33 hours on a train could be the simplest man-made device for prompting an existential crisis. 33 hours encased in the glorious machinery of Amtrak could prompt the big questions: “Who am i?” “What am I doing?” and “Is seven dollars a reasonable price for an omelet?”.
It’s lucky, in that case, that we are simple creatures who can spend 33 hours staring open-mouthed out of a window, occasionally stopping to mutter an “oooooh”.
It helps that the journey in question is a lazy tourist’s dream. The train window screening all of America’s greatest hits. The Rockys, the desert, Lake Tahoe drift by as we stare, cameras at the ready. I lose myself gazing out at tiny towns as the snow piles down, imagining inhabitants derived from ABC Family Christmas movies, and The Shining. (I sometimes pay the price for my diverse movie tastes.)
As the sun sets over Utah, throwing burned amber mountains, we stop briefly at Salt Lake City, where the train station doubles up as an under freeway crack den. Clearly Mormons aren’t train spotters.
We sleep fitfully, irritated to have forgotten the travelers’ winning cocktail of antihistamines and cider. Amtrak charge a small fortune for sleeper carriages and while the daytime legroom is ample, I’m still too old to sleep comfortably at a right angle. But it’s okay because we wake up in Tatooine (Nevada.)
When we finally trundle into California, drinking in the trees with knackered eyes, I feel a giddy excitement. Cali is my place. Cali is my jam. California was the place where I took a broken heart and a series of half dreams and then glued them into a comprehensive life plan. Like a character in Tales of the City or a Dolly Parton song, Cali is why I’m here, doing any of this.
As the train pulls in near San Francisco we purchase last minute tickets to see Faith No More, and the excitement builds even more.
This is a magical place and ours is a magical life. Squeeeeeeee!