Saturday, April 22, 2006

Train 49: Passing the time

Train 49 is due into Chicago's Union Station at 09:30. However, this seems to be more of an aspiration that an indication of reality, and the train has become known as the 'Late for Sure Limited' by those who use it often.

I remain in the restaurant car for almost three hours. Although the train was pretty full last night, most coach passengers were going to the upstate New York cities and haven't come this far. The remaining coach passengers (who, unlike sleeper passengers, have to pay for restaurant car meals) are appearing in dribs and drabs. Many will have brought food with them, or will be taking something lighter from the adjacent cafe and lounge car.

I can't help but noticing that the passengers who are emerging from the cars in front of us (the two sleeper carraiges) are looking much less awake than the coach class passengers. Maybe paying more for a bed is a good thing, but then maybe roughing it in coach class creates a tougher kind of traveller who can sleep through anything?

Up to know we've been riding through dense fog. But suddenly, as we pick up speed and start through Ohio, the fog lifts and the sun burns through. It's rapidly becoming a clear day, with a warm blue sky above us. The landscape suddenly rolls out either side of us, revealing bare soil of freshly ploughed soil, with little barns and grain elevators dotted along the horizon. Suddenly I'm seeing the mid-west I know from the movies. Pencil straight horizons, and level crossings with roads that run a dead straight line away to the horizon, creating a brief illustration of the rules of perspective as we rattle across them.

I'm joined at my table by several other passengers. I love train travel in the USA for this reason, because as a single traveller it's a fantastic way to meet people and start up conversations. I'd almost say it's a requirement.

I meet Terry, a retiree from New York who's going to Chicago to meet his brother. He's let his brother choose the itinerary, and they're going to tour the north-east by train to see baseball games in the next couple of weeks. Next stop, after a night in Chicago, will be St. Louis.

We're then joined by a couple from sleeper class, and the conversation turns to theatre. They're due to go to a matinee in Milwaukee this afternoon, but seemed resigned to missing it because of our late arrival.

We reach Toledo, and I step off the train to stretch my legs and take some photographs.


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