I enter a kind of meditative Zen state, capable of gazing out of the window and watching the scenery roll by for hours at a time. My books go unread, my films unwatched, my writing is not getting done. The view doesn’t change: at the moment through Texas and New Mexico it's dusty rock, scrubby green and brown bushes, cacti, the occasional dry river bed, low hill or shallow canyon. I could get a better view in the lounge car, which has larger windows and views of both sides of the train, but that would mean leaving the glorious, silent isolation of my room, this tiny space which contains everything I need and nothing I don’t. For someone who loves solitude, this journey is blissful. Just me, a room and 4000 miles of American landscape passing before me like a film reel. And
America is impossible to look at and not think of movies: the cactus-studded promontory looking like it belongs in a Western; the busy Manhattan street with yellow cabs straight out of a Woody Allen film; the small town in rural where Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistlestop Café was filmed. Georgia
I have become an expert at typing whilst looking outside; not wanting to miss a second of the scene laid before me, empty and repetitive though it may be. Two years as a secretary and I never mastered this skill: two days on the train and I have it down pat.
When I do venture out of my room, the train becomes a challenge for someone who is a) full of English reserve, and b) shy. The other passengers are all American, as far as I can tell, and insist on certain social protocols being followed. You must greet everyone with “Hi how are you?” and take your leave with “Have a nice day/journey”. When sitting next to someone (for example, the dining car has community seating so as I’m travelling on my own, I always get put into a spare seat with a group of 2 or 3 others) there are 3 key questions: Where are you from? Where are you going? Where did you come from on this journey? You rapidly find out more about people’s lives than you might know about your own family’s business in
. From Denise & Chuck, I learn about their cross-country journey from England Florida to , where a brain surgeon is going to attempt radical and last-chance-at-life surgery on their 8 year old, who lies on Chuck’s lap holding his head. With an elderly couple from LA, whose names I never learn, I discuss Nancy Drew books and what we ate in Phoenix . A teacher working at an international school in New Orleans Mexico gives me her email address in case I fancy a change of scene: Leicester to Latin America. A meeting with a college professor from Berkeley and subsequent flirtation over the course of the two day journey leaves me imagining what life might be like in California, just as the previous day I was imagining life in Mexico. I enjoy these interludes but always return with a sense of relief to my room where I can resume my staring in uninterrupted silence.