Once upon a time, I worked on trains. This was many, many years ago. It was an unbelievably crazy experience that I shared with some great people. In some ways my train life shaped who I am, or perhaps it just pulled out the parts of me that were always there and taught me about what I would or would not tolerate.
There was an exact moment in my life where I would have ended up somewhere completely different — I was accepted to the graduate teacher’s program at PSU, and I freaked out because I didn’t want to live in Oregon for the rest of my life, and I knew I had the train to fall back on (after having worked my college summers), and I ran. We always said every one of the train crew was running from something. It seems that I needed to see so much of the United States in order to know that this place I am now, is the right place for me.
So this train gig. It was crazy. It was amazing. I saw a lot, did a lot, met amazing people. One of those people was Sara. Probably seventy-five percent of my train stories involve her: My first time seeing the Mississippi River. My first trip to San Francisco. Sleeping in a locked down, crew car in the LA yards with no power or water. Ice cream cake in New Mexico (go ahead and guess how that ended). There are a few that involve drinking and boys and being hung over and large zebra patterned sunglasses — this was our twenties after all. And the sunglasses were hers. I still never have sunglasses.
This fall, Sara and her Grandmother took a train trip around the United States. They ended up in Seattle on a weekend and were kind enough to let me come up and hang out. They’re from Missouri and came up through Chicago and then across on the Empire Builder to Seattle. By the time my Cascade train arrived at King Street Station, they’d already been to Pike’s Market and seen the fish being thrown and all the flowers — oh the flowers!!
Sara and I caught up. We hadn’t seen each other since 2008 when the Delta Queen had been in St. Louis. We’ve both traveled a long way from the twenty-somethings that bummed around the continent, being paid to live and work in a steel box — home owners, wives, kiddos, cats, dogs. Time shifts and moves and echoes.
And in the morning, I ducked out to Top Pot for doughnuts. When I worked for our corporate office during a winter off season, I stayed in a hotel during the week and every Tuesday and Thursday night, I would go to Top Pot and drink tea tucked up along the shelves and read or write. It was a nice little reminisce. And there was coffee and doughnuts.
And on the Pacific Coast Starlight, we watched Puget Sound turn into the valley. We had lunch and I had one of the best cups of coffees I’ve had in a while. Maybe it was the rhythm of the rails or the company or the cream and sugar. It was good.
(I am also extremely thankful that we did not have camera phones during many of my train adventures. Truth.)