My sister says you couldn't pay her to spend four nights on an Amtrak train, and I can see her point, but that's just what I am doing with my two sons. It will be a sentimental journey, because it is probably the last time the stars will align around vacations from work, school, and deadlines. Both boys have always loved trains; Alex has long wanted to take the California Zephyr. Can you blame him, with a name like that? The thought had never occurred to me, but I got right on board. I've been humming Sentimental Journey to myself for the last week--and please, while we're on it, give yourself a few minutes to listen to it on this YouTube link, and look at these pictures of Doris Day. I mean, does chic get any better than this? I learned this song as a child from my aunt, and I used to sing it to my sons as a slow lullaby, until the evening Theo looked up sleepily and begged me to stop, it was too sad.
In anticipation, my son Alex, who is responsible for organizing the whole trip, has worried about:
"Mom, you know, a train is a sort of a social place, and people, I mean strangers, might want to sit at the dinner table with us, and, um, you know, people talk to each other, I mean, people you don't know, and they kind of expect you to be friendly, you know?"
I snarled at him, just to put his mind at ease.
In anticipation, I worried about:
1. Having enough books, but being able to lift my bag for the plane ride home.
2. Having enough snacks, which goes with enough books, so that I don't have to pay the exorbitant bar car prices.
3. Having enough water, same as #2.
4. Having a comfortable enough pillow. I really hope Amtrak linens don't turn out to be those awful papery things they give you on planes.
5. Having enough games to play. So my son has bought the travel version of Settlers of Catan, a game with which we are all obsessed. And I have a deck of cards, though no idea what to do with cards. I plan to learn.
6. Having access to electricity, so I can use my computer.
That last is particularly irritating. I'm told there will be no access to the Internet on board. I wish this were a proactive decision on Amtrak's part: be quaint. Unfortunately, I think it is just another sign of how backwards things are getting. No Internet, however, is not what irritates me. What irritates me is my anxiety around being cut off from the Internet. I have grown to depend on it--for contact, for information, and for, yes, I admit, distraction. Being online does something to my frontal lobes, lights them up, activates them, juices them, and keeps me feeling lively. I flit from thing to thing, lighting everyone, settling nowhere. For the next week I am going to have to find a quieter rhythm of reading books and playing cards and looking out the window as the scenery unfurls. Just like the good old days. How quickly we make the future our present; how hard it is to disconnect from something that only a few years ago was a negligible part of my life. Another dimension to the journey, I suppose. Penn Station, from which we depart to catch the route from Chicago, is hardly anyone's idea of an elegant, promising place for a send-off. But who cares? This whole thing is magical. Like a child, I'm all anticipation, waiting for that All Aboard!