From A Moving Train

Train 153

We’ve been traveling across a small corner of America, clocking 1600 miles, 2575 kilometers, idling away 48 hours, riding two slow trains, peering out countless dirty windows, creeping closer to that place we once called home.

Train 006

We boarded the train in Green River.  Take my advice and don’t go there without a compelling reason.  That’s the town, behind the sign.

Train 007

And here’s the train station.

Train 009

Nobody’s there.  It’s all boarded up.  There’s an asbestos danger warning sign on the door.  At a nearby gas station the guy answers my disbelief with “yup, that’s the station, but don’t worry, if you have a ticket the train will stop for you, people get on that train every day.”  I’ll bet they do, escaping from Green River.

But what train?  The departure time  comes and goes, no sign of a train.  Fortunately for us there’s one other person at the station, waiting to pick up her arriving boyfriend.  Even more fortunately for us, she has a cell phone and so does he, and thus we learn that the train will be 2 hours and 45 minutes late.  If she hadn’t been there we’d have been standing on the edge of the desert with our legs crossed, afraid to even go searching for a bathroom in case we might miss the day’s only train.

Train 015

Waiting in the twilight, kept company by swooping bats, we are very glad to see the train coming.  We cram ourselves into our tiny sleeping compartment and surrender to train time.  Once aboard an American train, time no longer really matters.  You’re going to be late and that’s all there is to it.  If you can’t cope with that, you fly.  We toss and turn, rock and roll, in our little berths, dreaming about France and the TGV that always runs on time and travels so fast you can’t even see the scenery you’re passing.

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We awaken in Nevada.  I decide that even though the dirt on the windows and the blur of our progress will mark the pictures, I’ll show you our train trip unretouched and in the raw.

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Nevada is huge and empty.  We cross it for hours.

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We talk a lot about the pioneers, how they crossed all this in wagons, or walked.  Coming from Europe, this moonscape must have bowled them over, just as it now does us.

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People do live out here, but it has the look of a precarious existence.

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Inside the train something extraordinary happens.  The conductor picks up a passenger’s guitar and begins to play and sing.  He’s very good, with a clear pure baritone and some original songs that deserve to be hits.  We keep him playing for a long time, until the crew changes at Reno,

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where two volunteers from the California Railroad Museum come aboard to narrate the journey along the historic railway into Sacramento.  One of them picks up the guitar, and holy smokes, he’s even better than the conductor was, finger picking and singing the blues like nobody’s business. We agree that this could never happen on a French train, and thus we conclude that yes, Virginia, there really is an America and we are in it up to our ears. 

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We finally reach California and travel along the Truckee River through

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the cute little town of Truckee, which I used to visit often in a former life.  It looks impossibly exotic to me now, rustic beyond recollection.

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We cross the Sierras at Donner Summit, past Donner Lake, where many pioneers perished as they struggled to reach the coast.

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There’s still a lot of snow up here in mid-May,

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but it warms up quiclky as we drop down toward the Sacramento delta.

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Arriving in Sacramento, where we have a 9 hour layover before boarding our next train, we pay homage to the past at the train museum,

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and to the present at an Internet cafe where we appear to be the only people over 25, before having dinner with an old friend whom we haven’t seen since our wedding, almost 14 years ago.  Finally, after midnight, we crawl aboard the train that will take us north and fall asleep almost before we start moving.  I don’t even wake up during the two hours we’re stopped somewhere behind a broken-down freight train, and so in the morning I’m surprised and delighted not to have missed

Train 116

the beautiful Mt. Shasta, normally passed in the night by northbound trains.

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Crossing into Oregon I’m reminded again of the early settlers, the unimaginable hardships that they faced,

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my thoughts underscored by the snowstorm that descends upon us as we cross the Cascade summit.

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Spring awaits us below, and as we get closer to leaving Oregon we begin to imagine what we might find at “home,” just one more state away.

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We come into Washington as the sun is setting.  Our very long journey is almost at an end.  Are we ready?

Explore posts in the same categories: French Letters Visits America

12 Comments on “From A Moving Train”

  1. chriscob Says:

    This is a GREAT post! Although I live in Sacramento, I’ve done far more trips in France on TGV than here on Amtrak. We once took the train to Reno for a weekend and ended up renting a car to get home because the train was 12 hours late and we were only two hours from home by car! Besides, we’d seen the scenery on the way up.

  2. John Sconzo Says:

    Beautiful post and trip! There is something about a long distance train trip that is special and you caught it.

  3. Lucy Says:

    “yes, Virginia, there really is an America and we are in it up to our ears.” Loving this.

  4. Debra Lane Says:

    Every once of a while getting a glimpse of Washington state through someone else’s eyes or the lense of a camera, I am reminded what a beautiful part of the world that we live in!

  5. Cindy Says:

    Abra, this was beautiful! It really shows just how nice a place we live in. As you go from deserted deserts to the green of Oregon and Washington State. Wow! Lovely.

  6. Eden Says:

    Lovely! And you were fortunate enough to catch California in one of her greener phases, since I usually think of my home state as closer to Nevada in color palate.

  7. Lauren Says:

    It’s interesting to see places that are so familiar to me – through the fresh eyes of someone returning after a long absence. What a contrast! I never realized that our little neck of the woods has such a ‘look’ to it. Can’t wait to see you on Saturday!

  8. Melissa Says:

    Your post reminds me of the couple of times we’ve taken Amtrak…and why we love the trains in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands so much.

  9. Nico Says:

    A very interesting post. Great to see some shots of the USA that are quite different from what you normally see in books or magazines.
    I could not imagine that in a country like the USA, trains could be 2:45 hours late! I will remember it next time I am waiting for a train that is exceptionally 10 minutes late in Belgium …

  10. maryse Says:

    Quel pays ! Quelle diversité ! Que d’espace ! J’ai hâte de le découvrir. C’est pour bientôt!!!

  11. Barbara Says:

    At the risk of sounding dated, this reminds me so much of Simon and Garfunckel’s “America”: “I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why.” So did you see “the man in the gabardine suit (who) was a spy”? So you’ve “come to look for America” again. Enjoy! France will always be here waiting for you. Bisous, Barbara

  12. Barry Twyman Says:

    One of your BEST Abra , I enjoyed it immensely . It’s pouring here !

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