Another day on the cold steel road, more lessons. The third day of my Amtrak train adventure across America taught me about life in a timeline, and why you should take advantage of every moment.
It was through hazy grey-blue eyes that I felt as though I could travel through most of the history of the United States.
Marge, with those time traveling cloud-like eyes which matched the color of her knit sweater, told in her sweet yet lively voice of days long past.
Long past and disappearing. She smiled, possibly reminiscing about a love of her life once upon a time. Or maybe some trip she had taken in her reckless youth that stoked up a small fire in memory.
Like the trip I was on.
“Everything is disappearing so fast. But I do remember some things. The important things. The things that matter the most. It’s never the moments of everyday life you remember when your 80”
After she revealed that she had just turned 80 a week prior, I marveled at her sprightliness.
Though the wrinkles in her skin could trace through a long-lived and storied life, her energy was young and her voice was strong.
“That’s what it’s about. Doing things worth remembering.” I said.
Over matching spinach omelets we talked. A young lad who has lived through cartoons about infinity and beyond and the fall of human interaction was sharing stories with a young soul who had lived through a World War which brought a nation together, and NASA actually reaching infinity and beyond.
“My mother and father were born in the late 1800’s. As a little girl they told me about horse and buggies. About the First World War and the second one. I lived through us reaching the moon and the invention of the television.”
“You know you’ve truly lived when you think about all of that stuff.”
“It’s a shame the nation stopped dreaming big.” I said.
“Yes, there are so many values we have forgotten in time, so many things that brought us to amazing heights as a people.” She said.
So many things we have forgotten.
Our waiter Kevin, mid 40’s with a white buzz haircut and a helluva’ cheeky personality, came by the table and interrupted our meaning of life ponderings.
“So what do you think those brown cows think about this while BLACK Angus beef craze?!“
The dining car erupted in laughter. This guy was one of the big reasons I love train travel. Because the love it. But I was also thinking now about how far away that steak I might eat at a restaurant comes, and how much work the people out here whom we never think about do.
I never expected to be uncovering lost values of a nation, or discovering things I have forgotten over time, or take for granted each day.
The night before I had left my window shades open in that space capsule like sleeper purposely to be woken up at sunrise. And just as I had hoped, the sights outside my window were worth waking to slithering through North Dakota. Reminiscent of 1960’s upholstery, the United States was dressed in green, orange, and yellow brush as far as the eye could see.
Though, as I mentioned earlier, it wouldn’t be only different views visually that would captivate me.
It was good to be outside again, though it was much colder than the last time I was off that train. The train hissed and chugged while cigarettes of desperate smokers lit up quick.
“I don’t have much time left on this earth, but from what I see in this country is a damn shame.”
I overheard an older white-haired man talking with the Amtrak attendant while on a rest stop in Milot.
He looked down at the ground with somber glassy eyes shaking his head.
“Every other first world country out there has a few main focuses. Transportation, mainly rail. Education. Healthcare. They know that those are the backbone of the country. That it matters for the people who live there.”
He had flicked each finger up fiercely to exaggerate each of the three points.
“In the US, we’ve been trained to embrace speed and noise. We miss out on everything now. We miss out on the journey in life. We are racing toward death. We fly to get from place to place as fast as possible while being treated like sacks of potatoes on airlines.”
He bent over to rub his aged knees, most likely from the brisk North Dakota air.
“Just speed and noise, the enemy of life.”
The Amtrak attendant shook his head agreeing with the statements made.
“And this is why I work for Amtrak…”
Later in the afternoon I sat writing all of the days conversations in my journal.
As the ink swirled in cursive along the paper, those conversations set in deep.
The sun hung at 3 O’clock in the sky with the Empire Builder pushing deeper into the plains of North Dakota. Silver pools polka-dotted reed marshes outside the window reflecting cotton ball clouds.
In moments like these, it is hard to decipher what is upside down and what is right side up. Reality becomes obscured. But in moments where the sky and the clouds blur together with the earth and the water into an infinite symmetry, does it matter?
I was on an adventure, and even though I was nervous and feeling a tad bit turned upside down myself, I was leaving the speed and noise behind. I was listening to the people and sopping up Mother Natures juicy sights like a sponge.
It felt like I was doing something important.
A couple of hours after we had left Milot through the golden plans, silver pools, and puffy clouds, I attended my first ever wine tasting.
And of course I expected it to be pretentious.
Tons of people I know love to go to wine tastings. They love to dress up, sit down, be served a puny amount of wine. They love to swirl it around, snort the aroma into their nostrils as they sip loudly bit by bit. And then they spit it out into a bucket like a California rancher with chewing tobacco.
The only time I’d go through that much effort to try something would be for whiskey. But I’ve been to whiskey tastings. They give me a full shot, and they never ask me to spit it out…
The dining cart filled up with what would later be described by a lady much older than myself as the geriatric herd. I laughed awkwardly, but it did feel as though I was the youngest in the room by 40 years at least. And it was amusing to me about all of the stares I got from said geriatric herb wondering why a young buck was crashing their wine tasting.
Jim and Dorothy entered the dining car, commanding attention of the eager sniffers and sippers with wine bottles from around the region. And even though wine would normally be a bore, the extensive knowledge each knew about the wine itself and their enthusiasm was surprisingly captivating.
They poured each wine and told us all of the fun tidbits and unique traits of each, but I was there for a buzz and the cheese.
I freakin’ love cheese.
And as everyone tasted each, I heard no snorting or slipping. As I tried each, I was shamefully enjoying the whole experience. You can be damn sure I was the first to dive into the cheeses too since everyone else was too polite to make the first move.
For the chardonnay, one was floral and crisp and you could smell the rose. The other, dangerously buttery and smooth. For the pinot noir, one had sweet cherry and chocolate flavor, with the other having more of a light sip and after bite.
And I cannot believe I just described my wine to you…but I had unexpectedly enjoyed the whole experience. Jim toward the end auctioned off nearly 10 bottles of wine. With their years, those wine tasting older whipper-snappers beat me in trivia knowledge as well.
Another small ignorance shattered.
And meet me at a pub quiz sometime for round two!
The sun sank sadder into the horizon giving the landscape a stark melancholy feel. Bare and gnarled skeleton trees clawed at the white-washed sky. We were passing through the badlands. The wind-swept monochrome plains were broken up by scars in the ground sprouting out armies for the same twisted trees and I fell asleep staring as it all passed by.
When I awoke in the twilight before pitch night, my disorientation took off to new heights after looking at my clock and not understanding how it was the same exact time as when I had fallen asleep.
The clocks had set back an hour since daylight savings ended, and the clocks traveled further back two hours passing through North Dakota.
As I gazed out my window when we pulled into an unknown station, a small spot illuminated by a dim street light shown a foot of snow on a lonely bench. The feeling was dreamlike and surreal, as if I was traveling through different earthly planes.
The large snowflakes fell slowly, dancing in the lap light like a waltz as they descended and I imagined the song of a wind up music box would be fitting.
Lights and glimpses of snow flashed by as we passed through small blanketed towns. It was slow-moving and quiet. I was away from the speed and the noise. I was alone but didn’t feel lonely.
I was pondering life, and all of those conversations I listened to during the day again.
I was doing something I’d remember when I’m 80, something that might make me smile in my later fleeting years. I was traveling through the forgotten lands of the United States on the forgotten yet romantic way of travel. The train.
I was experiencing different ways of life all the while on the path to change my own. I was seeing reality through cloud-like eyes, and glassy somber eyes, and the eyes of the passionate train conductors.
I was on a journey uncovering the world and my hidden self.
I was on my way.
Like this story? Get caught up on all of the other days on this gnarly train adventure across the United States!
READ – DAY 1: Closure.
READ – DAY 2: Discovery.
READ – Ginos East vs. Giordanos: A Deep Dish Love Affair
**DISCLOSURE** I was not financially compensated for this post. I received a free trip courtesy of Amtrak Blog for review purposes. The opinions, photos, videos, and use of the word “gnarly” are completely my own based on my experience.