The last few days have been quite an adventure. I had to travel to Minneapolis for work, and since I work for a nonprofit we are always trying to keep costs down. I could not find a flight under $500, and a train ticket was under $200 and didn’t seem like it would take much longer than driving (which I didn’t want to do as I didn’t want to get stuck in a blizzard with a rental car), so I decided to book my trip with Amtrak.
Now, I have taken the train before from Grand Rapids to Chicago. It’s a very short trip and I’ve never had any problems. I wasn’t anticipating any problems, and was looking forward to being able to stretch out, not crammed in an airplane. Plus I wouldn’t have to strip or get groped and put my toothpaste in a baggie, so I was looking forward to it, even. As a bonus, it is more environmentally friendly to take a train than to drive or fly, so I was patting myself on the back for that one.
I boarded the train in Holland and thought it ironic that I was surrounded by Amish, since I had chosen to bring Living More with Less along to read on the way. Sure enough, there was a chapter on transportation, so I was feeling good about my decision.
I arrived in Chicago with a few hours to kill; rather than eat lunch at a greasy food court I headed just outside Union Station and set up camp at Caribou Coffee. Free Wi-Fi, great coffee, and a quiet environment. With no fear or trepidation I boarded the Empire Builder and was on my way west. Unfortunately, somewhere in the middle of Wisconsin, the train slowed and the lights went out. We were stopped dead on the tracks in the middle of nowhere. It was dark. It was getting cold.
“Folks,” the loudspeaker said, “we are without electricity and are experiencing technical difficulties. Please stay where you are and try not to use the toilets unless it’s an emergency.”
Thankful that I had just visited the lavatory, I settled down and made the best of it. An hour went by. I texted the woman who had volunteered to pick me up at the train station to let her know I’d be late. I had already felt badly about making her drive an hour to pick me up at 10:30; by the time all was said and done I ended up not getting in until 12:30.
She picked me up and we chatted on the way to the little down where I was going to be meeting with the outreach team of her church. Somehow organic food came up and I sensed her scorn of people who take the time to make their own bread and so I did not mention my food blog. The next day was delightful; I stayed with the pastor and his wife. As I was checking the Amtrak schedule to verify the train status, I realized it was delayed for five hours. FIVE HOURS. I told them the good news: That we would not have to arise at 4 AM for them to take me to the station. I held back the bad news: That the prospect of me catching the connection in Chicago was slim to none. Still, I held fast to the disclaimer at the top of the status screen: Trains may be able to make up time in between stops, resulting in an on-time arrival. I called customer service just in case, and they said I’d likely be put on a bus.
On the way I decided to splurge and get lunch in the dining car; I’d had enough of cold, soggy turkey sandwiches. It was then that I met Dave, as the staff directed passengers where to sit; if you were a party of one they paired you up with someone. Oh well, I thought, I’m not particularly in the mood for chit chat but I’ll make the best of things. It sounds like he takes the train once a year for an extended vacation. He had never been delayed this long. He was also fascinated by my job, and the travel that I do. Soon I had warmed to the idea of having to eat with a stranger, and I answered all his questions about what people were like in Africa, had I ever seen any snakes, and where was my favorite place to travel in the U.S.
“This would never happen on a plane,” I thought. And indeed it happened again a few hours later when we were given a free meal because of the delay – beef stew on white rice. I got to know another family that was sitting next to me at that dinner, and we talked about how they were the only ones on the train who were going to make their connection.
Along the way, to amuse myself, I had been checking in on FourSquare which updates my Twitter and FaceBook. Many of my friends thought I was crazy. “Just get on a plane and be home in 3 hours,” they said.
I’m not going to lie; I had my weak moments; moments where I asked God why He was doing this to me when I just wanted to save my organization money and be green. But then I thought maybe I had prayed for patience somewhere along the way. Maybe He was telling me I need to slow down; to make room in my life for connecting with others.
“But does it have to be this way?” I asked, as I was later crammed in a minivan which took the passengers to Holland and Grand Rapids who had missed their connecting train, sitting next to a man who smelled like booze and an Amish family and another couple who had not bathed that morning apparently, which the woman may have noticed as she used some sort of strong-smelling hand cream which made the van smell like a dirty gym sock filled with potpourri.
Three hours later I breathed a sigh of relief as I bid adieu and headed out to my car, which had been sitting in lake effect snow for three days. Luckily there wasn’t more than a foot of snow on it, and I got quite a nice workout by brushing off the snow and scraping the windows.
“Will you take a train again?” I’ve been asked several times. I think so. Because life is an adventure, and this certainly was one!