Updated: Apr 10, 2020
I had more than one moment Friday night where I almost couldn’t do it. Board a train in the middle of the night? Alone? For a 17 day trip? All of the sudden it seemed too big— too much. You don’t know this about me, but I'm no stranger to anxiety. The shitty kind too. The kind that leads to panic attacks. So I doubt myself sometimes. And I knew this would be asking a lot. But if I didn’t… well, then what? That’s the question that got me on that train. Then what? So I boarded. That was about 34 hours ago, and I’ve pretty much been smiling ever since.
The route I'm on runs from NYC to New Orleans. Leg #1 of my trip. I started in Charlotte at 3am. The seats are cushioned, though I found I couldn’t sleep more than an hour or 2 at a time. Mark that down to excitement. As you board, the conductor tries to tell you where to sit, usually alongside a seatmate, but after a smile and a nod, I sat where the heck I wanted. Nothing will zoom me into panic attack land faster than sitting beside some weirdo who loudly sniffs every 7 seconds, or proceeds to trim his fingernails with his teeth, or some other odd habit that I’ll be all too aware of. So I grabbed an empty row and promptly spread my belongings out, a la the mean kids on the bus in Forrest Gump. Seat's taken!
For the next several hours I alternated between napping, reading (a Jojo Moyes that everyone keeps raving about. I’m on the fence), and watching The Casual Vacancy (a miniseries based on one of J.K. Rowling’s adult novels. Good stuff, but like always, the book is better). For lunch I had a blahburger. On the menu it’s listed as a cheeseburger, but let’s call a spade a spade here. When I saw the food service lady pop the frozen burger-in-a-bag into the microwave, I practically groaned inside. Not impressed, Amtrak. No amount of condiment packets were going to perk that bad boy up. But then I realized the error was mine. I was in the snack car, not the dining car, so what did I expect? I hadn’t walked far enough. A sign would have been helpful, but I suppose I could have just asked. Lesson learned.
I also spent a lot of time watching the world whiz by. There’s something so calming about the feel of the train rolling under you. And the world passing by without any input from you. Men rode lawn mowers. Kids walked to the store. A woman with a baby waved to us, and couldn’t see that I was waving back. Georgia offered views of streams and woods, and rock faces so close I found myself pulling away from the window in alarm. I slept through Alabama. Mississippi was depressing. One small, tired town after another. I'm from rural Virginia- I'm practically an expert on small, tired towns. And then we were in Louisiana. Crossing Lake Pontchartrain, I was as excited as a little kid riding through their very first car wash. The tracks were so close to the water, I fancied were I able to roll my window down, I could have dipped my fingers in. And then we pulled into New Orleans and the ride was over.
Last night I took a cab to Bourbon St and met up with a former coworker who was down in New Orleans for a bachelor party weekend. We donned silly hats and barhopped for the next few hrs, enjoying the endless supply of good music, laid back vibes, and cheap drinks on hand. My tamed down version of a Moscow Mule (they didn’t have ginger beer, so subbed ginger ale instead) was $5. I had a few, stayed out until 1:30am, got just to the right side of buzzed, and peaced out back to the hotel with a sandwich and a bag of chips. Day 1 is done.