This is my longest train journey yet. The timetable says 51 hours from San Francisco to Chicago. It's likely we'll be three to four hours late.
People asked me before this trip if it wouldn't be quicker to fly. Indeed it would be quicker, and cheaper, but that's not the point.
The train itself is very comfortable. My sleeper "roomette" is a cabin made for two. The two facing seats fold down to make a bed and the other bed folds down from the ceiling. The seats are wide and soft, made to fit the more ample arse. (And boy have I seen a few of those!) I can shut my door and pass the time as I choose: reading, sleeping, writing this...
Or watching the fabulous scenery: from San Francisco Bay through the forests of the Sierra Nevada, over the high desert of Nevada and Utah, past Salt Lake City into the Rocky Mountains and the canyons of Colorado, then across the Continental Divide and on into Nebraska.
As I write, we're sweeping through the rolling countryside of Iowa. This looks for all the world like Ireland so I'm not gazing wide-eyed out the window. It's raining too, which completes the effect.
When it comes to meal times the crew assign you to a seat at a four-person table in the dining car. Who you end up sitting with is a matter of luck. But that's part of the adventure, and I've met people I wouldn't otherwise have met. Okay, some of those people could have stayed unmet and I wouldn't feel the loss, but overall it's been a very pleasant experience.
There was Sue from California who takes care of other people's pets as a semi-retirement occupation. As she left home on Sunday morning the forest fire was a long way from her house, but she left the keys of her packed car with the neighbours just in case.
Then there was a really boring couple from South Dakota who thought everything I said – where I'm from, where I live, what I do for a living, where I'd been on previous holidays – was awesome. And indeed it is when you compare it to their wretched, dreary existence. I'll spare you the boring details.
Mike from Nebraska is in the oil business. He taught me that fracking does not cause geological damage; it's all to do with how you dispose of the waste water. Or something.
Brent from Colorado is an anaesthetist, but his conversion was far from sleep-inducing. He was seeing the canyons from the inside for the first time. You don't see this stuff from the highway.
The only foreign people I met were two couples of German-speaking Swiss. I met them at two different meals, but I don't think they met each other.
Sandra looked about 60 years old. She was taking her sick son home. He was a fitness instructor, in perfect health. Had a stroke at the age of 37.
And finally, I came across some very nice crew members. The teams of conductors and engineers changed several times along the way, but the catering staff stayed throughout. On the first morning when I was putting my name on the list for lunch I gave my last name. From then on, every time I went to the dining car – two breakfasts, three lunches, two dinners – Reggie greeted me with a loud and cheerful "Hello, Mr Maguire!" If I was first at a table he'd invite/instruct others to "take a seat beside my friend Mr Maguire."
So long, Reggie, Mr B, Pete, Brad, Melissa, and the roster lady whose name I didn't get. You helped make my journey a pleasure.