It’s About the Journey (aka: A Love Letter to Amtrak)

It’s 2017 and I’m a millennial. You’d assume that I would want everything to be fast and direct. While that’s the case for my iPhone and communication (please, please, don’t be indirect with me), for travel, put me on a train and I am happy as a clam.

I’m currently on the Lakeshore Limited, an Amtrak headed toward NYC. My husband and I are spending the long weekend with some of our closest friends, and we couldn’t be more excited.

At the same time, though, I can’t help but laugh at myself, because honestly? I’m just a teensy bit more excited about the journey than the destination.

This is my fourth (long) trip on Amtrak. I’ve gone to NYC twice, and Chicago once. Each of those trips was wonderful and exciting – full of Broadway shows, comedians, museums, lots of wine, and incredible memories.

That being said… the memories that come to mind first? The ones that are the warmest, craziest, happiest? They’re the ones from the journey.

My previous trips to NYC were with a group of my dearest friends. One had taken the train numerous times before, so we trusted her to make our travel plans – and we were never disappointed. We spent hours in the lounge car, playing card games (that to this day, I don’t think any of us actually understood), laughing like maniacs, and eating Girl Scout cookies. Maybe it was because we were somewhat (okay, literally) trapped for 10 hours on the train, so we made do with the entertainment we could create, but there was never a moment I was anything but thrilled.

Going to Chicago solo is something I’m forever grateful I did. I’ve written previously about doing things by yourself – a long-distance train trip tops that list. I’ve also written before (on a now-defunct old blog) about the almost surreal experience I had on that trip – I’ll give the short version here.

The train to Chicago travels throughout the night; the motion lulls me to sleep, but around 5am, I needed a snack. I headed to the cafe car, but one of the panel doors between cars wouldn’t budge. After a few minutes of struggling, the gentleman who came up behind me finally helped open the door. When we got to the lounge car, there was only one open booth, and he suggested we sit together and watch the scenery roll by.

Those next few hours are some of the most cherished of my adult life. Evan, as it turns out, is a composer, train enthusiast, comedy enthusiast, life enthusiast… basically, an instant friend and a true kindred spirit. I’ve always been able to jump into small talk easily, but it typically takes me significant time to really open up to someone – unless they’re meant to come into my life. We’ve now been friends for almost six years, and I’m grateful every day that such a random interaction wound up becoming so much more.

Traveling by plane is infinitely faster, sure, but you’d never get that sort of moment. And it’s not just the big, loud memories that make me love Amtrak so much. More than half my time writing this post has been spent gazing out the window. The way a train cuts through the landscape is something you don’t get in a plane, and certainly not on the highway. I’ve seen endless fields, backyards, office building, even the remains of a freight train that derailed last week (omg…). Aside from my phone and laptop, I didn’t bring any sort of entertainment for myself this trip, because, well, my husband is sitting next to me, and the scenery is more than captivating enough.

As the train crosses and parallels roadways, I’m reminded of this post by comedian Chris Gethard (the post is lengthy, and definitely a recommended read, but the portion I’m referencing is toward the end). Geth beautifully explains how and why he’s found life worth living, and his story of driving across the country has always stayed with me. While he was driving through the desert, in the middle of the night, he kept crossing and driving next to a freight train. I’ll let you read his words yourself, because he does a far better job with them than I ever could. I will say, though, that being on a train and staring out the window is an easy way to have a similar experience. There’s something very profound, that I can’t quite put to words, about moving forward, next to homes and businesses, and people who have their own stories and words and feelings.

I know our long weekend in my favorite city is going to be incredible. We get to spend time with our friends, take hundreds of photos, eat ALL THE FOOD, and just enjoy our time together. That being said, I’m going to enjoy the rest of my train ride there (and back home). I hope you all have a wonderful weekend, and if you ever have the opportunity to take Amtrak, DO IT. I promise you won’t regret it.

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