Day 4 of this Amtrak Residency. Greetings from just outside Galesburg, Illinois, where I am now at mile 1572 of this 7298 mile voyage. You can read previous entries about the journey thus far on this same site, or at the Amtrak blog here.
I am at last safely aboard the California Zephyr, which departed from Union Station, Chicago at 2 PM. Before that, I rode the “Hoosier State” from Indianapolis to Chicago, which I can affirm was not a fast mode of transportation. Before that I was in a limo being picked up at 4:15 AM in Bloomington, taking my leave of the IU campus and my days at the Kinsey Institute.
Today I have seen a field of windmills. I saw the sun set behind a bank of clouds over a brown, exhausted soybean field. I saw an Amish family with spectacular beards and bonnets. I saw a grain elevator filling up a long semi with corn seed. I saw a place on the tracks where somehow a hundred potatoes had spilled. I have heard the sound of the whistle as we cut through small towns with barriers lowered, red lights blinking, at the one intersection in town. I looked out for an hour or so at places where there didn’t seem to be any towns at all. I saw a man standing alone at the edge of a fallow field.
Superliner roomette (on the Zephyr) is, in my opinion, not quite as roomy as the roomette on the Viewliner (Lake Shore Limited). Haven’t tried the bed yet. But there’s no window on the upper berth. To make up for this, there is a fabulous dining car, where i’ll unfold my napkin in about an hour, and a bar car with an upstairs observation deck. My wife and I enjoyed a similar car going from Fairbanks to Anchorage on our honeymoon. I still remember the couple we met on that train ride: as a result of two different strains of cancer, the husband couldn’t talk, and the wife could not hear. Deedie and I have long joked that we have based our marriage on the model of this couple.
Here in Galesburg, Carl Sandburg was born in 1878. In his home town he drove a milk wagon, worked as a porter for a hotel, as a laborer on a farm, before going back to driving the milk wagon. Later, he won three Pulitzer Prizes, and published the “American Songbag,” a collection that attempted to do for this country, in the early 20th century what Sir Francis Childe had done with Irish and Scottish and English music 300 years earlier: create an archive of traditional folk songs.
Among the songs collected by Sandburg is “The Railroad Cars are Comin’,” part of which goes like this:
The prairie dogs in dogtown
Will wag each little tail,
They’ll think that something’s coming,
Just flying down the rail.
Amid the purple sagebrush,
The antelope will stand
While railroad cars are coming, humming,
Through the prairie land,
The railroad cars are coming, humming,
Through the prairie land.
I wrote 1300 words between Chicago and Galesburg. I don’t know if it’s any good, won’t know for months, probably. But here I am on the edge of the prairie, grateful that I live in this country. It’s Election Day, and I admit I’ve been kind of paying less attention than I might were i at home. At the same time I can tell you that the very last thing I did before leaving Maine was to vote by absentee ballot. I’ll go to sleep tonight content that the country, as always, will sort things out. Something is coming.