Earlier this year, my partner James and I spent two weeks of circumnavigating the U.S. on train. Here are the take aways I hope continue to live with me after unpacking:
Sunrise and sunset are daily light shows of subtlety and grandeur. Perfected. Changed. Re-perfected. Watch them as often as possible. Close the book or device and take in the free show.
Meals are more highly flavored when shared. Sometimes more bitter but usually more vibrant and nourishing. The Amtrak policy of seating strangers together provided another window into the life of our culture. Enjoy the exotic spices you find along the way.
Balance inflow and outflow. By all means, make the vegetarian enchilada dinner for nine. Then let someone else cook tomorrow’s dinner while you take a nap. Share dish washing.
Hospitality comes in many forms. Embrace it, even if it’s not what you hoped for. When Spartanburg S.C.’s train depot is closed on a rainy night, be grateful for the 24 hour Krispy Kreme that serves as the real waiting room in that town. Or when Washington D.C.’s monumental scale is inhospitably distant for weary feet, take advantage of the bikeshare program that allows you to zip between sites.
Rules are changeable. We played a lot of the card game Fluxx, invented by NASA geeks. One of the rules of Fluxx is that rules change. Goals change. Resources change. I’ve been someone who learns the rules and thrives by observing them. In travel, there are some reliable conditions, but so much of the trick is in surfing the flux. Stuck in New Orleans overnight during SuperBowl? Join the party in the French Quarter. The sun heating up your sleeper car? Strip a layer and catch some Vitamin D. Stumped on what to do with bags in a long layover? Find the charming attendant who knows the system so well he comes up with a clever loophole that solves your problem. The winning cards may be in our hand if we allow the game to flux.
Be willing to swap dislikes for likes. James and I were firmly convinced we disliked L.A. for so many reasons. We braced ourselves to keep a good attitude during a 24 hour layover there. Luckily we drew an “Amazing Friends” card in our game of Travel Fluxx. My co-workers from over 10 years ago, Sean and Cath, welcomed us to their home and introduced us their version of the city: walkable, friendly, loyal, creative, and even efficient…if we were willing to put down our bad attitude and accept the gift of their experience.
Choose Travel Companions Wisely. An Amtrak dinner companion asked how James and I managed together for so many days in a small compartment. My first reaction was: Are you kidding? The close quarters were exactly what we needed: inviting us into deeper intimacy, sharing foot rubs, sunset colors, and unraveled knots. When we gathered in a mountain cabin to be with family from across the country, one large table served for morning pancakes, afternoon crafts, and evening games. But truth-be-told, not every relationship bears that kind of immersion. Choose wisely.
Adventure and rest, beauty and surprise, and perhaps most importantly, I hope to remember to treasure the pleasure of being simply together in this wide wonderful world.