Greetings from Albany, New York. It’s just after 6 PM, and we’re pausing here while the Boston train joins up with the New York one, in a kind of locomotive version of Let’s Form Voltron Force!
Last night went to a Halloween jam in the barn of some friends. Sat in with the Blues Prophets, playing piano for two songs– one of which was “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” and one of which wasn’t. Home by 10:30, in bed for the last time for 17 days with my wife and the Stupid Dog©. AT 3:15 AM the alarm went off, and the dog raised her head as if to say, “What are you doing?”
I didn’t have a good answer.
By 4 AM I was in the car driving from our house in rural Maine to the Amtrak station in Portland ME for the first leg of the Amtrak Residency, the journey that will take me the next 17 days and cover 7298 miles, coast to coast. It was a dark and stormy night. Rain slashed against my wipers. Dead leaves blew past.
Arrived in Portland a little after 5 in time to step on the Downeaster at 5;30. This has got to be the most adorable train in the Amtrak fleet, and by adorable, I mean there are volunteers on the train who want to make sure you’re “okay”– handing out maps, explaining history. Train guys. We pulled into Boston a little late, and I took the subway from North Station to South Station, where I stowed my bags and walked over for dim sum in Boston’s Chinatown. I ate a whole bunch of things I could not identify, sparked up with chili sauce, and drank a whole pot of tea.
By 11 AM I was in the sleeper train/first class lounge of South Station, which looked a little like the Diogenes Club. I looked around for Mycroft Holmes. Then the redcap helped me on board the 12 noon North Shore Limited, where I was met by the sleeper car czarina, Lashawnda Jones. She is very proud of “wearing the blue” (as she put it), and has been taking good care of all of us. Right on schedule we pulled out of Boston, and I sat down to write.
Or, I would have, Ma, except that having to get up at 3:15 AM had me so knackered that I struggled to stay awake. But I fought off the Z’s and got to work. Wrote 1200 words– about my average for a single sitting– part of the climax of the book I hope to finish on this adventure. After that, I strolled down to the cafe car, where I made the acquaintance of one Claudia Butler, the manager of the Lake Shore Limited. She’s been around trains all her life– her father worked for the railroad too. She was excited to have an Amtrak Writer in Residence on Board, and spoke with pride of her OBS crew (that’s on-board service).
I can say that the “roomette” is small; there is barely enough room for my ego.
I looked out the window and watched Massachusetts and New York go by. It’s a very Edgar Allen Poe November out there; leaves blowing, rain streaking against the windowpane. I wrote and I thought and I read a little of Maxine Hong Kinsgston’s “The Woman Warrior,” which I’m teaching at Barnard this spring.
Somewhere around 1 AM tonight–we’ll be just outside Dayton, Ohio– the train will come to a halt for an hour. This is on account of the reversion to Eastern Standard Time. I’d heard that trains do this– if they just chugged ahead, we’d all wind up at our destination an hour ahead of the schedule, thus opening up a rift in the space-time continuum. It’s like what Steven Wright used to say about: “I put instant coffee in the microwave and went back in time.”
I’ll be up at dawn tomorrow (plus an hour) to have an early breakfast, in time to step off the Lake Shore Limited about 7:30 in the morning in Waterloo, Indiana. Where, with any luck, a nice black limo will be waiting to drive me the three + hours to Bloomington, Indiana, and the Kinsey Institute for Research on Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, where I’ll be attending an exhibition of the Institute’s Mapplethorpe prints tomorrow night, and a Board of Trustees meeting all day Monday. Tuesday, it’s back on the train, and on to California!
Thanks for riding with me.
“Come along, Mrs. Thornhill.”