My Bill Simmons-esque Running Diary of Amtrak Train #91

1:38 PM: Welcome to the past…I feel delightfully old-school riding the rails, this the longest journey of my US travel history. It's much bumpier than I imagined (though Mia warned me of this – she is, after all, experienced in the ways of the Unites States' railway system). We're already an hour in, which means only 27 more to go! That big bag of pistachios Kaitie got me will be long gone by then.

1:41 PM: I'm sitting in the lounge car, having staked out a two-seater table on the starboard side of the train. It's got a cushioned seat, ample legroom, a panoramic window view and a plug for my computer. My golf clubs are securely checked in the belly of this iron beast of yore, my backpack is filled with books and food, and I just loaded up my iPod with 10 cd's worth of new music. I'm in for the long haul. Travel does not get any better than this.

1:42 PM: The couple to my left just finished eating something that did not look edible. They purchased it from the lounge snack bar, which I can see half a car-length in front of me. In fact, the woman is back at the bar, though for what reason I cannot imagine after smelling their lunch. The man is seated facing backwards, wears smart-looking square, frameless glasses and has a very long ponytail, yet is balding in his forehead region. A stupid grin is plastered on his face, though I imagine that is what I looked like when I first boarded. I love the train.

1:47 PM: There is a woman seated at the table directly in front of me, another two seater on my side of the train. Oddly, she is facing backwards. She's old but not old, and is drinking a glass of orange juice. She's seated alone. Is she traveling alone? She seems much too agreeable to be traveling alone. Maybe she's meeting someone? Her thick-framed glasses suggest that perhaps she is a librarian. Perhaps not.

1:51 PM: We've just emerged from a long stone tunnel and are now passing another train that is going very slow on our right. I'm not sure where we are. The sun is lower now, and the overcast grey of this morning has been replaced by blue sky, puffy clouds and apparently some wind, as the ripples on the river indicated. The train is stopped now, presumably at a station in Delaware, though I cannot be certain. It just occurred to me that I will never be able to keep this writing pace up for 26 ½ hours.

1:56 PM: Holy shit, we're in Baltimore already?! That went fast.

2:33 PM: In DC now. Only two hours outside of Philly? Impressive. They are stopped now, and changing the electric engine over to diesel – which means my computer just lost power – so much for this thought.

3:45 PM: We're rolling on diesel power now. The café is back open, and the train is buzzing with activity. People are up and moving about, drinking coffee, drinking beer, talking with their families. Women discuss whatever women discuss in the booth next to me. The sun is shining through the café windows, and just now were floating over a narrow bridge, surrounded on all sides by water. What a marked difference to the lifeless monotony of an airplane flight. Though I would be in sunny, warm Florida by now, I would have missed the journey. Right now, I'm enjoying it.

4:14 PM: The train is lively, indeed, and it's also assumed a very "colorful" vibe. The café car is full now, and I'm engrossed in Malcolm Gladwell's latest book Outliers, which I can't yet pass judgement on – just the other day I denounced it and thought I'd never read it, yet today I'm again intrigued. There is an elderly gent sitting at a table for four. He's alone, reading the paper.

4:55 PM: We're deep into the South now, literally rolling down mainstreet of an unknown Virginia town. Large white houses with pillared verandas stand tucked in the trees. I cannot emphasize enough the irony of the two black women in front of me gawking at the very houses their ancestors probably toiled for.

5:04 PM: Richmond, Virginia. A designated "smoker's stop." I will not partake.

5:34 PM: The line at the café is growing longer again, after the initial wave of early-diners subsided for a while. I'm increasingly convinced that train travel is something entirely different from air travel, or even traveling in one's own car. Flying or driving somewhere is truly about getting from point A to point B. While I have this romantic notion that train travel actually might be about the journey itself, I get the impression that the others on this trip might just think so as well.

            People are talking to one another, meeting one another. Earlier a middle-aged couple sat and chatted for a good hour to a silver-haired elderly man, each party very much enjoying themselves. Just now, a young hippie-type wearing a red and yellow beanie on the top of his wiry framed body snapped a photo for a couple women seated next to me of foreign origins. There is a communal atmosphere aboard the train, like were riding along in one big hostel, and I'm at the center of the action, the lounge car, soaking it up.

5:44 PM: The silver-haired elderly gent has attracted another middle-aged couple, and just like the last, the man is the only one doing the talking, because the old dude is quite deaf. Inadvertently, the entire lounge car is now involved in the conversation, at least passively. It would make an interesting social experiment, to sit at a large table in a crowded, public place, just to see who sits next to you.

5:50 PM: My train-bound community theory has taken root in the table to my left. The aforementioned foreign women (now confirmed to be Brazilian), have accepted a slim black man as their tablemate who reminds me of Shorty, wearing an Obama inauguration t-shirt. They speak, the women in thick Portugese accents, and are very jovial.

5:52 PM: It's nearly dark outside, but out my window in the lounge car, I can see the last orange glow of daylight melding into the deep blue of a clear night on the western horizon.

5:53  PM: The black guy ("Boogie") with the Obama t-shirt on is sipping a Heineken and has just popped the top of a mini-bottle of Tanqueray.

5:54 PM: Holy moly. "Boogie" is apparently the base-player of Parliament Funkadelic. This is a strange train ride.

6:13 PM: I'm much more comfortable now, with my half-bottle of merlot from the lounge car snack bar. Listening to Boogie trying to talk with these Brazilian women is an indescribable exercise in unintentional comedy.

6:41 PM: "George Clinton & The P-Funk Allstars Paint the Whitehouse Black 2009." The back of "Boogies" t-shirt. More on my lengthy, bizarre conversation with the man will come later.

7:43 PM: 20 hours to go…Boogie is still in the lounge car, now enjoying a Bud Lite and another Tanqueray. Amazing. I'm back in my windowless bulkhead seat with the fat family pushing on my seatback. After that half-bottle of merlot, these things are starting to irritate me. Braveheart is now showing on a laptop near me.

8:51 AM: Sunday. We're in Florida now, which means I successfully slept through two entire states. Which is a shame, because I was looking forward to Savannah, though it was probably 2AM when we rolled in, and I was oblivious. I sacked out in the lounge car, able to fully stretch out on a too-narrow vinyl seat. This after altering the alignment of my spine while trying to snooze in my actual seat. I was amazed that no one else had thought to stretch out in that ideal little spot that I found – when I woke up though, 2 others had joined me. And I woke up often – always to the bright "mood" lights on the ceiling of what appeared to be, in older times, the smokers lounge on Amtrak #91, but which now might reasonably be dubbed the loungers lounge. After the fifth or sixth wakeup call, I felt reasonably rested, and reached for my phone pleading with it to be past 6AM – it was, so I rose. And found a seat at the table with that aforementioned old deaf dude, and we enjoyed a coffee together, the first early risers enjoying the empty café.

9:50 AM: Winter Park, Florida. I know nothing of the place…

10:00 AM: "Ten minutes to Orlando, ten minutes!" Unfortunately, we're  heading west to Tampa after this stop, not south to where I need to go. I'm sleepy, my head hurts and bit. 20 hours down, 7 to go.

1:04 PM: Lunch of more leftovers and another avocado. I stepped off the train in Orlando at the "Designated Smoking Stop" to stretch my legs for the first time in over 24 hours. Orlando's station is old, white, and reminiscent of a Spanish villa circa 1880. Napped for a while, which is a good thing, because I needed it badly.

2:26 PM: An elderly gent (another one) has joined me in the lounge car to charge his iPod on my computer, which I'm more than happy to do. I'm busy editing the latest Spinsheet article for the March issue. I think it's good. 2 ½ hours and counting.