Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Real Life of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

I've often scoffed at the crazy plots of "transportation" films. No way do that many unique personalities meet on the same mode of transport, tell stories, exchange snacks, offer help, and bond over the literal and metaphorical bumps in the road.

But I'm on Day Two of a cross-country Amtrak train trip. I've met an ex-Marine, a Coast Guard, a blogger, a retired banker traveling the world, a Chemistry student, an angry bartender, two men from an oil rig, a mother in search of her son, a singing waitress, and a man who is about to walk the length of the United States (yes, on foot). I've witnessed strangers share baked goods, assist with dead cell phones, and keep watch over carry-on bags while others are away from their seats. I've helped the woman next to me take photos of the passing Montana horizon while the elderly couple to our left discuss salmon fishing. In twenty-four hours, I've somehow been deemed "that writer from Car 14" and have been extremely honored and humbled to have people shake me awake from a nap to tell me about a short story idea I might like. In front of me, a man named Aaron has become "the Internet guy" and strangers have walked into our car to ask him about changing trends in technology (even now, as I write this blog post on my iPhone).

I've eaten the best veggie burger of my life seated in a dining car passing Williston, North Dakota. I've been offered someone else's jacket when the power/heat went out at 3am. I've successfully changed my clothes in a bathroom smaller than my toaster oven. But more than that, I've met the melting pot, the one that so many presidential campaigns have referenced. Those people of every gender, race, religion, and background are contained within three sleeper cars, five coaches, two dining cars, and a lounge, but the gang's all here.

A man from Champagne talked to me last night as the sun set outside the lounge window. He said, "I'm tired of politicians claiming they know Americans. Want to know the real America? Ride an Amtrak or a Greyhound. Those are the people of the United States and beyond. Those are the stories politicians need to know."

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go play cards with a recently converted Buddhist and her two marine biologist friends. We will collectively tweet Newt Gingrich when we're done.

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