Night Train from Chicago

by Brittany


Pools of light--splashed by lamp posts and station lights. Speckles of lights from the invisible highways and streets--the distant glimmers are the only indication they exist. Every now and then I can make out the faintest shadow of a house but, oddly, we appear to be the only ones, state after state, awake enough to light a window. I wonder if anyone is looking out from their darkness into the night and see our flashes of life etched brilliantly in our arrogantly un-curtained windows. Inside the train we read, turn round and round in our seats, pass the risk game, brace against the unnatural chill of artificial air (annoyed by it but aware that without it we'd be far worse off). We play cards, exchange stories of past travels and homes, sometimes a few of us (not me) talk about politics but only relevantly..nothing too abstract...it's nearly 4 am after all. We are a small band of friends in a shrinking train (we started with several hundred people in Chicago but a steady stream, a few here, a few there one by one people step out into the darkness). A band of people forged out of proximity but also visible experience--we make sense... only us six bothered to talk to each other over a somewhat melancholily overpriced and miniature bottle of red, a can or two of cheaper and worse beer and some coffee in the lounge car, then switch seats to continue the conversation through the night into the murky light of early morning. There was a warning from the unsmiling conductor to not drink our own alcohol, although he acknowledged he could see none of us were... We were one couple from Brooklyn on their way home from Colorado--the guy had travelled often on Amtrak in the past and had built up the experience to his girl... like I had for Jesse. A young Texas clarinet player headed to Cincinnati where he was in the Cincinnati Symphony, and, surprisingly, a frat. A Londoner, older than the rest of us who was the focal point of this traveling friendship. He was brashly friendly and unabashedly flirtatious with whoever would play along. He was very taken with Jesse and my's "pure pure love" ... and, to be honest, so am I. So I thought he had fairly good sense! There was the freeness in friendship that only happens in a time capsule of a situation... the ferry rides, hostels in an unknown city, and, of course, trains. But it can also happen, in smaller scales (mere smiling friendships), on city busses and trains, in line for coffee, or in a slow elevator. 

The next day, in West Virginia's unpopulated hills, the boulder fell and nearly derailed our train. For some reason, with the dispersing of emergency water supplies we finally dispersed to each other our contact information. But all of us seemed to unspeakingly acknowledge the unlikelyhood of meeting up again. 

And now we are back sitting. The boys passing around the risk game--the girls reading and writing...the boys are too between turns. And talking slowly when something comes up. Everything became methodical. Like we were rationing our relational energy, not knowing how long we would remain in the wilderness together. 

We are all writers: the Brooklyn boy writes for a magazine, she is a freshman english teacher, Jesse a copywriter, I dabble on my blog and Leo is a nurse but he informed us he'll write a book. Who knows? Maybe we all will.

- a journal entry, 20.08.2014

photo credit: Jesse

photo credit: Jesse

photo credit: Jesse

photo credit: Jesse

1. sun setting over the prairies...last glimpses of an Illinois that we never really got to know 2. everyone making the car our home 3. after a good three hours of waiting to be rescued from our boulder I asked if we could get out and stretch our legs. I made the mistake of asking the mean conductor though and he laughed in my face but a few minutes later the nice conductor told everyone that smokers could get out for a break... we were all smokers that day. This is the Rabbi who decided to point blank ask everyone he thought was Jewish if they were... then proceeded to speak Yiddish to everyone for about ten minutes straight even though no one else understood it... not even the Israeli girl... he didn't seem to catch on though. 4. the quiet man who turned down our invite to hang out, in favor of "East of Eden" 5-7. other passengers gazing out across the river. And one girl trying to get service (very few of us had any... the conductor actually had to find a way across the river and up the next "mountain" in order to call the new engine to come haul us away) 8. the wonderfully patient and hilarious conductor who made all the announcements with a laugh despite having been awake for close to 48 hours and dealing with very disgruntled and hungry people and often had a baby on his hip (various different babies that desperately needed a change of scene for their own and their mum's sanities)... he was just wonderful. He also lifted me up bodily and swung me back on the train with a (not creepy at all) "There you are, princess!"