I have spent the last two days on the Amtrak “Empire Builder” train, which travels from Portland to Chicago and follows major portions of the Lewis and Clark trail.
Sure, my trip took two days, not two years. And I did not have to hike over the Continental Divide with a baby on my back like Sacagewea, but my seat didn’t recline all the way and have YOU ever tried to sleep sitting up with 20 other people farting in what is essentially a big tin can? And they didn’t even have WiFi on the train. Do you hear that, Sacagewea? No WiFi!
I am unfamiliar with this part of the country, but thankfully, Tyler, sitting in front of me, drew a map of our route. About an hour into the 46-hour trip, he pointed out our approximate location. It didn’t seem right to me, but what do I know? I am not a mapmaker.
I contorted into every possible position over the seats in an attempt to sleep. Prior to our departure, I had asked about upgrading to a sleeper car and was told it would cost an additional $588. Around 3 a.m., I wondered if it might have been worth it…
The next morning, around 7:30, this nice dude named Mark started a very loud and chipper sightseeing narration in the lounge car. He asked questions like “Who knows any of Montana’s nicknames?!” I was like, “Hmm, I don’t know, Mark. SHUT THE FUCK UP I ONLY GOT THREE HOURS OF SLEEP? No? Ok, I’ll go with Big Sky Country then…”
I wasn’t the only one. An elderly couple was passing through on their way to the dining car and the wife said, “What’s he doin?” Her husband replied, “I don’t know. Poppin’ off about something.”
How many blurry pictures can I take of trees, water, and buildings? Quite a few, it turns out.
This morning I met Gary and Debbie, from the Yakima Valley in Washington State. They used to raise sheep. During birthing season, Debbie had to reach into the mama sheep and pull out the lambs. If a lamb isn’t breathing when it is born, you swing it by its hind legs in a big circle. The centrifugal force pushes the guck out of the baby’s lungs. This is what I imagine that looking like:
Gary grew up in a town so small that people used to write letters addressed to “Mom and Dad, Outlook, Washington.” The postmistress delivered the letters based on the return address because she knew where everyone’s kids were traveling.
Gary is a writer and he shared part of his memoir with me. He loves Shakespeare and poetry. He recited the beginning of the poem “Chicago” by Carl Sandburg in honor of our final destination:
Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders…
He got a few funny looks from around the train. I imagined if that elderly couple came back through right at that moment, they would have been like, “Now what’s HE poppin’ off about?”