On the train, 6/26-27

From notebook and memory:

Still dark when I get on the train at 4:30 a.m. As we roll across the Mississippi River, the sky has lightened, and the Gateway Arch catches glints from the east.

North of Springfield. Young man behind me answers his cell phone. Drowsily, I hear the end of the conversation, which to my New England ears sounds like this: “Yahp. Bea raw nair. Bah.” He’s saying: “Yeah. Be right there. ‘Bye.”

Downtown Chicago, 65 degrees, cool and cloudy, the locals wear windbreakers or light jackets. In the Art Institute, two young men look at a painting: “I like that. I don’t know why I like that, but I like that.” They walk away from me, still talking about the painting. They burst into laughter for some reason.

The train is late coming out of the yard. While we wait, Robert and I joke about waiting. He’s on the same sleeper as I, except when we get to the train our sleeper is gone (toilets don’t work), they give us a coach instead. We talk and figure out how to make the best of it. The sleeping car attendant gives us blankets: “Brand new,” he says; they’re still in plastic wrappers. “Keep them, you deserve something for this.”

Robert’s a rail fan and a model railroader. In the dining car, we talk about trains and model railroads.

The sun awakens me somewhere in Pennsylvania. Six hours of sleep.

At lunch, Robert and I eat together for the third time. The two other people at our table talk about being in St. Louis, and I figure out we’re coming from the same event, but I’m tired of talking about religion and move the conversation in other directions. Later: “Look at that,” I say, pointing to a beautifully restored locomotive. Robert looks and says, “An F-7. Nice job on the New York Central colors.” The couple is only politely interested.

I doze some more.

At Rochester, the train is stopped by federal agents from the Department of Immigration and Naturalization Service. We sit and wait. Robert and I and some others get out to stretch our legs. At the end of the platform, everyone from the last car is off the train, with their bags. They start herding people back on the train. As we pull out, I see a police car driving down the platform. Later I overhear: “They arrested two guys.”

The whole way through the Berkshires, I sit in the cafe car and talk with Bob from Chicago. We look at the scenery. We talk about snowmobiles, we talk a lot about how much we like Chicago, I point out a beaver lodge next to the track, we talk about Geneva, Illinois, where I lived last year, he mentions his wife who died a decade ago and his Navy buddy who has cancer, we talk about our favorite fishing expeditions. After an hour: “Nice talking.” “See you.”

It gets dark after Worcester. I doze. At last we make it to Boston.