Continuing on our vacation to the East coast by train, I awakened during my restless night and looked up the aisle to the Observation car. In contrast to our darkened Coach, it’s brightly lit for the night owls who are hanging out in front of the big windows or sitting at tables in conversation. I noticed how the car ahead tilts to the left or the right while ours is in the opposite position. Or maybe it’s our car that’s rocking and the other is maintaining its position. I had the idea prior to this that a train is rigidly moving along the track in lock step. Another indicator I’m new at this.

Day Two

Our social lives started picking up. There were more chats. We started finding people we resonated with and people were opening up more. I was spending more time in the Observation car, aka the Lounge car. Sandy was making friends there, but I was taking the time and space to work on the final stages of my new novel’s third draft.

One couple we had some great laughs with was also traveling on the USA Rail Pass. As with us, they would be getting off in New Orleans and heading north on the Crescent toward New York. They were in their 20’s or possibly 30’s. Quick to laugh and smile, they seemed to fit in with everyone with whom they communicated. What stood out the most, though, was the woman’s skill with a Rubik’s Cube. We watched her solve it within a few minutes. Her boyfriend took it back, “shuffled” it and handed it back to her. As we were singing her praises and engaging her in conversation, she quickly solved it again. She did it over and over while talking to us.

We made our way across Texas, losing the Tucson family in San Antonio. Somewhere along the line, we picked up a black man about our age who was dressed in cowboy style clothes. He was soft-spoken, but friendly enough for us to feel his kindly vibe.

As we neared New Orleans, we found our young Rail Pass couple in the lounge. She was applying goth makeup for a short night on Bourbon Street.

With all the delays for the freight trains in our path, we reached New Orleans almost five hours late. Our plan had been to take an hour or two and go down to the French Quarter for a meal and a little music perhaps, then spend the night at a hotel. As it turned out, we headed straight for our lodging. By the time we laid down in the heavenly bed, it was 4:00 AM. With less than four hours of sleep, we rolled out and made our way back to the Union Passenger Terminal for our northbound Crescent. There was the young couple in line for boarding and she was scrubbed clean of her goth look.


It’s Labor Day. Some of our fellow passengers are still with us on this leg of the journey, including the aforementioned Rail Pass couple and the quiet Texan. In fact, he was sitting in the seat just across the aisle from us. We got to have ample, relaxed conversation. We learned he’s a train addict, though that’s not the term he’s using. He just loves riding the trains. He knows a lot about them and the routes they take here in the USA. He volunteered he feels comfortable to talk to people in just two places–trains and roller rinks. He enjoys roller-skating as much as anything in life and does it practically every Sunday. He even instructs others how to skate.

Eventually, the discussion turns to meeting people who turn out to be special to us. It can be synchronistic and almost magical at times. He shared an example with a person he met. That person, who happened also to be black, met a white man and they fell into deep conversation. They discovered they were from the same town in the South. The black man mentioned that his ancestors were slaves. The white man revealed his ancestors were slave owners. They dug deeper into the details and were amazed to learn the white man’s ancestors owned the ancestors of the black man. The two became good friends.

Riding the train can be a series of snapshots. Scenes of a passing landscape or person seen through a window at 100 miles per hour. An overheard snippet of conversation that by itself sounds surreal. They come in many forms. One such instant popped up when I was moving from the Observation car to our Coach. There in the front seat sat a passenger wearing a Covid mask and a sleeping mask simultaneously. His face was squarely aimed at mine. I felt as though I was being confronted by a muppet.

On this third night, I walked into the cafe and noticed the young man of the Rail Pass couple sitting at a table with two other men. I haven’t yet mentioned the young man has a shaved head, a beard and glasses. As I walk past them, I notice in a quick glance the two men across the table also have shaved heads, beards and glasses. Those two also look identical to each other, at least that’s how I see it in my mini-scan. I kept moving and returned to my seat without sharing my observations. Sandy soon went to the cafe and visited with the three men. She came back eventually and told me about the men she met who were hanging out with our Rail Pass friend. It turned out they weren’t twins. They were a married couple. I guess it’s a case of the old adage of married couples starting to look alike.

At this conclusion of a summer-ending holiday weekend, the train was filling up although it was the middle of the night. We couldn’t use open sets of seats under the circumstances. We sat together and had to maintain a slightly reclined sitting position most of the night. There was a lot of talking among the new passengers as they boarded and settled. The morning brought the thought I conveyed to Sandy. “Today is the fourth straight day I’ve had five hours or less of actual sleep.” That was a new record for me.

Endless Track

As the old saying goes, “I’ve got a million of ’em.” Like the one about Tuscaloosa I borrowed from Groucho Marx as we passed through there. Or the one by the conductor attendant when he learned I was writing about my train experiences. “Remember me!” he said. Or the one about the man in his 80’s who was treated to this trip around the country by his family because of his love for trains in general. Or pulling into the station of our beloved Santa Barbara–a homecoming.

If you look up the railroad track, the two rails look to unite into one by the time they reach the horizon. The events of the hour, the day, a lifetime eventually meet at one distant point where they’re all on the same track. The impression is the same when looking back down the tracks as well. Life on the train illustrates and magnifies what we’re going through in this mundane life in the material universe. The difference is we tend not to pay attention to the details in our lives off the train. I have way more stories of this train trip than I have space I want to devote to it on this site. Hopefully, I haven’t bored you with the ones I’ve already written.

Maybe the point has been made. Train travel is a series of experiences we can choose to see as adventures, big and small. And so they are. We treasure these experiences. There’s no reason we can’t see our own lives the same way if we’ll just make the choice to see life as an adventure.