Thanks, Amtrak

I woke up yesterday morning in western Minnesota. I got a cup of coffee and talked to the sleeping car attendant who told me that a couple was put off the train at Grand Forks, North Dakota in the middle of the night because they were caught smoking pot. I asked if they got arrested or anything and she said no, they were just kicked off. I imagine to some people it may be preferable to get arrested than to just be dumped in Grand Forks at 2AM, but I wouldn’t know about that.

A little while ago I did some Googling of “marijuana on Amtrak” to see how common this is. Most results were about getting through the station carrying. The consensus; no one cares if you’re just holding, which squares with my observations. No dogs, no metal detectors. Then I found this: 


If these guys made it through the folks stuck in Grand Forks must really be idiots.

It rained most of the rest of the way to Chicago, which was good for working and good for occasional reflection. Work on what is turning into a pretty OK book proposal, I think. Reflection on my last week and change, mostly, and how different it is to see the country by train than it is to fly or drive through. It’s not fast as flying and it’s not as comfortable as being in your own car on your own schedule, but I feel like it has its advantages as well.

It forced an introvert like me to interact with people. The folks I rode with and ate with and the folks who fed me and the folks who attended the sleeping car. The people who picked me up at train stations. I still like to do things alone including travel, but it’s amazing how little one can interact with other people if one sets their life up just so. Taking the train disrupted that and I think that’s a good thing. And, if anything, gave me more license to travel alone because I knew that even in doing so I would not be isolated.

It made me let go of time. I was delayed three hours on the trip out and over two hours on the trip back. Sometimes I had to wait for the dining car to clear out and sometimes I had to wait to use the bathroom or the shower. It didn’t matter. I was not in a hurry, by design. There were some minor frustrations while traveling by train, but there was very little stress.

There was no Internet on the train. Yes, at times I tethered to my phone to post one of these entries or to waste a few moments online, but a lot of the time I didn’t even have a cell phone signal. I’m not one of those people who believes it’s bad to be online, but it was good for me to be offline more than I usually am. And I imagine being offline had a great deal to do with me feeling little stress and not worrying too much about time.

Mostly I was just happy to see some places I’ve never seen and do it in a way that I had never done. I have a lot of responsibilities in my life. I don’t lament the fact that I have them and I don’t resent those to whom I owe them, but if my responsibilities disappeared tomorrow, I would be traveling, possibly constantly. That I was able to freewheel for ten days was a rare treat which I savored and will always savor. And that would be the case even if I didn’t make a lot of headway on a writing project that, if I’m lucky, will turn into something fun.

Thanks, Amtrak, for giving me this writer’s residency. Thanks for the time to think and not think and to see the country in a way people don’t see it too terribly much anymore. More people should.

Maybe book a trip the next time you get a few days off. As long as your expectations are realistic and your mind is open, you’ll probably learn a lot about yourself. And about some other things.

Craig Calcaterra

Craig is the author of the daily baseball (and other things) newsletter, Cup of Coffee. He writes about other things at He lives in New Albany, Ohio with his wife, two kids, and many cats.

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