attempting to board the private car at the rear of the train before being told that they probably didn't have enough money to pull that off. 

 Private Car Dining and Observation

Private Car Dining and Observation

Boarding lines are segregated by destination and ticket type (e.g., coach or sleeper), and seats are assigned as you board. Remember the crowd I described on the platform? Yeah, it's a good idea to be aware of who's standing around you in line. Fortunately, I wound up seated next to a nice young lady who seemed relatively sane, until I learned she was going straight through to Chicago (a 2.5 day ride) in a coach seat. Everyone else was pretty decent, save the guy up one seat and to the left who methodically tapped the top of his 7-up can 87 times before opening it (public service announcement, this does NOT reduce the odds of your drink foaming over upon opening) and proceeding to play oldies music at full blast on his iPhone. This was mitigated by (1) my earbuds and own music selection and (2) one of the best parts of train travel - the ability to get up and leave your seat as you please. 

Aside from semi-annoying neighbors, there are plenty of other reasons to leave your seat on a train. You might want to go to the dining car during the specified meal service for a warm sit down meal. Want to eat outside the specified times or would rather just grab something quick? No problem, just head to the cafe car, which is essentially a 7-11 - if, that is, 7-11 were moving 50-80 mph and charged airport prices.

 An over-priced, but mobile, 7-11

An over-priced, but mobile, 7-11

Not hungry, but still want to get away from your seat? Just head to the observation or sight-seeing deck, situated on the second level of the cafe car, where you can plop down for hours in a seat facing the large viewing windows.

 Finders keepers seating in the observation deck (unless you leave for more than 15 minutes).

Finders keepers seating in the observation deck (unless you leave for more than 15 minutes).

As an added bonus, if you're traveling between Sacramento and Reno, the California State Rail Museum has a staff member on board giving a moving history lesson. Although I didn't take advantage of this until the very end of today's leg of the trip (I was trying to get my writing done!), I did manage to catch some nice views of the Truckee River (see below) and learn that we passed along the stretch of track where the first train robbery took place along the newly transcontinental completion. Apparently, they lost $40,000 of gold and Wells Fargo bank notes, only to get robbed again 80 miles down the track. Sucks for the second set of robbers. 

 Truckee River from the observation car

Truckee River from the observation car

If you don't want or need to leave your seat, no worries. The views are still great from the upper level of the coach car, and the seats are crazy roomy. They have good recline and a fold-out foot-rest if you want to get into prime nap position. Or, if you need to work (like I did for much of the trip), there's plenty of space to crack open a laptop and start grinding (NOTE: I was surprised there was no wifi on this train, and thankful my iPhone serves as a personal hotspot). The seats are so roomy that when my neighbor wanted to leave, I was able to get up and let her out without moving my laptop or folding up the tray table.

 Ample room, and great scenery, for writing.

Ample room, and great scenery, for writing.

This brings my ramblings to a close and that means it's time to share my initial thoughts for using a train as a means for a mobile writing retreat. So far, so good. I'm on an 8-segment rail pass (issued in coach class) and only chose to upgrade (to sleepers) on the overnight segments. Work wasn't as fluid as when I've snagged a table in business class on Boston - NYC trips, but I was able to get a fair amount done. It's perhaps slightly more distracting than a bustling coffee shop, but if you have earphones and are practiced at blocking out the surrounding movement, you should be fine. One clear advantage for the train over the coffee shop is the dynamic and often picturesque views. Sure, you could find a cabin or resort or hotel with an amazing view, but there's something about rolling through the changing landscape of the country that seems to get the creative juices flowing. 

On that note, I am happy to report that I cleared my 2-page goal of new writing on one project (768 new words), outlined the next section of that project, generated a few handfuls of items for a new survey measure I'm working on, and read a paper I need to review for a journal. Not too bad for a 7.5-hour workday (train travel time) on Day 1, especially when you factor in time for my overpriced lunch, a brief nap, and a little over an hour in the observation car.