Met while traveling

Written Monday, June 22, while on the train; posted Wednesday, June 24, and back-dated.

It’s what they call “community seating” in the dining car — they seat you with other people who come in at about the same time you do. Sure, you can take your food and go eat in your sleeping compartment, but it’s more fun to meet different people.

At dinner, I was seated with a family of three: mom, dad, daughter in mid-teens. They had been touring colleges on the East Coast, and were headed to Denver to visit colleges in that area. Upon finding out that I was from the Boston area, the dad turned to me and asked what I thought about Harvard College. I told him that I thought they were overpriced for what you got, unless all you wanted was the name on your diploma. “But,” I said, turning to the daughter, “it depends on what your filed is.”

“English,” she said, “writing, really.” So I asked what kind of writing she was interested in, and she said journalism and creative non-fiction. And then I asked what writers she liked, and she named Hunter S. Thompson and….

“Oh, New Journalism, huh?” I said.

“Yes,” she said, looking surprised that I knew what she was talking about.

So I told her that I love New Journalism, and besides my spouse, Carol, is a journalist, and my older sister has an MFA in creative writing, so like it or not I would know something about it. I told that Carol went to Newhouse School at Syracuse, and got good training in journalism; but what they told Carol at Newhosue was that you don’t need a degree in journalism, you mostly just need to write. So maybe it wasn’t so important which school she went to; maybe she should just find a college in New York City simply because it is the literary center of the United States. She had already thought about that.

Then the conversation meandered all over the place, and it turned out that the daughter had talked her parents into taking a side trip to drive past Woody Creek, where Hunter Thompson lived the last half of his life. Her parents didn’t quite roll their eyes, but obviously didn’t understand her passion. I love some of Thompson’s writing, especially Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, so I was far more sympathetic.

“Sounds like a good trip,” I said to her. “Literary pilgrimage is a venerable tradition. In fact, now that you mention it, going to Woody Creek a literary pilgrimage I should make.”

As we finished desert, I couldn’t resist asking her, “So how many words a day do you write?” “Well,” she said, and then admitted that she didn’t write every day. But wasn’t she was writing letters about her trip to a friend back home, which counts as writing, and writing in her journal? I said she should post those letters on a blog. She said that maybe she might do that some day.