By Sarah Firth
When I told my friends I was planning to take a 19-hour train to Indiana over the weekend, their first question was why. They were more understanding when I added that the flights cost between $800 and $1,400. I don’t have a grand to drop on a weekend trip to Indiana. Amtrak tickets were $55 each way.
I worked with a kid from Notre Dame over the summer, and he’d invited me to come visit. I could swing by over the weekend in November when they played Clemson. Nineteen hours there, then on the way back I’d make a pitstop in Buffalo to see my grandmother, splitting up the return journey into 8- and 11-hour parts.
I left Thursday after I finished my classes. I got all my work done, ate dinner and then woke up in scenic Indiana. Why would I spend Thursday afternoon working in Tisch when I could spend the same amount of time working speeding through the fall foliage in the Berkshires? I knew it would be easy and enjoyable, and it was. My visit was good too; I got to see my friend, watch the marching band and Notre Dame even won the football game.
But, the notable part of my journey was not the fact I made it to South Bend. It was the people I met on the train.
I met a man who was taking the train from Flagstaff, Ariz. to Boston for a funeral because his wife didn’t like to fly. I was behind a kid from Hamilton College making the same trip I was to see the Clemson game. I saw a little girl traveling alone teaching an old Mennonite lady how to do origami with a small army of swans they had made out of paper scraps from the train.
There were two in particular I will remember:
In Rochester, I had a seat partner named Alejandro. He told me he was from Orlando and was visiting his daughters in Rochester. I asked what he was doing in Cleveland, and he said he was visiting his other son.
A few hours later, he told me he had never met his son.
“I was wild when I was young,” he said.
A son he never knew he had had tracked him down through the internet and wanted to meet him. He was taking the train to meet him for the first time.
At around 4 a.m., the conductor announced we were about to arrive in Cleveland. Alejandro started praying in Spanish that things would go well with his son. He stood up, shook my hand, and wished me good luck with college. I wished him good luck with his son.
What was his son’s name? I wanted to know.
“Alejandro,” he said, pointing to himself. “Like me.”
On the way back from Buffalo, I went to the dining car in between Rochester and Syracuse. At the table next to me, two Amish boys about my age were playing cards with gusto. There are always a lot of Amish and Mennonites on the New York Amtraks because the train aligns most closely with their religious beliefs for traveling long distances.
One was tall and the other short. They wore royal blue shirts and black plain vests, and their hair was cut to chin length with a bob and bangs. They were speaking German in dialect.
They asked if I wanted to play with them. They said they needed a third.
I joined their game of Egyptian Ratscrew. They played with different rules than I knew, but the general idea was the same. They seemed surprised and happy I could hold my own.
“Jeepers, you’re winning,” the tall one said with his heavy accent.
My winning streak didn’t last long though. I beat the shorter guy but eventually lost to the taller one just as they were about to get off in Syracuse.
I told them I was going to Boston, and they told me they had once gone through Boston in order to go up to Portland, Maine. I asked them what they thought of it.
“It’s a big city,” they said.
Taking the train made me fully appreciate the ridiculous distance I was traveling in a way I wouldn’t have if I’d flown. Boston to South Bend is about 900 miles. You can travel from France to Hungary in less than that distance.
One of my friends always says, “Why study abroad when you could go to Framingham, Massachusetts?” She’s joking, but I’ve lived in Britain and traveled to many countries, and Indiana was just as different from Boston as they were. The people I met on the train especially were people I’d never cross paths with.
Why study abroad when you could take the train to Indiana?