Friday, May 17, 2013

37 hours on a train. Yesssir

I’m going home.  (ON A TRAIN)

Those words make my heart flutter. I guess its because I’m a sap. It might be because I know that I can never stay, I’ll always move on. So maybe I’m preemptively already sad about the leaving part.  I grew up in a small town in the northern panhandle of West Virginia. West Liberty, population 1542, its the place my heart will Always Be. Its beauty was imprinted on me. I can never see hills without comparing them, like that one boyfriend you still keep as a standard. I grew up in town, but alas none of my family lives there anymore. My father lives just about 10 miles out on a farm and my mother lives just over two hours north in PA.  
The house of my youth. Rt. 88
I’m currently between contracts, hanging like leaf. I have been waiting for several jobs to pan out, and luckily I scored a sweet contract with PanAm, working in Arkansas for the summer. But the day I got hired I realized I had about 3 weeks before starting. So on impulse I decided to go home. This of course means making it from Hattiesburg, Mississippi to Washington, Pennsylvania somehow (I don’t have a car) without spending bagillion dollars. I looked up prices and VABAMMM! The train cost about half of a plane. Fancy that. Downside was….. it was a 37 hour trip. That is not a made up number. Google that crap.  Thus the journey began.

Listen to this while you're reading, you'll get the picture (OCMS, Lonesome Road Blues)

            I boarded the train heading to Pittsburg via DC at 9:30 am on Monday morning. The train station in Hattiesburg is actually lovely, very retro, and clean. As I was standing on the platform I was struck by how many people there were with me. I expected like 5 or 6. There were like 25 or 26. As I got on the Conductor waved me down to the right without explaining anything else, so I bumped and squeezed my way to seat 50 as fast as I could. And there lie a sleeping girl. She looked so content I really didn’t want to move her, or sit next to her at all. After forcing her upright, and getting my bags put up I settled in for the first 24 hour stretch to DC. Surprisingly there is way, I mean way more room than on a plane. One can nearly get vertical to sleep and there is so much legroom, you almost can't reach the tray from the seat in front of you if it’s up all the way. AWESOME SAUCE. The miles sped north and the sleeping girl broke my view but it wasn’t horrible. Eventually I got a window seat which improved my mood tremendously. A little Old Crow singing to me and some bagets and cheese, I seriously felt cool. Like some sort of mid century traveler.  In Birmingham, Alabama we picked up a heap load of people which happily brought the train to full capacity. Yes, Full. Then entire thing filled with people.  I was stunned really. But I was riding the Crescent Line, which goes from New Orleans to New York City. Apparently its full up most of the time. (gross)

My new seat partner was a mother and 2 y/o child named Ra Ra. Of course. The next 20 hours were pretty great. She unintentionally formed a unsurpassable blockade op diaper bags, food bags, clothing bags, Ra Ra, ect. permanently pasting me against the window. 8 hours in I had to use the restroom. I could feel the pain in my eyes. There was no escaping – I had been slowly panicking since the fortress went up. After about an hour of strategic planning I finally went for it, hosting myself up and over the barricade by holding onto the luggage rack above me and vaulting over the walls with both precision and speed. It was reminiscent of the man who runs out Fort William Henry in The Last of the Mohicans really.  Once out, I moved towards the potty, which for all intents and purposes was more like a swaying crapwagon. The smell was terrifying, but I’d braved much worse in the portapotties of Kemper County.  After struggling with the lock for about 30 horrific seconds I burst out of the poop box only to realize I had no idea how to re-vault into the fortress without taking out Ra Ra’s head or breaking a hip. Onto the Lounge Car it was. See, the awesomesauce about trains is you can get up and walk around whenever you’d like. And there are places to go. The Crescent Line has a Lounge Car, Café Car, and a Dining Car. The Dining Car is like a restaurant and needs reservations. The Café Car has drinks and snacks available, and its run mostly like a cafeteria. The Lounge Car has a bunch of tables you can hang out in. As I approached the Lounge Car I had to twist through the crowds of people paying 6.50 for a beer and try not to die from inhaling their pit smells. Once there I secured a seat by sheer willpower only to find someone sitting down next to me almost instantly. Emmanuel was a 25 y/o broski heading from the Hat to NYC to start his career in Rap. You can imagine the conversations we had over the NEXT 3 HOURS. I knew it was either that or leaping the walls of Minas Tirith, so I stayed.
            I eventually stalked out the seat until she got up to use the restroom, but was then trapped in until 9:40 the next morning. Upon waking though, I realized we were in the Blue Ridges, and I got to watch the sun rise over Charlottesville, Virginia, which was breathtaking. I did truly love watching the south blur passed my window. It felt like the most appropriate way to travel through it; slow, easy, old fashioned. I loved it. I got off at Union Station in D.C. and spent my 6 hour layover walking through the station, over the The Mall, and eating at Johnny Rockets (YES! GOT A CHOCO SHAKE AND IT WAS FANTASTICAL!) I got hit on by the bag boy, a class trip of 14 y/o’s from RI, a creepy older business man, and a gorgeous lady with beautiful dreds. I left the Station feeling quite refreshed and good looking.
Harpers Ferry, WVa, from the train. 
            I boarded the Capitol Line, heading out of D.C. to Pittsburgh (the Capitols end stop is Chicago) and became even more enamored. The line was beautiful! It was sooooo clean, and gorgeous, the staff was all pressed and dressed and wonderfully friendly, the seats were even bigger, the car was more luxurious, they even had an Observation Deck! That was awesome, the entire roof and walls were glass, with chairs facing out so you could just sit back and watch the Appalachians roll by. This was prime timing because we were heading through the Cumberland Gap, and into some of the prettiest country I’ve ever seen. Plus, there was a wonderful Conductor who made me feel perfectly at home, and even woke me up in time for my stop. 
As we rolled through Harper’s Ferry, I felt the memories of hills like that come rolling in from my brain and it hit me hard. I felt my soul squeeze and had to hold in the tears. I was coming home. I’ll never get over the hills, and I’ll never be able to pass through them without feeling it stir my soul. Harper’s Ferry is breathtaking. It was augmented by the dozen or so thru-hikers that had taken the train into D.C. to visit and were no headed back to the trail and it reminded my good friend who is also hiking the trail this summer. I was very jealous of them as the got off and headed back into the wilderness to the A.T. Martinsburg flew by next, then Cumberland.
Station at Martinsburg, WVa
She's pretty. 
            The hills whizzed by and the memories rolled in. I’ll never forget my hometown. I’ll never shake the need to by deep in the hills, the Appalachians. They hold so much history, so much beauty, so much sadness. It’s the kind of place that truly is heart achingly beautiful. West Virginia deserves so much more than its gotten, and although I know the chances are slim to slimmer and none, I would love to go back forever someday. I want to stay in my little Ohio Valley. There are 3 switchbacks and 1 hairpin turn to get into West Liberty from the main roads (if you’re coming the common way).  It’s absolutely glorious. Although none of my own lives there anymore I think I’ll make the trek out. I want to see my town again, and remember all the things that formed me as a child.  This train ride through the mountains pulled back desires I hadn’t felt in years. I finally rolled into Pittsburgh about midnight Tuesday, refreshed and ready to be home.  
Right outside West Lib, heading east. This is what I grew up with.
            Maybe it was the slowness. Maybe it was the way the cars sway on the track. Maybe it was the smells; grease, engines, hot track, smells I remember from when I was little with my Pop. Maybe it was the comfort, or the history if it, the oldness of it. Maybe it was the way it lulled me back into my memories and rocked me to sleep. But I’m sold. It was the single best way I’ve ever been transported from one place to the next. The extensive hours didn’t bother me, because I enjoyed them. It wasn’t about how fast I got there, it was about enjoying the journey to get there. I spent countless hours reflecting, listening to music that moves me, watching the land roll by. It was beautiful and moving. An airplane has nothing on the old train man, nothing. 

 Train bridge over the New River Gorge, West by God Virginia