Sunday, January 1, 2012

Amtrak, New Year's Eve

I used to take the train back and forth when I needed to go places. I rode the train from Chicago out to Montana one year for a summer job in the national park, but most often I'd ride the train between Denver and Austin when I was on break from school. The thing is (the train system in western USAmerica being unfunded and therefore inefficient as it is), the route between Denver and Austin went through Chicago. No one would mistake Chicago as being on the way from Austin to Denver, but it worked for me, 'cause I got to lay over in Chicago for a couple days with my folks, who lived there at the time.

Now, I've never ponied up for a sleeper car, always hoping for an empty seat next to my coach accommodations, so I could stretch out just a little bit more. But most of the time, especially as the skies darkened, I found myself in the club car. Often, I'd spend the time reading books I brought along ~ once in a while, I'd end up talking with whoever else was also on the train and not sleeping.

One year, on the way from Chicago to Denver, I had set my book down in favor of a conversation with the other people in the club car ~ one or two other Americans and a couple of Australians. The two Australians were spending a couple months exploring the US countryside traveling by rail. They'd been hither and yon, back and forth, and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying their travels. They told me they'd met some surprising and interesting people almost everywhere they went. We talked into the night about theology and philosophy and travel and culture and who knows what else.

At some point in the evening, someone looked at their watch and wondered aloud if it was really 12:15 in the morning ~ which triggered for all of us the realization that as we rumbled across the middle of Nebraska, the new year had caught up with us without giving notification.

It didn't take long for our new Australian friends to open up their cooler and crack open a bottle of celebratory sparkling wine. We toasted the new year and new temporary friendships with shared wine drunk from scavenged paper cups, and promptly fell back into the conversation that had been interrupted by a page turn on the calendar.

I don't remember if, after we wandered off to our respective coach seats for a couple uncomfortable hours of sleep, I ran into them again on the train, or if we parted ways without noticing. What I do remember is one unique and interesting new years eve on a train.

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