So I’m inviting the nerdier among you to join me on my last long distance journey on this mammoth North American trip; New York to Pittsburgh on an Amtrak train. Leaving New York Penn Station at 10.52am. Get some nosh in advance I’ve been advised. The train fare can be a bit limited.
The ticket inspector is a cheerful Tim. With more than a hint of banter and humour.
“You think this is the first time my picture has been taken by someone from England?!” he asks, posing for a few pics like an old pro as the train bounces around the track a bit and he blurs.
The train is well worn, comfy, spacious with a range of around the seat gadgets. A distant table, a foot rest attached to the seat in front moved with a foot pedal. Under each seat is a pull out chair extension so you can recline your chair and almost lay down with your legs stretched out. A shiny round black knob on the arm of the chair pings the extension back under the seat.
There’s plenty of room.
A dining car and free (speedy and largely consistent) wifi.
And wonderful views.
From the edges of New York city through villages of colourful wooden houses dotted around tree filled Pennsylvanian hills, the 400 or so mile journey takes nine hours. Its a relaxed pace, slow to middling. Allowing time to soak up the changing scenery. Read, work. Think.
A bit of excitement mid afternoon. Tim’s replacement, a similarly comedic, big voiced, kindly woman, marches into our nearly empty carriage.
“Now listen up everyone. I have an announcement to make! Are you listening? I have something important to say!”
Crumbs. What’s happened? The six or seven of us left after the mass exodus at Philadelphia station a few hours earlier poke our heads out from our by now, personalised spaces.
“A couple of people have reported the smell of smoke in this carriage. Yes. Smoke. Now if I catch anyone smoking I will toss them off the train at the next station. Got it?”
We nod. Feeling guilty. She marches out of the carriage with a flourish and a cheeky smirk.
Early evening, more excitement. An unexpected announcement over the tannoy. We’re about to approach the ‘world famous horseshoe curve’. Time to look out of the left hand side of the train. Wow. One for the serious train buff maybe but it’s pretty cool. It takes me back to the days of wooden toy train track building with the obligatory figure of eight curves. We never had enough pieces for a horseshoe.
We settle back in our various spaces. The sun slowly sets and by Johnstown it’s dark. The industrial approach to Pittsburgh reduced to chaotic lights in blackness.
Time for a cheeky bottle of the local brew, Yeungling, from the dining car. And to reflect on the humanity both generated by and captured on public transport.