February 14th, 2018
I had forty-five hours in the train. I am still tired, even though I slept for twelve hours after I got to Senji’s temple. Riding coach on Amtrak is brutal in some ways. It is nearly impossible to get more than a short nap on the journey. The train stops frequently at remote locations: Columbus, WI, Minot, ND, Havre, MT, Drizzledikk, ID, etc…It is amazing to watch people get on the train at 3:00 AM in a raging blizzard. It is even more amazing to watch passengers de-train in similar conditions. Good Lord, what could possibly be of interest Devil’s Lake, North Dakota?
In all fairness, I have to say that the Amtrak cars were remarkably clean and seats were relatively spacious. I was fortunate to have an empty seat next to me, so I could spread out a bit. Food and drinks are expensive, but of good quality. The conductors and the attendants were unfailingly polite and helpful. Everybody on the train knew that we were going for a long haul, and they acted accordingly.
I don’t like to fly. Part of my aversion to flying is because it is too fast. I understand that doesn’t seem to make much sense, but I find flying to be disorienting. If I fly, I find myself in a radically different environment far too quickly. A train ride allows me to gradually adapt to new conditions. Even hours of gazing at the plains of North Dakota are useful to me. My mind and soul can catch up with the changes.
A train ride is good for savoring an experience. This is worth while even when the experience is not the most pleasant. Looking at the desolate, snow-covered moonscape of eastern Montana is unnerving, but fascinating in a bleak, depressing sort of way. It’s like being a bit player in Dr. Zhivago. I was grateful to be on a warm train.
Trains can be good for meeting new people, knowing that you will probably never see them again. There is a freedom in that. I could say whatever I wanted to say, and it didn’t matter that much. I met Abe and Edna, an Amish couple from Columbus, WI. I met Larry, an Illinois dairy farmer. I met a retired Canadian teacher who had a strong opinion on every conceivable topic. I met a quiet young woman who had holes in all of her clothes. I met two ladies who were going skiing in Whitefish, MT. I had interesting conversations with some these folks. Others made it clear to me with their speech and body language that I should just go away.
There was lady sitting across the aisle from me during most of the trip. She was usually on the phone with her family in Everett. On the last evening of the journey, she left her seat for a while. I had been reading Crazy Clouds, a book about Zen masters, when she came back to her seat after going to the cafe.
She said to me, “Do you drink?”
She asked again, “Do you drink?”
“Will you have drink with me?”
“Come on, I don’t want to drink alone.”
I shrugged. “Okay.”
It was then that I noticed that she had purchased a bottle of wine and two shot bottles of vodka. I guess it was time for a party while the train rumbled through a blizzard in the Rockies (winds were up to 80 mph outside, and the train was actually forced to stop for a while).
The woman’s name was Yvonne. Her father was from Ghana and her mother was Filipino. Yvonne grew up near Seattle, but moved to North Dakota to work at a post office there. She had six sisters and an interesting history. We talked for a while, mostly about PTSD. Yvonne is starting a blog on the topic. One of her sisters works for the World Health Organization, and will help Yvonne with her project. We had a wide-ranging conversation, one that had been totally unexpected. I liked that. I also liked that she bought.