Rails to Trails: Part II

What do ants do if their parents don’t approve of their union?
They antelope.
What do you call a party crashing antelope?
An anterloper.
What do you call a pronghorn who self-identifies as an antelope?
An antelope.

This is this kind of conversation you have on the fourth day of a cross country train trip. And these are the good antelope jokes, my friends. These are the good ones.

I heard a story a while back about a woman who was sitting at a board room table with her colleagues who made some offhand comment about how one of her colleague’s proposals was about as likely to happen as unicorns coming back to life. Everyone stopped and stared at her to see if she was serious and… she was. She’d made it well into her adulthood thinking that unicorns had existed long ago but had since gone extinct. Since hearing this story I’ve been anxiously wondering what my unicorn fact is. What is it that I’m positive I know that I am not just wrong about but totally alone in my wrongness?

Today I found out. It started with the Rails to Trails people pointing out some pronghorns off to our right of the train. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think pronghorns are awesome, but all last summer while I was in the southwest I was seeing pronghorns, which I had never heard of before that trip, and I didn’t see a single antelope all summer. If the antelope aren’t in the southwest or the northwest, where are they? I google ‘antelope range’ and see that they’re quite common is Montana and North Dakota, which we are currently passing through, as well as throughout the southwest. I click on ‘images of antelope,’ then google ‘images of pronghorns’ and let out a deep sigh.

As it turns out, the difference between antelope and pronghorns is that there is both no difference and all the difference in the world. There are, in fact, no antelope in America. Antelope are native to Africa. Pronghorn, which have no familial ties to the African antelope whatsoever, are the creatures referenced in Home on the Rang that gave rise to the iconic American “antelope.” There are not now and have never been antelope in America. I feel deeply betrayed by my elementary school music teacher but at least I know my unicorn fact.

Pronghorn / Antelope / Unicorn

As it turns out, Amtrak is a little short on knowledge as well. We have a brief train layover in Chicago but no one at the station can tell us where our next train leaves from, exactly how late it is, or where we board. I actually had to wake up the Amtrak attendant to ask him if he would kindly direct us to the gate where the Shoreline Limited was leaving from. He groggily pointed us toward a holding area where chaos reigned. The AC wasn’t working, no one knew when the train was getting in, attendants inexplicably took all the old people into another room, there was not so much a line to board as a surging hoard, and also there was a pigeon wandering around between people’s feet.

Prior to this re-boarding chaos, our time in Chicago was spent in the company of two of my dearest Philly friends, Joe and Evelyn, who are road tripping to Montana and happen to be in Chicago today, perfectly mirroring our journey east. We eat dinner at a vegan diner in Boystown with Evelyn’s college friend Allison. Joe and Evelyn teach me a game called High Five Stink Eye and give me a finger puppet to play with while my mom and Alison talk about trends in urban planning.

We don’t yet know that our train has been delayed so my mom and I rush out of dinner in search of a wine store on the way back to the station. We can’t find a store so we stop at a bar and ask the bartender for three glasses of wine. Instead of giving us three wine glass pours she fills three 12oz plastic cups all the way to the top with pinot grigio for us. By the time we actually get on the train I’m grateful for her liberal pouring standards but my mom is done after half a “glass”.

“Fine,” I say. “I’ll drink the rest.
“You don’t have to drink the rest.” my mom says.
“Your lack of commitment to train wine disappoints me,” I say. “Of course I have to drink the rest.”

My mind is with Matt, Duncan, and Colin who I know would never forgive me if I left 16oz of wine undrunk. I stick my straw in the last plastic cup and sip for the team. At least I’ll sleep well tonight.

By the time we pull into Penn Station the next day we’ve been on a train for at least two human generations. I sway from side to side as we wait for our checked luggage. “I think I have train legs,” I say. I look over to see that my mom is swaying, too. When we set off on this journey two week ago I hadn’t even fully graduated from grad school yet. Today I am officially a theater master (my classmates walked at graduation on grizzly observation day) and I’m back to the day job having, job app writing, grant writing, workshop planning grindstone. One of the best things about these few weeks, aside from seeing new country and hanging out with my mom, has been the visceral sensation of resetting my system. I’m excited to be back, to make work, and to start the post-grad life chapter, whatever that brings.

“Am I going to wake up tomorrow feeling like I dreamt this?” I ask my mom.
“Yup,” she says, still swaying.

We stay like that for a while, swaying from side to side as we wait for our baggage to come back to us, not yet committed to the recent past or the near future, just happy to be making the journey together.

Mama and me