A Year in the Life, Week 27: Own a Place

This week’s A Year in the Life exercise was about “owning” a place. I wrote it while taking the Amtrak from Minnesota to Milwaukee for the Call To Action retreat.

How strange that I always get these prompts that are very place specific when I am traveling.

As I write this, our seven-hour-late train is bumping gently along, as the hostess announces a complimentary beef stew dinner. Perhaps I’ve been on this train before, and perhaps I haven’t. I rode this train to, or this line, at least, when I was 19, heading to Chicago and then to Memphis. I found Peter* in Chicago, and tried to be eager about it, and all I remember about it is that he picked up my bag for me, put it in a locker, held up his hand to dismiss the hawkers on the street, then took me out for Chicago-style pizza. And I don’t remember whether the pizza was good, only that he ogled the waitress, and I felt as though he was trying to make me jealous or insecure, but all he made me was disgusted.

I don’t think I met him again on the return trip.

Strangely enough, our conductor on this trip reminds me of him–a similar look to his face, a similar friendly demeanor that is easily distracted and not willing to go deeper, even if he likes to give the impression of it. I learned a lot about Amtrak from him, though. I guess I learned a fair amount from Peter, too.

I never imagined being on this trip back then, 13 years ago, with my husband beside me who never ogles waitresses when he’s having dinner with me, and who spent hours messing with his phone and his computer so I could have Internet access for the ten minutes I need it to approve my sub’s report.

Some things haven’t changed. The train is still full of Amish people and people complaining on their cell phones. It is a place both ever and never changing, a place that sees its sunsets and its sunrises in different cities, states, with different people. It is one place and it is many places, and I write this now that the view outside the window is dark because it is the only time I can tear my eyes away from the orange and yellow fire leaves, the width of the Mississippi, the graffiti under bridges and the forgotten scrap metal yards. Now that darkness has fallen, there are moments when we can’t tell we’re moving at all, when the track is so smooth, and the sound of the world going by is a strange lulling hum that could be coming from outer space.

When I’m on an airplane, the distance between and the method of crossing it is a necessary evil. But on the train, with the man I love beside me and a world I love outside the window, it is the most beautiful part of the journey.

* Name has been changed