I’m on the train from Chicago to Pittsburgh, where after a wait I’ll catch another train into Altoona. If all goes well—it sometimes does—I’ll arrive in about 12 hours. I preferred the old days of the direct route, the Broadway Limited, but there you have it. In these days of the convenience of 24-hour shopping and the handheld smartphone, the direct route has been eliminated, a tactic that makes life worse, not better, well, at least for me. Although I suppose some could and would say that 24-hour shopping and smartphones aren’t really a step forward, either. I’m on the fence.
I was lucky to get a seat on the Superliner’s lower level. There are two great things about this: (1) you don’t have to drag your luggage up the steep, narrow stairs, and (2) you don’t have to negotiate the same steep, narrow stairs at all hours of the night to use the downstairs facilities, a more important factor for me when I had 2.3 pounds of deadweight fibroid flattening my bladder. I’m finding another benefit now—so far, there have been only one or two others here on the lower level, depending on the stage of the journey. (We just picked a third person up.)
There seems to be a high number of urchins aboard tonight. Two in particular have caught my attention: Levi and Rose. I know their names because they’ve been running around, blocking the steps, and bumping into people, and their ineffectual father keeps admonishing them by name, loudly, and giving them orders, both of which they ignore. When told to sit, they did, but that lasted for less than a minute, about the same as the dogs I’d seen ordered to sit and stay at the veterinarian’s office the day before. Earlier, the same man had told me that he was going to be first into the café car because his kids need to eat, spoken as though their lives depended upon it. Most parents who travel with their children on the train seem to know the “rules”—bring plenty of entertainment, food, and drink. Clearly, no one had filled him in, and he had not figured it out on his own. Another reminder that parenting doesn’t come naturally to everyone.
The other person I noticed was a nerdy young man, perhaps 30, reading a photocopied article and penciling in notes. I caught references to Kierkegaard and something about the Christian religion’s basis on faith, not philosophy—my awkward and perhaps inaccurate paraphrase. What would he have said if I had observed, “That’s a rather narrow viewpoint of Christianity, don’t you think?” Philosophical though he may be, he didn’t ignore his bodily needs, making at least two trips for food—clearly not an ascetic philosopher.
I started to write a letter and before I knew it, my iPhone was showing the time change and the train was nearly to Ohio. Probably by 11:30 p.m., I was sound asleep, having woken up a few times to adjust position, but not waking with an urgent need to go. I was startled when the conductor tapped me awake outside Pittsburgh, and almost as startled to notice that more people had boarded without disturbing me. Here at the Pittsburgh train station, waiting for the Pennsylvanian to Altoona, I’m mostly startled to feel refreshed. Here’s another recommendation for successful overnight train travel: earplugs.