This deep into the journey, when our eyes have dilated and we are fresh out of Pringles, is when we begin to get really philosophic about train travel. Lucky for you, we don't remember most of the resulting revelations except to say that traveling by rail is perhaps the last real excuse to waste massive amounts of time. In a car you are constantly distracted by GPS, texting or finding a good radio station, and flying is a tempting time to appear important by playing iPhone games until takeoff or furiously typing away on your laptop. In short, car and plane travel are now increasingly gadget-oriented modes of conveyance, stealing more and more of your attention away from the pleasure of simply moving.
It may have taken us the first half of the train ride to give up on productivity; one can only take so much Photoshop without internet access and reading a book in such low lighting is a recipe for a prescription. Eventually we just sat and stared at Mo Rocca's face on the cover of Amtrak's Arrive magazine, and then it hit: Nirvana? Ultimate peace arrived in the form of us clearing out old text messages and cell phone pictures, which we spent a healthy hour-and-a-half doing. Wasting this time felt so deliciously luxurious, and we can't remember the last time we had such a precious moment to completely throw away.
Looking around the train car at those who hadn't yet flopped over on their seats in exhaustion, we noticed the dude next to us was leisurely flipping through images on his digital camera and an old woman was actually in the back whispering the Rosary. Like, who has time to say the Rosary anymore, right?
A full fifteen hours after departing Penn Station amid the hustle of rush hour on the Long Island Railroad, New Jersey Transit and New York subway, we arrived at a station trapped in the 1940s. Thanks to the recession, a healthy amount of bleary-eyed fellow travelers disembarked too, which, before gas and airline ticket prices soared, was prohibitively far along the route. Off in the corner of the station we were reunited with our hope for US train travel: There was a small shrine to riding the rails, complete with educational pamphlets on high-speed trains and newsletters seasonally published by Midwesterners living in the underserved crannies of the country.
We had survived an overnight coach trek on Amtrak without catching the Norovirus or having to stop to kick off drunk stowaways (it's happened before), and arrived at a gleaming station with a monument not to past of train travel but to a positive and technologically advanced future. Bring on the TGV and the Thalys, but don't destroy the good old American waste of time. Wait, did we just have fun?
· Fifteen Hours on Amtrak: Our Recession Confession [Jaunted]