I was driving home from work this evening after a bad sort of day when I heard the train whistle, the siren song of getting away from it all, and I thought I just might park the car right there on Route 29 and get on the subway to Union Station and buy a ticket on the Capitol Limited to Chicago.
I'd definitely get sleeping accommodations, because I just want to have my own private little world on this train, my own escape. I'd gaze out the window as we roll right through my childhood neighborhood, west toward Harper's Ferry, over the Appalachian Mountains. Every time the whistle blows, I'd smile.
I'd have some dinner in the dining car, probably along about Cumberland. I'd get the steak, medium rare, and a glass of red wine, and a dish of vanilla ice cream. I'd chat with the other folks seated at my table, chat about where we were going and what we would do when we got there, what we did for a living and why we loved the train. Over coffee, I'd tell the tale of our cross-country train trip in 1994, when we flew to Seattle, and stopped in Essex, and stopped again in Chicago, and then rode back to Washington through the New River Gorge in West Virginia.
Back in my roomette I'd gaze out the window, shifted into neutral, watching the mountains go by in the fading light as we head out of Maryland and into Pennsylvania. The porter would come by and set up my bed, and then I'd stretch out, read a little, and doze off as the train rocked over the tracks.
I'd wake up right around midnight or so, as the train pulls into Pittsburgh for a long stop. I'd stretch, get ready for bed, and settle in for the rest of the ride. As we pull out of the station, I'd watch the lights of the city unfold and recede as we ride through western Pennsylvania and into Ohio, and then I'd fall asleep.
I'd wake early as we chug through Elkhart, Indiana, when the sleeping car attendant knocks on my door with coffee and the newspaper. I'd wash up and take my breakfast in the dining car, seeing familiar faces from the night before, wishing the attendants and conductors and my fellow travellers a good morning. By the time I got back to my nest, my berth would be transformed back into a seat, and I'd sit and watch the city of Chicago rise up to meet me in the morning light.
I'd get a cab at Penn Station, right to Garrett's Popcorn on North Michigan Avenue, and I'd take my caramel corn to the lakefront, where I'd sit in the sun (for of course it will be sunny) and watch the lake glitter until lunchtime. Then I'd have lunch at a diner -- maybe Cambridge House -- and I'd go to the Field Museum and I'd take a cab back to Penn Station and catch the Capitol Limited back to Washington.
Just the thought of doing that, just that one little fantasy, the result of the long, low sound of the train whistle, made me sigh.
And then the light turned green and I drove on home, home to my Joe, and that was just fine.