Monday, January 11, 2010

Home to Home

I am a 23-year-old woman who recently graduated from Indiana University, with a BS in Public Affairs (I always liked the implicit pun). A month or so before graduating, I was offered an AmeriCorps position in Durango, CO; the job starts this April. Until then, I’m essentially on a four-month vacation from work and school. I was mulling over ways to spend it, most of which centered around interesting ways to earn some extra cash around Bloomington (where I live), when it came to my attention that an acquaintance of mine needed a room for a month and a half after the New Year. Almost on impulse, I rented her my space and took the opportunity to plan a trip around the nation via rail.

I started contacting far-flung friends – people who lived on my dorm floor freshman year, family I’d never met before, co-workers who’d moved on, one who’d studied abroad with me, and even friends’ families in a couple cities. The feedback was wonderfully complete and enthusiastic. As I gathered information on who would be willing and able to host me for a couple nights here and there, I tracked the rail ties between cities and found I’d be able to travel completely by rail. Thanks to my hosts and my subletter, I’ll be visiting ten cities over the next thirty days (an average of three days per city) on all coasts and borders of the States.

Wisconsin Dells, WI

Seattle, WA

Portland, OR

Long Beach, CA

Tucson, AZ

New Orleans, LA

Birmingham, AL (?)

Charlottesville, VA

Washington, D.C.

Philadelphia, PA (?)

Chicago, IL

Pre-Trip: 9 January 2009

I left Bloomington, IN around 10:30 a.m., heading almost due north to my parents’ home in Bristol, IN. I stopped in Indianapolis to sell my bicycle and hopefully pick up my rail pass (which you have to do in person at an Amtrak station). I discovered that the Amtrak station in Indy is only open from 11:30pm to 6:00am. This, I think, will be the first lesson toward internalizing the fact that Amtrak is not as convenient or efficient as it markets itself. I resolved to arrive early to the station in Chicago the next day to pick up the ticket.

Day 1

I woke up at 6am in my old bed. Mom drove me to the South Bend airport, where I was to catch a commuter train to Chicago’s Millennium Station. The train ran late due to a broken wire; luckily, I had about a four-hour layover cushion in Chicago. I squirmed and settled in the plastic and vinyl chairs and watched the sun rise over the snowed-in rust belt of northwestern Indiana. I collected my rail pass and the first half of my segment tickets in Chicago without any difficulty. The woman behind the counter was so thin and disdainful her skin pigmentation lightened around her nose and cheekbones. She informed me nonchalantly that the Empire Builder (between Chicago and Seattle) had been down occasionally over the past couple of days due to conflicting uses of the tracks between Amtrak and Union Pacific Freight. It “…should…” be ok by Tuesday, when I plan to leave for the Pacific Northwest.

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