Amtrak and Virginia Nowhereness

It’s been almost eight days since I’ve written anything, checked my email, responded to facebook stuff… This kind of internet deprivation is odd for me, even with travelling for the past two weeks or so, I’ve always been able to get near to an internet connection, even if it involved Touro subterfuge. Well since the last post from Chicago I’ve been in the middle of nowhere. Last civilized thing I did was have a very enjoyable lunch with Mr Modern Uberdox before taking the subway to downtown for my Amtrak to Washington DC.

I checked my suitcase and had a two hour wait to kill. Not too bad as downtown Chicago is pretty cool, apart from the black guys trying to hustle me for change by giving me directions. I gave the first one 65c for telling me to go where I already knew to go. When he asked for at least a few dollars “to get home” I told him point blank that I’m not going to apologize for not giving someone money for free. To my surprise, that got a laugh out of him. I guess most people aren’t too direct like that. With 45 minutes to go until my train in hits me that all I’ve got clothes-wise is what I’m wearing and that’s pretty sweated up from walking around the city. I start to look for a clothes shop and the girl in Walgreens tells me there’s an Old Navy six blocks away. I walk for more than that but don’t see it, but a block over by then I see a Filanes Basement. 20 minutes of browsing and I pick out some sleepwear that’s both cheap and comfortable for a 22 hour journey. After I pay, I check my watch and realize I’ve got 20 minutes to get back to the station. I ask the clerk for directions, but she doesn’t know. I dash out and ask a passerby, he tells me I’m about twenty blocks and a bridge away. I hoist my messenger bag under my arm and take off like a madman. I make the train, soaked with sweat.

I’ve travelled by air, train and bus and the most important thing is whether you can sleep during the journey. Amtrak scores a miserable four out of ten. I had two seats to myself, and the seats were reasonably big, but they don’t recline far enough to sleep comfortably on, and lying across both seats hurt my back because there’s this big metal bar between the seats just below cushion level that I could feel. Plus I was right across from the stairs, so while the rest of the cabin was in darkness I had sign lights shining on me. When you’re travelling for almost two days you need some sleep and I didn’t get much. Interestingly, there were a bunch of Amish people on board. I didn’t even know they used modern transportation like that, but I did get a kick out of watching them.

Amtrak has a slogan “The Best Scenery You’ll Ever Sleep Through”. It’s true, the train goes very slowly and travelling through the countryside is beautiful. I saw everything from cities, to rural villages to towns where I could see the whole thing from the top carriage. I think we went through five states, but I’m not totally sure. Either way I saw more of the country than I’ve been able to ever see by any other mode of transportation. By car all you see is the highway and by air you just fly over it all. The train goes through the countryside and the heartland. I recommend it if you can stand to travel for so long. A really cool thing to do is stand at the last carriage and stare out of the rear window just watching it all pass by. I loved seeing how everytime we went through a tunnel I could see after we passed it how they’d hollowed out a mountain and the size of what we’d just gone under.

I spent five days on a farm in the Blue Ridge mountains that my friends family inherited. They sold their house in Miami and moved up, now they live on a massive farm in a really cool farmhouse. His dads and electrician, so he rewired it all and modernized the central air and heating, though he says they still use the fireplace in the winter for the great room. They’ve adapted to farm life really well, with a collection of cats, dogs and some sort of mutated chickens that his mother says are “guinea hens”. All I know is they’re ugly and don’t even lay eggs. I kept dropping hints that we should have one for shabbos.

It’s really cool how well they’ve adapted. They grow a lot of vegetables and they have fruit trees. The only caveat is they have to drive over an hour to get kosher meat and cheese, so they stock up when they do. We did a lot of hiking and stuff. You have to like nature to live there because the closest town is half an hour drive away, so even things like renting a movie have to be planned ahead. Also, there’s no internet. The best they have is connecting through a cell phone, and that was very flaky. Best you get is two bars and it kept disconnecting randomly.

Well now I’m back in Brooklyn for a few more days. Looks like I have to go anyways, because the library computer popup just informed me I have two minutes left.

28 Responses to “Amtrak and Virginia Nowhereness”

  1. William Brown Says:

    I just read your ‘Amtrak and VA Nothingness’ piece, and altho’ it was well written, I take exception to some parts of it. I would like to see our language not changed by generations who evidently base everything on TODAY’S approach to life. A railroad car in the US is a ‘coach’, not a ‘cabin’ or a ‘carriage’. Next thing, they’ll be calling the crew in the diner ‘stewardesses’….. As if the world will stop revolving, right?

    But my friend, if you think that the purpose of travel is to sleep…. then you are missing the entire point…..

    Altho’ hanging out in the last car qualifies as ‘cool travelin’….

    Take care….


  2. There are a lot of Amish people where I live…..except that they ride busses and cars, & they’re called Mennonites….kinda like the reform movement?

  3. Yo, gimme a call. Hows the phone working out?

  4. I’m sorry lunch couldn’t have been longer. The farm sounds like a relaxing resting point.

  5. Dude. You sound like you had an amazing time. I am officially jealous. I should move to a farm for a few days.

  6. William Brown: In my defense, car or carriage was what the Amtrak staff called them. You’re right of course that the journey shouldnt be slept through the whole time. As I said, the one nice thing about trains is the scenery you get to observe as you travel. Thanks also for the compliment on my writing. I enjoy feedback on my style as well as content.

    Anonymous: I thought all Amish were Mennonites? Pretty much most of what I know of them is from the Weird Al song ‘Amish Paradise’. “We’re all crazy Mennonites…”

    Jacob: I didnt end up using the phone after all, but thanks anyway. I’m in Far Rockaway right now. I’ll call you when I’m back in Brooklyn.

    Neil: Next time, next time. BTW, I wasnt sure if you wanted me to publish your name. I gave a hint though, click the ‘Mr’.

    Child Ish: I reccomend it. Very relaxing. I’d probably go nuts if I had to live there though.

  7. Mennonites are not Amish at all. They are a completely different sect. Verty often they are lumped together with the Amish, but they are not the same. Mennonites are not as adverse to technology as the Amish are. They have different traditions and ideology, they just happen to dress simalarily to the Amish.

    Also, I remember when I was in Lancaster, PA, the guide told us that the Mennonites were in PA before the Amish so they do something with their carriages that the Amish usually do, (I think maybe the cover, or colroing) but the Amish in Lancaster don’t do that to distinguish themselves from the Mennonites

  8. Ahh. I usually go by “Neil” although a few bloggers have refered to me as “Mr. Modern Uberdox”. 🙂

  9. The scenic train ride sounds really cool, but 22 hours is a long time!
    Do they at least give you movies to watch like a plane?
    What do you do about food? they have kosher meals?

  10. tooyoungtoteach: Thanks for the info.

    Neil: Great minds think alike.

    Babysitter: No movie or anything. I bought a book beforehand though (The new John Grisham, ‘Playing For Pizza’. Perfect light reading). I wish I’d had the forethought to bring food. I didnt even think about it, so I ate nothing but chocolate bought from the canteen at $2 a pop. The only real meal I had was a bowl of cereal I also bought from the canteen. I was aching for some real food by the time I arrived in Virginia.

  11. Just as a BTW, commenting on your choice of reading material. John Grisham does not know how to close out a book. I stopped reading his books because they’re are such let downs. You get all involved, enjoy it, then the ending is so lame, non conclusive and ill-formed that it just unravels the whole book…

  12. FrumPunk: ok never heard of that book. I’ll check it out.
    Good thing you had money to at least buy the chocolate, and good thing they had kosher ones.

    TooYoungToTeach: now I’m curious to check it out. Where do you hear about these books from? from the library?

  13. I don’t get the question…what do mean where did I hear about the books, John Grisham is a pretty popular author…where did I get that opinion, I made it up, and I’m sticking by it. And yes, generally speaking you can get books from the library, and if you want to waste your money you can check out your local Barnes and Noble and buy the books yourself.

  14. Too Young To Teach: I meant the Book. Ok so perhaps its just me that hasn’t heard of that author. lol, I know you can get books from the library, I guess I didn’t associate the library with having those types of books, whatever they are. The last time I went was when I was much younger, but then I started owing money, like a lot of money, so then I never went back since then. Anyways, I thought perhaps in school they recommended books to you and that’s how you heard of them.

  15. Why is buying books wasting money? I hate libraries bec aside from the obvious ick factor of sharing books with hundreds of strangers, I hate giving books back, once I’ve read it it should be mine. Thus my rather impressive book collection i guess.

    And there are places other than Barnes and Nobels to buy books.

  16. Stacy: buying books would be wasting money if your the type that reads a book once and then never looks at it again, and if the book has no sentimental value to you. If it’s a book your just trying out, if you don’t like the book and it wasn’t worth the read, then it’s technically a waste of money to buy it.

  17. The only books I buy are textbooks, and picture books. Everything else, I can always get from the library if I need it again. I don’t even own a copy of my favorite book, “Last Days of Summer”.

  18. tooyoung: You’re right, John Grisham does not know how to end a book and his ending usually really make me hate him. But the beggining and middle bits are fantastic.

    As for buying books versus libraries: the financies of book ownership makes libraries great, but theres something to be said for a wall of books that you can point to as your own, that you’ve conquered. Also with Stacy here, I hate the thought that a book might have been someones bathroom reading, especially if I’m reading while eating (which I usually am.)

  19. That’s a horrible thought. When I used to read library books, I wouldn’t eat it with food, and I would wash my hands after reading it.

  20. The beginnings and middles are great, I’ll give him that much, but really it’s the endings that count, and it kills me to see him butcher quality like that. It’s like buying a couture gown. Altering it to perfection and then the big occasion you wear it to is to take out the garbage (I suppose that’s good for shidduchim)

    Also, there is something to having a wall of books that are YOURS. But if I’m never gonna read them, then I might as well just get nice wallpaper. You can actually get free books from the library, got 30 FREE books, that was only way I was able to fargin myself getting them.

    And I try not to think all that much as to what other people do with their library books. I have enough disturbing thoughts as it is.

  21. Well I love rereading books,and I read really really fast so I’ll usually buy a book, finish it, then turn it over and start again.
    When I was younger, like 12 or 13, I had a wall to wall bookshelf in my room that was completely full, it was the coolest thing. then I discovered malls and put most of my books in storage to make room for clothes like a normal person.

    Even if you never read the books again it’s not exactly wallpaper, it says something about you, and about your tastes. maybe it’s just me but I could never just read a book and give it away.

    In seventh grade I memorized The Raven for extra credit, I can still do it by heart.

  22. I’d love to have a wall of books, I just can’t fargin myself the expense.

    I memorized “I’m a Nobody” in 8th, a little easier, same extra credit =)

  23. what’s fargin?

  24. It’s Yiddish…ummm., how do you explain it…forgive myself…is a VERY rough and inacurate translation, but that’s all I can come up with for now.

  25. Yeah….except I couldn’t do it in this case.

  26. Too Young To Teach: I understand.
    perhaps another way of saying it is also, that it would eat you up to…

  27. Naah, I like Yiddish.

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