I left home this morning and took the BART from Union City to Oakland downtown. Like the excited fool I am, I forgot to take a transfer slip from the BART station, so I had to pay the full fare for the bus to 59th Street. From there, I walked a half-mile to the train station at Emeryville, where I waited 30 minutes for the California Zephyr on which I sit comfortably now.
Over the next few months, I’ll be taking trains all over America. I’ll stay in each city for about a week. I’ve only booked travel up to the end of November so far, which includes Chicago, Omaha, New Orleans, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, and probably Atlanta. I left my job a few weeks ago, so I won’t be “working” during my travels; but I’ll be doing plenty of Work™ - learning new programming languages, writing, strengthening the online business for Sari Saheli, and more. I pack light - a backpack contains my necessary possessions. I’ll write more about what I’m carrying another time.
My first stop is Chicago to attend the wedding of some dear friends. I’ll be there in just over 50 hours, and the train will pass through forest, desert, river, and prairie. I bought Amtrak’s 45-Day USA Rail Pass, which lets me buy up to 18 tickets for travel within 45 days (I doubt I’ll ever need to use all eighteen tickets). A Pass costs $750, but I bought mine from an Amtrak employee who sells them for $500 (He uses his employee discount). When one Pass runs out, I’ll buy another. I’ll be doing occasional freelance web development work to temper the effect of this trip’s payment on my savings.
Update: Emeryville to Truckee (3:30PM PT)
I boarded an empty train this morning and chose a seat near the entrance to the lounge car.1 I returned to my seat for the first time just five minutes ago only to find a bicyclist hobo passed out across the row of seats. A fellow traveler in a nearby row was disembarking in a few minutes, so I moved my seat marker to his soon-to-be-empty row and returned to the lounge car.
The scenery thus far has been very pretty. The path from Emeryville to Sacramento runs along the coast, through old cities with large factories. Once you hit Roseville, the land is considerably less developed - charming little farms spatter the natural landscape. And as you head into Truckee, the view opens up to reveal lush forest hills as far as you can see.
There are a lot of old people on the train. Now retired, they seem to be making good use of their time by traveling extensively. I met one couple who took trains all over Canada (from Toronto to Vancouver), are now exploring the United States, and plan to repeat the travel model in another country next. They and another couple I spoke with were kind and enthusiastic. On the other hand, the few young people I have spied and eavesdropped upon have seemed awkward - as if they couldn’t decide whether or not they wanted to be social.
We’ve just passed into Nevada. About 48 hours to go until Chicago.
Update: Truckee to Winnemucca, NV (7:00PM PT)
Nevada’s desert scene is intoxicating. Miles and miles of flat emptiness contained by distant dry hills. If you don’t get sick from it, you can hypnotize yourself by following with your eyes the power lines that run alongside the tracks. Up, down, up, down. I saw a few mirages but kept quiet about them. They felt like secrets. As evening set in, I put away my things and just watched the sky change from blue to red. How I wished time would stop then, so that we could live forever in a world warmed by the gentle glow of the setting sun. So gentle you can look right at it.
I met a young man named Dustin, who shared his dreams with me. He comes from a family of cops but always wanted to be a schoolteacher - 7th grade science. For various reasons, Dustin never achieved his dream. It makes me sad to think about passions lost or ignored. And it frustrates me that I know so little of the pursuit of passion in the face of struggle - luck has been so kind to me.
We’ll be in Utah by morning. About 44 hours until Chicago.
The lounge car has bigger windows than the coach cars and consists mostly of tables - ideal for watching the scenery, playing cards, and working on a computer. ↩