All aboard

One summer a handful of years ago, the stars happened to align spectacularly. My cousin was getting married in California but, with work and camp schedules restricting the rest of the family, Sam (then 11) and I were the only ones able to attend.  We joked about taking the train.  Ha, ha, ha! Boston to LA. That would be so... And then, wide-eyed, we looked at each other, looked at the calendar, looked at the map and realized that we really could take the train across the country.

Boston train station

Boston train station

I booked an overnight train (with sitting up seats) for the first leg from Boston to Chicago. We spent about 8 hours in Chicago (a post for another day) and then boarded a sleeping car for the next leg from Chicago to LA. Mel, the dining car host, would announce our seating time in his game show voice three times a day. We ate on white linen tablecloths in the dining car, read our stacks of books, played endless games of Scrabble, slept on our pull-out bunks to the gentle rock of the train, and hung out in the observation car with its wide walls of windows.

2010 july train scene rain.jpg

The views out those windows! From New England’s green tree tunnels to New Mexico’s barren beauty to California’s slow return back to green, we bore witness to the country’s sea-to-shining-seas acreage and seams. (Come on, everyone sing in chorus: This land was made for you and me…) Of course it wasn’t all fabulous vistas, though. At times it was like traveling across America’s backyard--abandoned cars and trash heaps and all—which was its own kind of fascinating.

The magic of spending that stretch of time with Sam was especially vivid for me, knowing that he would soon leave boyhood behind for the oversized shoes of teenhood.

2010 july read sam.jpg

 Those days--suspended as they were in time and between home and destination, the Atlantic and Pacific, childhood and other--were breathtaking on so many levels. Reverent, even.  I remember a lump in my throat as we crossed to California, my travel buddy reading in the seat across from me. I wasn’t ready for it to end. But then, I never am.

Arrived! Santa Monica Pier

Arrived! Santa Monica Pier

Some of our favorite things about the train adventure:

  1. The train station architecture at each stop
  2. Beautiful vistas and wildlife as you cross the nation’s backyard
  3. Reading and games and relaxation and napping
  4. The pace (and limited internet connection gets everyone off devices)
  5. The dining car and white linen service
  6. Daydreaming while looking out of the windows
  7. One-on-one time
  8. Sleeping cars and the gentle rock of the train as it travels over the rails
  9. The sound of the train whistle
  10. No big security rigmarole, no driving fatigue

p.s. It doesn't have to be a cross-country trip (the stars really did impossibly align for this time). Just a day trip or an overnighter would be a terrific way to spend some undivided time together. If you’re considering venturing on the train (and I really think you won’t regret it), watch for another post soon with nitty gritty info & hints for train travel.