They say that looking at online review systems like TripAdvisor before you make any travel decisions is a safe bet. Let other people's bad experiences save you from a similar nightmare. Method of transport is the number one debated issue for people travelling around America. Plane, train or automobile? Reading the forums, flying was the clear winner. Fast, reliable, safe. Everything you want. Driving was preferred for people wishing to make multiple stops (me) but was also very costly if travelling alone (me again). Amtrak train and Greyhound bus shared the wooden spoon and were generally not recommended.
“if your going to go by bus or train get ready to be on edge at all times cos you will see a lot of drug movers and criminals who arent allowed to fly.”
Horrendous grammar aside, the frequency of comments like this did make me a little wary of taking a thirty hour train ride.
“always lock all your bags!”
“I recommend sleeping with one leg hooked through your bag strap so that you will know if someone tries to steal it.”
“if possible, just don't sleep.”
I was almost convinced to travel half as much so I could pay for constant flights but my cheapness outweighed my doubts (as always) and I booked my first long rail ride. I have no idea what those people on the forums were on about but I suspect they may have all just been a little racist.
The train was incredible.
Heaps of leg room, big reclining seats with leg rests, power outlets by every seat, dining cars, observation cars, air conditioning.
Amazing views like this.
And then average views like this.
These things were all lovely and made for a surprisingly relaxing trip but really it was the people that made the journey worthwhile. Those same people that I had been warned about.
This is Shirley*.
She had the row across from me and was fabulous. She looked and acted exactly like Ice Cube's mum in Friday. She had already been on the train for sixteen hours when I got on and started chatting to me immediately (STRANGER DANGER DRUG MOVER STRAP YOURSELF TO YOUR BAG MAD HURRY) about how the lady making the announcements was getting on her nerves (“I think she just need a slap round the head to clear her ears cos she is too damn loud.”)
I started to read but soon realised that listening to her constant phone calls was far more interesting.
“You know what, I can take care of my own bills and my own self.
I don't wanna hear nothin' 'bout I gotta pay you this and I gotta work for that but you supposed to be my man. You know what? I'm 'bout to hang up cos you already got me mad.
I am tired of your shit.”
Her so-called man tried to call back three times and she just sucked her teeth and ignored it.
YOU DO YOU, SISTER.
Shirley had the sort of confidence that just can't be taught. I know for a fact that she was travelling alone, yet on four separate occasions, different men (all white) came by to offer her some refreshments or see if she needed anything. I don't know where they came from or how they knew her but she never bought a single thing the whole trip and I was jealous.
Actually the nice man seated in front of Shirley asked everyone around him (me included) if they would like something from the cafe while he was there. I automatically said no thanks even though I was starving. Why? Because I was mad at him. Why? Because now I wouldn't ever be able to go to the cafe because if I did I would have to ask everyone if they needed anything and I couldn't afford to do that. So I said no thanks and watched Shirley eat her three packets of chips that he bought her while playing the pokies on her phone.
This is June*
June wasn't actually sitting near me but I had noticed her walking past a few times and talking to Shirley. She looked so skinny and frail I wondered if perhaps she was into drugs (this is what happens when you let other people's prejudices become your own. It's dangerous.)
When we arrived in Galesburg and disembarked, the three of us remained together at the station. There I found out that June was sick. Last November she weighed 75kg but had started chemo and was now on a heap of pills that didn't seem to help the issue, only made her lose weight. She now sat at a worrying 41kg. She was on her way to Springfield, Illinois to pick up her grandchildren and take them back to Albuquerque where “they can spend one last Summer with their nana.”
After chatting for an hour or so, Shirley and June left to catch their bus while I stayed and waited for my next train. I helped them with their bags and happily obliged when Shirley grabbed me and said
“Give me a hug sweetheart, show a girl some love.”
As they were about to pull away, I noticed Shirley had left her walking stick behind and ran to give it to her. She thanked me and turned to June.
“That's my angel right there.”
When I first got on the train in Albuquerque, I thought the best thing that could happen would be to be left alone and make it to Lincoln, Nebraska with as little interaction as possible. Turns out, in exchange for saving $200 on a plane ticket, I got to meet two incredible women who have not only been through so much, but completely owned their whole selves in a way I can only hope to one day emulate..
I say that's a mighty fine deal.
*Names are changed because I can't actually remember. If I can't even get the name of the love of my life then don't be expecting me to acquire and attain anyone's name. I am working on it though, I promise.