You’re doing what??
When I tell people I’m taking a train from Los Angeles to New York City they seem shocked. “Why would anyone want to do that?” “Why not just fly?” “How can you sit for that long?” While all valid questions, the real question is “Why not?”
In the past three days I have been to 10 different states, seen breathtaking landscapes, met dozens of interesting people, explored a city I had never imagined I’d visit, seen one of the great lakes and now I’m in the eleventh state and I end my journey today.
I went to sleep in California on Sunday. On Monday I woke up on the Eastern side of Arizona crossing into New Mexico. As we crossed through the vast plains we passed dozens of hills and mountains, which is the exact opposite of what I expected. I knew there were mountains in New Mexico but none like this, these were towering, even when they were miles away. I was in awe of what lay before me.
Our next big stop was Albuquerque, where my seat neighbor was set to depart. Luckily he had been in the sightseeing lounge car for 99% of the trip. In the short time I had to talk to him, I learned that he was married, and he had moved to LA to act (big surprise) and that he was in between jobs. He had done a few commercials and worked on the Ellen DeGeneres Show and was now going to visit his parents while he was looking for another gig.
Once all the people departed and the new people joined I was greeted by a rather large hispanic man, covered in dirt and dust. He was off to Las Vegas... New Mexico. He was a rancher, and boy did he embody it. He had the hat, wore the rugged jeans that seemed as if he had just run them over with multiple trucks while simultaneously dragging them through the mud. His hands weren’t very large surprisingly, but they were beefy. Muscular. Working hands. You could tell he used them not for delicate tasks. Hell, it was probably the exact opposite. His handshake was firm, but had an uncanny gentleness. We shared quite a few laughs before I got up to go get a late lunch on the dining car.
In the Café car I was seated with another gentleman who looked like an 80s rocker. He had shoulder length hair and sported a small grey goatee. Come to find out, that’s exactly what he was. He was heading home to Missouri after playing a show in Los Angeles with his old bandmates. His day job, he works as a nurse in hospice care, and has been living as a single man for well over ten years and loves it. We spent the greater part of the next hour sharing stories and chatting with the waiter about everything under the sun from dogs to work to women. I started to get tired so I excused myself and returned to my seat in time to see my neighbor off in Las Vegas. When we departed the station I didn’t get a new neighbor so I had the whole row to myself. The sun started to set so I closed my curtains and proceeded to turn on a movie and sleep.
I woke up in Kansas City the next day, we had arrived early so we had about 45 minutes to kill. I stepped outside where I was met with a very chilly wind. The temperature difference between Albuquerque and Kansas City was about 15 degrees and a lot of wind chill. I retreated back to my warm seat where I met my new neighbor. He was very closeted and I didn’t have much of a conversation with him. I decided to spend most of the day in the sightseer lounge car. I got to look out at the flatness of Missouri and a lot of Illinois. After a few hours I came back to my seat to doze off for a nap. When I woke up we were about an hour from Chicago.
I prepared my stuff for a 6 hour layover until I had to be back at Union Station. I had my list of things to do, granted it was extremely small. I had to see the Cloud Gate sculpture at Millenium Park (The Bean) and I had to have real Chicago deep dish.
I didn’t know what to expect from the Windy City, but I was thoroughly impressed. I got to do a bicycle rental for the evening through Divvy. I highly recommend Divvy or CitiBike now that I’ve used a bike share. It made my experience so much more fun. I picked up a bike from the dock right outside the doors of Union Station and rode across the river to Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria. I heard many people speak very highly of Lou’s and my experience spoke volumes as to why. You walk in and you smell buttery crust. You sit down at the dark wooden tables and are immediately greeted by a server. I went with the personal size sausage deep dish. It was extremely delicious and I was completely full at the end of my meal. It was definitely worth the $10 and the 30 minute wait.
From there I picked up another Divvy and proceed to Millennium Park. I weaved through traffic, in and out of the bike lane to avoid taxis and large crowds of people as I had very little time to do everything I wanted to. I made it to the bean and it was surprisingly non-crowded. I was taken aback by the sheer size of it, I had seen pictures but pictures never really do it justice. It’s massive and very intimidating when you walk up to it.
After I took my photos I rode over to Buckingham fountain, where it was actually turned off on account of the winter weather. Everything in Chicago seems to be bigger in person than in pictures. I could see Navy Pier from the park and I had about an hour and a half before I had to be back at the train station so I decided to ride over there. The ferris wheel was lit up pink and it had a heart on it for Valentine’s Day. Once I got there I walked the pier and saw a yacht set sail. They were huge. I had never seen a boat as big as these were. By the time I finished at the pier I had time for one more sight. I decided on the Sears Tower, now called Willis Tower, as it was only three blocks from the train station. It’s stupid how many floors there are on that building. 110 stories tall! I’m not a big fan of heights so that just sounds disgusting to me. I looked up at the towering hunk of glass and steel and took it all in before riding back to the train station. I dropped the bike and walked in to get to my gate.I found my gate, boarded the train and we took off around 9:30pm. Not long after that I dozed off to sleep.
Today I woke up to a very cold train. We were in Erie, PA and surrounded by snow. I’ve seen nothing but white since I woke up. Only 10 more hours until I arrive at Penn Station in New York City.
Although I hate the cold, and I’m traveling alone, I’m so thankful for the experiences and views I’ve had on the Amtrak this trip. It has been a truly life changing experience and I would do another cross country trip just like this one in a heartbeat. So now I just smile when people ask “You’re doing what??”