Amtrak is the equivalent of Europe’s EuRail. It has the mandate of moving the masses between towns and cities. It operates a nationwide rail network, serving more than 500 destinations in 46 states, the District of Columbia and connects with three Canadian provinces, on more than 21,300 miles of rails. Quite impressive huh!
Three years ago, my mother and I decided to take on an adventure trip to Indianapolis to visit her elder brother and family. It had been decades since we had seen each other, so the reunion was a very much awaited event. Instead of flying, we agreed to take the Amtrak train and see the country via rail. We departed from the Fresno Station early in the morning going to Sacramento. We were excited and nervous at the same time.
Three hours plus later, we were in the Sacramento train station, sitting on an old wooden pew and waiting for our next train. Six hours more had passed and we were still waiting for the train together with people who were just as antsy. After a few inquiries, we found out that the train we were supposed to board had a refrigeration problem which means if not repaired, the food on board the train would not be legally consumable.
And so we waited, until it finally arrived! As a result of the delay, the three days and 2 hours trip was now four days. There was no turning back, so we braced ourselves and prepared for the long journey.
Our first sunrise experienced on the train was going through Salt Lake City, Utah. I can remember the color of the landscape. It was a deep shade of brown which turned into orange as soon as the sun was seen on the horizon. It was a surreal experience. And then we passed by the “salt lake” home of the brand ,Morton Salt Processing plant. I saw mountains of salt along the bank which were white as snow.
Then the views were mostly country. Green pastures where black and white cows were grazing. Then fields of wheat and out of nowhere, a most amazing vineyard that was superimposed against a rocky mountain. Amtrak has a Lounge car where one can grab a comfortable seat and watch the beautiful scenery from the large glass window panels.
As you can imagine, there were plenty of jaw dropping views to be enjoyed in this special car. However, when a popular site like the Colorado River is approaching, it is best to save a seat fast or else you will have to peek over someone’s shoulder because the car turns into a standing room only.
I noticed that a train experience is not just about the views. Human interactions were also unique and special. Bonds, friendships and camaraderie were developed. One example in particular was a mother who traveled with her toddler from Sacramento to Chicago. There were a few of us in the train carriage who traveled on that route, so we became familiar with each other’s diet, sleeping habits, sounds, grunts and bathroom breaks. When the mother used the bathroom in the morning, Mom and I took turns holding the child. When the train captain announced an upcoming attraction, someone from our section saved seats in the Lounge car so we can see the panoramic views.
In Day 4, we passed by a town where almost all the passengers who got on the train were Amish. That was my first time to observe their culture up close! I felt ashamed of myself for being so nosy. I guess I made a few of them uncomfortable because I stared too much. I was amazed at how they carried themselves with pride and dignity. There were a group of young men and women who were playing a game of cards and bantering. Their appearances really stood out in the crowd but their world just continued on.
Two hours before we reached Chicago, the final stop, we said goodbye to the new found friends and we all wished each of us luck and safety. Well, Mom and I needed a lot of safety because that night, we had to take the bus from the Chicago Greyhound Station to Indianapolis.
My oh my, I have never seen so many armed men , at the station, in my life! It felt like any minute, there would be shootings and riots that were bound to happen. We were so relieved to leave that station.
At almost eleven at night of Day 4, we reached Indianapolis. Mom’s elder brother was waiting with the rest of his family. They all rejoiced that we survived our Amtrak experience. Someone asked if we will I do it again? The answer was yes, again and again and again!