As we cruise towards the Salt City, I'm reaching the end of a near-three-week-long journey across the United States. In total, I have passed through or visited (in order, without duplication)
All told, 25 states and 1 District, a multitude of places and peoples, seen from train windows over three weeks. I can't recommend enough the experience of journeying by rail - throughout this trip I have been constantly amazed by the vistas of American majesty seen from train windows, and I have been privileged to meet wonderful people along the way. The Australians on the Empire Builder, marvelling at the views of Glacier National Park and the glories and inglories of the American plains. The recent graduate from Reed College, heading back home to Buffalo to figure out next steps. The USDA statistician from Iowa, going home after a vacation visit to Virginia. The Californian moving to Seattle from Sacramento, in search of opportunity and a new beginning. The student, soon to graduate from Illinois Tech, heading back after job hunting in Pittsburgh. A cross-section of tourists and travelers, diverse and varied in every way.
To the train, there is no such thing as "flyover country" - the Empire Builder stops in both Chicago, Illinois and Shelby, Montana. Washington, D.C., and Williston, North Dakota. Almost all of the United States is tied together by this web of steel, trains coursing daily (and sometimes just three-times-a-weekly) across the purple-mounted majesty and fruited plains of this country.
The remainder of the Empire Builder trip since the 22nd was relatively uneventful, and we arrived only around half an hour late into Chicago. The previous day, on the 22nd, we sped through North Dakota, arriving in the morning in the Twin Cities. I slept in. Lunch was good and towards the afternoon we began approaching Wisconsin and then Chicago. A blue sky rippled above the train, shot through with wisps of cloud. The train pulled into Union Station, rattling over diamonds on the northern approach, rolling through suburb, then city, then skyscrapers.
My time in Chicago was too brief to do anything real, but I was able to reap the benefits of the sleeping compartment I'd booked for the Seattle-Chicago leg of my trip: access to shower facilities in Chicago. It really boggles the mind that the only people able to access some clean showers in Chicago are those passengers who could afford a first-class ticket - train stations in Europe can manage paid shower facilities, surely Union Station, one of the jewels of the Amtrak system, can do the same. I was able to grab some dinner, then sit around a good while waiting for the train to Boston.
The Lake Shore Limited was completely full today, a result of the holiday traffic for Memorial Day weekend and the many graduations taking place. My seatmate was traveling from Kansas City to Boston for his sister's graduation, and it seemed like many folks were headed that way as well, judging by the BOS tags on seats. The train emptied out a little bit overnight, and got emptier at Syracuse. One highlight of the train has been the Café Car attendant R.F. - her announcements, encouraging people on the train to say hello to their fellow passengers, and commenting on the realities and surrealities of the modern age, have been excellent, as have been her decorations of the Car. Now we're headed along the Erie Canal corridor, approaching Rome. Upstate New York: Where the Classics Come to Life!