I sit back in my seat as the southern landscape zooms by through the window: cattails and marshes against a bright orange sky. I stretch out my legs, tired and sore from walking all day, bruised knees from falling up stairs and blistered toes from not breaking in new shoes. I am not accustomed to all the legroom, at least three times more than the plane I initially took south and the car I then rode in for 11 hours after my delayed flight caused me to miss my connection in DC. There’s also wifi here; I kind of have it made. Why are more people not using this method of transportation?
There’s something mystically alluring about taking the train. It feels more intimate than other methods of cross-country travel. Earlier, on the platform in Charleston, an elderly man whom I don’t even think was waiting to board or waiting for anyone to disembark rattled off the street names that the train was crossing as its bright lights came into view beyond highway underpasses. He told me he was moving to Kentucky to be closer to the race track. He had no family there, and the closest thing to a horse race he had ever witnessed was chasing his five dogs around his yard.
When train 89 arrived, family members gathered around the train to meet loved ones. A toothless man waited for his two grandsons. A lesbian couple embraced, fighting back tears for several minutes. Two black men exclaimed in surprise as they hugged a petite woman in a blue sundress with dyed fiery red hair, saying that they were expecting a blonde. A college-aged girl was videotaped stepping off the train by a friend, before the two laughed and hugged. Others reunited with friends and family marveled out loud about how they hadn’t seen each other in so long.
Traveling long distances by train often feels like an archaic idea. The plane is faster and usually costs just as much. Many of the train stations outside of major cities like New York or DC appear old and forgotten. Amtrak loses money every year, and Trump’s proposed budget threatens to shut down routes and eliminate service from many communities in the Midwest and South, the places that rely on it the most. But the experience of traveling by train, even a short distance, cannot be found anywhere else. Though my train does not go any further than Savannah, the city’s name spelled out in block letters over the awning that was built several generations ago, I want to ride on.