Friday, August 7, 2015

Throw some glitter. Make it rain. Enjoy the train.

I'm terrified of flying. Maybe it's because I didn't fly much as a kid. Maybe it's 9/11. Maybe it's my claustrophobia. Maybe I'm just crazy. Whatever it is, it's bad. Because of this, I tend to use Amtrak for all of my east coast travel. Yes. I know. It takes longer. There are no seatbelts.  There's technically less security. There was a derailment recently. Fine. Got it. You'll never change my mind.

As I'm writing this I'm actually in the middle of an eight-hour train ride back to Boston from Washington D.C. In reflecting on this most recent journey I'm noticing that I've gotten quite good at riding the rails, so I thought I'd share a few strategies to make your journey a bit better should you decide to go with Amtrak the next time you travel. 

Tip #1 -  Choosing and securing your seat*
You need to act fast, but never become frantic. Put the iPod away. Finish your coffee and toss the cup. Stop texting. It's go time. Focus. Amtrak trains are set up with two seats on each side of an aisle. There are no assigned or reserved seats. Your goal is to secure your own set of two seats in which to burrow. This is crucial to your train happiness. As you walk down the platform towards the train do NOT enter at the first open and available door like all the newbies. Walk swiftly to the second one, enter, and immediately survey the car but keep moving slowly but confidently forward. As you're moving, assess the other passengers so you can decide who looks like a good train neighbor. Is anybody talking loudly on a cell phone about something that sounds work-related? AVOID. Anyone traveling with more than one child under the age of 5? AVOID.  Anyone have an actual pillow or blanket with them? AVOID. Try to sit across from someone traveling alone and traveling light. Ideally choose a seat in the center of the car, not too close to the bathroom, and a good distance from the family-sized four seater sections at either end of the car. When you find a suitable seat pull into the little row and get the HELL out of everyone else's way. Now take a really long time to settle in and sit down. Pretend to look for your ticket or something. Only fully settle into the double seat and put your suitcase in the rack when the rest of the passengers have settled down from their own seat searches. Congratulations. This is your home for the next several hours.

Tip #2 - Protecting what's yours**
You have your seats, but now you need to keep them. Both of them. The train is going to make several stops and new people will board. You don't want anyone chirping at you, "Is this seat open?" and then ruining your life by sitting with you in your train cave. I don't care who it is, how attractive they are, and how single you are. You hold down the fort. How do you do this? When the train pulls into a station you need to create the illusion that there is a lack of space around you. Make it look chaotic. Dig through your bag. Just take stuff out and put it back in. Hold your scarf up and shake it and fold it and unfold it a few times. Flail. Stand up and take your sweatshirt off or put it on. Just take up space. If things are real bad, take your suitcase down, unzip and open it, and pretend you need something from the bottom of it. When things calm down and you know you're in the clear, put your suitcase back up in the rack and settle back into your train cave. I should have prefaced all of this by telling you that it's very important that you are not asleep when you pull into busier stations like NYC and Philly. Lots of people get on and have no qualms about slamming their bags down next to you to wake you up and burst your train cave bubble. Don't miss your opportunity to protect your train cave. Stay awake. Also, this is where the person across from you who is traveling alone and traveling light comes in. They won't stand up and make a scene, they'll just stay neatly and quietly in their seat, so the empty seat next to them will appear super available. New passengers will opt to sit in their cave over yours. Stay awake, be chaotic, protect what's yours. 

Tip #3 - Let me be "frank" about train cuisine
Buy a liter of water and bring it onto the train with you because hydration is important and train water is overpriced and usually a weird brand you've never heard of. Don't bring anything else. You'll go out the day before your trip and buy some "healthy snacks" to eat. You'll board the train with your Kind bars, Ziplock bags of almonds, bananas, and good intentions, and then you'll smell that someone else on the train is eating a hot dog and it will all go out the window. Train hot dogs. Are so. Freaking. Delicious. $5 and heavenly. Grab yourself two packets of yellow mustard, a packet of relish, go back to your train cave, and enjoy. I always say to my BodyJam classes "where else can we DO this?" because some of our choreography is a little out there. Same deal with these hotdogs. Save your "healthy snacks" for reality. When you're on that train the rules are different, and you need to savor your salty, processed, meaty, mustardy snack. Wash it all down with a real Pepsi swigged right out of a bright blue can. Let out a happy little sigh when you're done. Delicious.

Now, I realize it probably seems insane to devote eight hours of my life to a journey that could potentially only take two or three hours if I flew. But for me there is no such thing as a two or three hour flight. I will start to panic a month beforehand. The days leading up to it I will not sleep. The flight itself will feel like an eternity. I'll absolutely cry before, during, and after. I'll be too exhausted when I arrive at my destination to enjoy it or do a good job at whatever it is I'm there to do. Eight hours on a train where I can nap (except when I'm approaching NYC or Philly and need to protect my cave), write, study choreography, catch up on work emails, read, listen to music, or just sit and think about absolutely nothing is something I look forward to so much. I highly recommend it. I can't wait to do this again and I hope you'll try it, too. Throw some glitter. Make it rain. Enjoy the train.

*I wanted to explain my reasons for not just sitting in the quiet car, which is a car that forbids cell phone use and really noise of any kind. The quiet car needs to take a deep breath and calm down a little bit. Quiet car people are scary. If your phone vibrates, if you say "excuse me" as you pass someone on your way to the ladies room, if you open your Pepsi when you're eating your hot dog and the can makes a noise, they will growl at you. It ruins the relaxing vibe of the train. AVOID.

**Just to clarify because I love Amtrak so much, if the conductor makes an announcement that the train is sold out and all seats are needed as you're approaching the next station, you must abide and just hope the person who joins you in your train cave is only with you for an hour or two.