Train Tripping (Part 3)

Notes from a train trip from Emeryville, CA to Indianapolis, IN

10 April 2014

3:36 AM

Central Time, now, as we’re in Nebraska. I fell asleep around 11:00, and while it hasn’t been continuous sleep, at least it’s been some. But I’m awake enough at the moment that I decided to get up for a while. I can tell we’re going pretty fast, because it’s harder than usual to type, as the train is jerkier than usual.

Given my tendencies toward depression, it’s generally not a good idea for me to have too much time alone to just think—I’m likely to think myself into a dark place. But there’s something magical about trains for me. It’s easier to resist that lure. It’s easier to stay in the present. I know what my therapist would say: it’s not actually magic. It’s that I’ve made a particular association; that I’ve invested the train with this meaning, with this power. But I still maintain that it’s a little bit magical.

7:30 AM

Just waking up. We’re in Iowa now. I’m looking outside, and noticing how flat the landscape is. I spent a couple of years in the Midwest in grad school, and while it was an adjustment from living in the mountains, I did like that sense of space, of vastness. Of seeing clear to the horizon. One of the fun things about this trip is getting to go through so much different scenery.

It’s kind of a weird feeling to realize that I’ve now been on the train for nearly two days straight. It feels like I got on a long time ago, and the rest of the world has started to seem a little unreal. Addict that I am though, I don’t want to be anywhere else.

Even though I haven’t been very talkative, all the people sitting around me look quite familiar, as they’ve all been on the train for days as well. The guy across from me and I seem to have similar sleeping patterns, as he was up in the middle of the night at the same time I was. He’s doing his best to sleep now, under a red fuzzy blanket with hearts. In front of him, a woman sleeps under her tan jacket, her tray table, covered with dishes, still pulled out in front of her. The man in front of me is gone at the moment, perhaps for breakfast. He and the woman regularly make fun of the frequency of the dining car announcements.


Looking out before dawn


They’re hard to see, but there are ducks swimming down the stream

10:46 AM

Coming into Ottuma, Iowa. This will forever be associated with MASH for me, as the hometown of Radar O’Reilly. MASH is the show I grew up on. My siblings and I have seen every episode multiple times, and we pepper our conversations with quotes from it. I don’t think there’s another television show that all seven of us have watched. But we all know MASH.

We’re about two hours behind schedule. My layover in Chicago is about three hours, so hopefully I won’t have any trouble catching my train to Indianapolis—assuming that we don’t get further behind.


Ottuma, IA (obviously)

12:34 PM

We’re crossing the Mississippi.



Crossing the Mississippi into Illinois

1:23 PM

It’s a gray, dreary day, and the trees outside are bare. I can’t say I’m enjoying the scenery quite as much today.

I’m thinking it’s time to pull out the chocolate. The guy across from me wants to know what I’m eating, as they look kind of like giant pills. I tell him they’re giant m&m’s, and offer him some. We agree that they’re better than the regular kind, because more chocolate=good.

Evidently the train yesterday was 17 hours late getting into Chicago. I suppose being two hours late isn’t all that bad.


Giant m&m’s

4:20 PM

We’re in Naperville. We should have been in Chicago an hour and a half ago. So it’s going to be close, whether or not I make my connection. The sad thing is that if I don’t, they’ll probably put me in a van and drive me to Indy. And that’s just boring, compared to being on a train.

My fellow ZDs are having an exciting email conversation, though I’m not sure that train travel is quite is romantic when it’s paired with reading about patriarchy.

Wow. Another medical emergency. But, as my fellow passengers just pointed out, no fires. And no accidents. (I think that’s what accounted for the 17-hour delay yesterday; not a train accident, but an accident that blocked the tracks). So that’s something.

Okay, the paramedics have headed out, and the train is back underway. So I should be able to catch my train to Indianapolis.



Coming into Chicago

5:42 PM

I made my connection, and I’m now on the Cardinal, which goes all the way to New York. Though I’m not going that far, obviously. It’s not quite as roomy as the Zephyr, but it’s still nice. I’m very glad to be out of Chicago’s Union Station, which is a nightmare—always my least favorite part of the trip. The waiting areas are hot, small, crowded rooms, and it feels like you’re stuck in them forever. The person in front of me in line was having second thoughts about his decision to take the train, but I told him not to judge the train by Union Station.

This trip is only five hours (assuming it runs on time), which feels like hardly anything. I was thinking about whether it would drive me crazy to go all the way to New York now, after the amount of time I’ve already been on a train. I’d get in tomorrow night. And yep, I think I could do another day and a half on the train. Plus it would be fun to go coast to coast. Someday I’ll do it. But right now I’m excited to see Eve and her family, and my other siblings in the Midwest, so I’m okay with not doing it this time around.

I got more social by the end of my last trip, and was chatting with the people around me, but now I’m being decidedly anti-social. When a rather obnoxiously chatty person sat next to me even though there were empty seats available, I considered being a little rude and moving to one of them. And when she got out her headphones and started playing her music loudly, I went through with it. (Fortunately, they hadn’t assigned seats.)


Inside the Cardinal (looks pretty much like the Zephyr)

9:38 PM

I just did one last time zone change to my computer’s clock. It’s Eastern Time, now. We’re in Indiana. I lived here for two years while I was working on a master’s in theology in the early 2000s. That seems like a long time ago. It was a rather challenging time of my life, and coming in at night still makes me feel a little haunted. But I find that the sharp edges of those memories have softened, and I can appreciate the romantic setting of a train in the darkness.

We’re running ahead of schedule, which means an unscheduled break at the next stop. The conductor tells us that we can get off for a bit, but warns that we’ll be leaving again right on time: “with—or without—you.”

11:45 PM

And . . . I’m in Indy! Time for some sibling festivities.


Indiana Amtrak Station


  1. I’ve really enjoyed this series. Thank you! I’m looking forward to taking “The City of New Orleans” from Mississippi up to Chicago and back this summer.

  2. Great post series, Lynnette! I agree with Ardis. It’s been so fun to travel with you vicariously! And I can’t wait to see you!


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