So when I said I had “plenty of time to take a fast train” I should have said, “plenty of time to take a train that will arrive more or less at my destination on time.”
The train trip was, as expected, beautiful and scenic. I was fascinated by the poverty, graffiti, and the beauty and power of nature. Even Tacoma was beautiful from the train. I felt detached as I watched from such a great speeds and height. If I had been in my car I would have never noticed all the interesting things, as I would have been distracted by sights that would have unnerved me. The most wonderful thing was gazing down into clear green waters and waving to children on the shore. I wish I had poetry to describe it. It was almost like being in a time machine. I could picture the same dirty faced, impovershed children waving to the train in short pants and leather soled shoes.
I thought a lot about children on the ride. In the rows ahead of me were 4 children, ages 18-8. They were somehow related, half-siblings, all from different mothers, returning from a trip to see their grandmother in Port Angeles. Many topics came up: drug use (theirs and their mothers’), sex, and a number of things that made me feel that these kids would live and die in their tiny Californian desert town and never recognize their potential, and never miss it. It was profoundly depressing. The 13 year old girl looked 19 and had already learned to manipulate men with her body. She was having sex, doing drugs, and smoking (possibly simultaneously— tho not on the train). The eldest, a boy, seemed to be protective and loving, but simultaneously angry and violent. He was a K-Fed wannabe. The other older girl was rather unremarkable. The youngest girl was making sex and pot jokes. She was forward, reckless and sexually aggressive. And she was 8. I plugged my ears with my IPOD and hoped that I could drown them out with indie music and hair rock. I couldn’t though. It was impossible. I wanted to shake them and tell them to quit fucking up their lives. I wanted to yell at them. I wanted to tell those little red-neck white-trash Von Trap Family Singers where they were going. Madame Quiana predicts the future. I see Welfare and angry children. I see Dautsons and dirt roads to a hand-me-down double-wide with satellite porn. I see Grease Monkey and 7-11 and Wal-Mart.
But I didn’t say anything, because I’m a coward.
I met a bunch of very nice people on the train. An elderly couple traveling to California from their home in Minnesota to visit their grown son. A retired CPS worker who teared up overhearing the conversations ahead of us. A sarcastic Japanese exchange student with progressive political views and a penchant for sudoku.
I had plenty of time to make friends what with the train running over six and a half hours late. I won’t bore you with the lousy unfriendly service, rude conductors, and other similar details. To be succinct, the only way I would ride a long distance on Amtrak is if I was retired and could afford a sleeper.
I’m kind of sad I took the train because it wasted my first day in San Francisco, but I had an experience on the train that could never have been replicated in a plane.