Sunday, June 17, 2007

Onward from Chicago

[The Dreamers enjoy some fresh air in San Antonio. Photo by Visperd Madad-Doust.]

-- by Dave

Well, the trip aboard the Dreams Train from Los Angeles to Chicago was in many ways a test of the Dreamers' endurance -- but so far, everyone's holding up well. We got cleaned up, fed, and rested in Chicago. We also got a fresh addition of even more Dreamers.

So as we pulled out of Union Station tonight, the energy was warm and positive. Everyone's looking forward to getting into D.C. this afternoon.

It helps, of course, that we all know the hardest part of the trip is behind us. It's all been worth it, because an important component of the experience has been in seeing America -- what it looks like, what the people are like, how they live and make their livings.

Getting from L.A. to San Antonio was unquestionably the worst. Once into the desert, the landscape became interminably dull, except for stretches of the Arizona desert, which can be quite beautiful. (Having grown up in southern Idaho, there is probably nothing more uninteresting and aesthetically unpleasant than unremitting sagebrush scrublands for me -- and it seems most of my fellow riders shared that feeling.) The route the train followed through New Mexico was much the same, and western Texas was even worse. It reminded me of nothing so much as the country between Boise and Mountain Home, which I think has been scientifically proven to be the most godforsaken and boring stretch of landscape in the United States.

[The Arizona sky and landscape. Photo by Visperd Madad-Doust.]

Things picked up quite a bit in central Texas on the second day of the trip -- the plains turned greener and grassier, and we saw quite a bit of wildlife: antelope, mule deer, even golden eagles and javelinas. As it grew dark near the town of Alpine, Texas was starting to look much better.

The problem was that, by then, we were many hours behind schedule. There is a good deal of track repair going on along that line currently, and the train was often forced to pull over and wait for hours at a time for the track to clear. Moreover, since the freight lines actually own the track, the passenger trains are forced to pull over and wait for oncoming freight lines whenever the schedule requires.

By the time we pulled in to San Antonio early Friday morning, we were eight and a half hours behind schedule. We were supposed to have had a night in a hotel there, which would have given us a break from the constant rocking, rolling, surging and stopping of a train ride and given us a chance to clean up and stretch our legs. Instead, we spent a second night sleeping in our cars, and once in San Antonio (which looks like a lovely city, but we didn't get to find out), we had to get out, wait at the station for three hours as the next train pulled up (the one we were on continued on to New Orleans) and get back on.

[Mike Wilson of Humane Borders watches the scenery, Photo by Visperd Madad-Doust.]

The trip through Arkansas and Missouri was remarkably scenic; I particularly enjoyed the stretch through the Mark Twain National Forest. But the toilets in our coach clogged up, and when we hit St. Louis, the Amtrak officials were unable to get them fixed and so we rolled on our way.

It was clear that someone in the Amtrak home office horribly miscalculated just how crowded the train was going to be, what with fifty dreamers on top of the regular riders. Food kept running out. Saturday afternoon, there were only about 30 lunches available. And then the train hit something that broke the water line in front, so none of the toilets on the entire train worked properly.

[The evening sky at the Edgewater Presbyterian Church in Chcago. Photo by Visperd Madad-Doust.]

Fortunately, we arrived in Chicago that evening. We pulled in to Union Station hot, tired, sweaty, smelly, and hungry. The worst part of it, I think, was that we had just spent four consecutive days riding relentlessly, squeezed together on a train and living on top of each other. People were getting irritable, and I think we were all tiring of one another -- though it was nothing that a big meal (courtesy of the Chicago organizers and our hosts at the Edgewater Presbyterian Church), a hot shower, and a good night's rest on a stationary bed couldn't fix.

The truth is, in fact, that everyone on the trip has been extraordinarily patient with one another. And that has a lot to do with the character of the people aboard the train.

The Dreams Across America train, in fact, has been most remarkable in my mind for the collection of people who have come together to ride on it. It's an incredible group of people, nearly all of them immigrants -- and you know what? They, too, look like America.

More on that shortly.

No comments: