Amtrak's Empire Builder route appeals more and more to me. With my Peter Himmelman shirt on, Tom Waits playing on the stereo and a Bukowski book probably close at hand, this self-described dreamer dreams of following that red line across the northern part of the country, from east to west as detailed on the route map on Amtrak's webpage.
My only previous train ride on Amtrak was with my dad many years ago. It's tough at the moment for me to remember my age at the time. I remember us walking back to the last car and standing at the railing, looking below and watching the track move out and away from us in the dark. I think we were going to Savannah, Georgia, but I'm not sure. I only know that our destination was hardly what either of us expected. It was a depot in the most minimal possible way. It was a depot in that it was a structure and I believe that there was a phone. We were two people from Tennessee waiting in the dark for our ride, a relative who we called upon arriving.
That's hardly a train story at all and yet it's all of the poetry I need. I can't quite make it something wonderful on the page or on this screen, but that's just because I don't have the memory or vocabulary to share it here as it is in my head. Waits would make it a song, Buk would work it into a poem. I just have to tell you that that train trip from Nashville's Union Station to somewhere in the seemingly dark and desolate night of a city in maybe Georgia or possibly Florida shaped me. It didn't necessarily make me into this person who is often up typing in the dark at two a.m., but it is the trip that this person who is often up typing at this hour looks back on and remembers fondly.
So there is that. Wanderlust in the dark. Amtrak way back when with my dad. Other similar travels include a night train from Paris to Madrid on a high school trip in the late eighties. There was a Greyhound bus ride from Atlanta to Nashville in 2002. I sat next to a girl who was moving from somewhere in Florida to Chicago to start a new life. She was maybe twenty-two and "starting anew," as she said to me. She was leaving behind a guy who she said was no good and she was going to stay with a friend and get on the right track.
I guess I was "starting anew" as well. If memory serves, I was on that bus because I was returning from Atlanta having just proposed to my wife. She said yes and I'm very happy that she did. This so-called dreamer is a very lucky man as a result.
But back to the Empire Builder... That red line going from east to west does appeal.
Here's Holly Cole singing "Train Song" by Tom Waits.