Monday, January 11, 2010

Chicago to Wisconsin Dells

Segment One: Chicago to Wisconsin Dells. Four hours.

10 January 2010

We left at 2:35pm from Union Station, Chicago - fifteen minutes late. Amtrak trains are cozy; I could really spread out over two seats and stretch between rows. The train swayed, smooth and easy, as it rolled out of the Second City. I was reading By Night in Chile by Roberto BolaƱo and remembering the country in between pages.

I’m looking forward to the many hours of travel time in between cities as much as I am the time in each city, truly.

There are a group of four Midwesterners on this train, two middle-aged couples. They make down-home jokes and have a strong accent. “Sure, you betcha!” they laugh. They are cracking open snacks - cheese, caramel corn, Wheat Thins and summer sausage - and discuss the merits and faults of each with an almost self-mocking air. The couples tease each other and one man waggles a fifth of brandy between his forefinger and thumb.

Wisconsin Dells

10-12 January 2010

First stop, my relatives’ beautiful, spacious home in the Wisconsin Dells, right above the Wisconsin River. I will be here from the night of the 10th to the evening of the 12th. The town holds about 2,500 people; the greater area’s population reaches 5,000. The Dells are the world’s largest water park; I remember finding it gaudy in summer and unseemly in winter. I was last here a couple years ago. The people who live here are friendly to a fault and very personable. It is easy to be a big fish in such a small pond, and difficult to be anonymous; not much escapes a small-town Midwesterner’s eyes and ears in the dead of winter. There just isn’t much to distract from the bleak, pristine snow; the old metal contraptions left to rust in backyards; the slush in parking lots and the white of down-home frozen potatoes with sour cream.

After a day going around with my aunt and uncle, I came to appreciate the Dells' intimacy. It sounds like working here for the summer would be entertaining - enjoying the freedom of being a temporary local with others.

When I slept on beaches, years ago, I heard the sea waves all through the night. After returning to Indiana, a few nights passed before I didn't physiologically "feel" them. Last night, I felt the rocking of the train while slipping into sleep on my relatives' futon.

Notes from the train (unedited).

“That woman looks like a roll of ones wrapped in a twenty.”

I am taken with one Latina who is looking anxiously out the window of the seat across the aisle. A tall Styrofoam cup of coffee sticks to her sweaty, fleshy palm. A 30-ish couple, overweight (though the woman could be pretty, with her thin painted lips and high cheekbones), sits in front of her window. The Latina plops into her seat, a little nervous and huffy.

People-watching will be some entertainment. I’m not generally annoyed by people like I gather most are – I don’t take it personally, who they are and how they act. Disappointment, exhaustion, fear, and stress; I’d like to have compassion for my sake and theirs. I’ve cried at the airport ticket counter and implored bus drivers to turn around.

I see a wolf passing through a field near a landfill just east of Chicago.

Hyde Park, Chicago: Statues like chess pieces – the knight and queen. Houses here are tall and thin, without porches or balconies. Turrets and towers create a modest motif in this part of town. Kids in this city sled off the mounds built for statues.


  1. I am so glad you decided to do this Liz! I really hope you enjoy the train as much as I did. Just reading some of your blog I see you have already met many interesting people, some of which you will keep as friends forever! I hope you enjoy the rest of your trip. Please keep me updated, miss you!


  2. Ah! Your blog is so poetic and lovely. I'm jealous. :)