eta 4A: Glimpsing the Corridor
For the sake of clarity, I feel the need to explain that I am posting these ETA blogs now not because I had just gone on the trip, but because I intentionally delayed blogging about my adventures from Thanksgiving 2010 in an effort to prolong the opportunity to reminisce. This post begins where eta 3 left off, as I left New York City.
Southbound on the Northeast Regional
Pulling out of Penn Station happened so quickly, it caught me by surprise. The weather could not have been better for a mid-morning ride south, along the Northeastern corridor. Once again, even though the sun was up this time, I felt like we were all riding in Hayao Miyazaki’s cat bus, bouncing and gliding past the historic cities.
I really should have done my research on the route that we were taking, because I might have decided to stop in one or more of those cities. Our train stopped at various states and cities that are what I would refer to as ‘the Greats’
These places stand out as The Greats in my mind because I had always heard about them, known close friends who move there for school, read magically unique things about the unnoticed corners of their historical identities, and imagined each Great to be a certain feel and color.
We traversed New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, to arrive at the District of Columbia. From the suburbs of Jersey to the crowds of skyscrapers by UPenn and Philly, I could not help but feel that the image in my mind about The Greats had been completely different from reality. Of course, we merely passed through them all, but I have never been so encouraged by reality. Usually, when the actual place is different from how I envision things in my mind, I deflate and yearn for more.
This time, seeing the edges of the Greats inspired in me new possibilities. Possibilities of progress and ambition, of education and expansion, of renewal and Hope.
Corridor of Doors
In this way, it is quite appropriate that the Northeast Regional’s route would be labeled as a corridor. Each town was a door that presented diverse groups of people, palettes of color swatches, mixtures of cultures, and endless experiences according to the riches at the heart of each city.
I became really excited as I peeked through the crack of each door as we sped South, delighted at the myriads of snapshots and first impressions I captured for the global scrapbook in my mind.
For now, these reels of landscapes are stowed away cozily, and I patiently await the day when I will dust them off in order to continue memorializing the moments beyond the frames of motion blur.
Station of The Union
By this point, I had figured out that many cities name their primary train station as “Union Station.” However, I had arrived at THE train station of our great Union of States. The grandeur of everything was extremely fitting, complete with chiseled archways that lead into high-ceilinged chambers and marble floors, causing one to stop and wonder.
I could hardly believe that I was finally standing in the capital city of the USA. Having no words to describe my feelings, and no time to ruminate on them, I got in line for the Capitol Limited, whispering to the great Washington, DC that I would soon return…to fall in love.
I’m headed Home
Yeah, but I’m not so sure
That Home is a place you
Can still get to by train
So I’m looking out the window
And I’m drifting off to sleep
With my face pressed up
Against the pane
With the rhythm of my heart
And my sleepy girl’s breathing
With the rhythm of the southbound train
- Southbound Train by Jon Foreman
eta 3A: Big, Apple-y Night Wonder
One of the things about the train culture toward which I feel mixed feelings is saying goodbye at the end of every leg. Knowing that I will probably never again see any of the amazing people with which I’ve just spent over twelve hours is both detaching and mysteriously wonderful at the same time.
I wonder if that’s what Hayao Miyazaki was feeling when he envisioned the cat bus flying and quietly bouncing past the fields in the night, carrying the dreams of strange and random passengers. It’s like we are selected randomly to gather into a bubble for hours, and then we leave because that is the thing to do, and we leave forever changed.
Pennsylvania Station, NYC
Stepping off the car, I was greeted by the floating mush of recycled air, breath, and dreams. A few more steps and I was sucked into the flow of busy movement of the stream of consciousness and plurality of schedule, technology, and time.
I like to stand still in the middle of everything and everyone, close my eyes and take in the sounds, the feel, the smells, the soul. The sound of my name breaks my suspension as I had not noticed The Writer beside me. We were heading on the same subway uptown, so we waited for his friend and the red train.
Baby blue headphones and blue flowery purse aside, The Writer’s friend was an absolute pleasure to meet. I have often wondered, and still do, about how changers spontaneously come together. They say that birds of a feather flock together, and I think I like that picture this idiom paints because I just see the little monsters inside of us coming together because we are monsters, not necessarily because we are the same color or of the same social status, but because we want to see a difference in the world and share our scary, risky, hope-infused ideas. This picture is what She inspired in me, in the several minutes we had in the red train. 59th is where we part. I rumble onward.
Rush and Slow Down
After hastily dropping off my luggage at my friends’ place, I ran back to the trains, glad to be a lot lighter this time. Time goes faster when there are loved ones to see and meaningful things to do. I get off at Astor and saw him sitting there in the window, one of a row of people alive and engaged in thought and conversation. I embrace The Producer and off we go on the serious business of the nightwonder that is the food tour of St. Mark’s.
On the itinerary tonight is falafels from Mamoun, bacon-wrapped hotdogs with crazy toppings courtesy of CrifDogs, spicy, yummy hand-pulled noodles from Xi’an, and Tangomonium frozen yoghurt with mochi bites and almonds from Red Mango. Ohhhhhhhhhh. Nightwonder, indeed.
Beyond the food consumed, the conversation exchanged definitely contributed to the night well-spent. I got caught up on The Producer’s life and projects, and learned that learned the technical term that describes the numbness that my lips loathe when eating spicy food — 辣麻, literally translated, spicy numb. Exactly.
She & Him
Eating froyo on the subway was simply very enjoyable for me. Getting back, I was glad to catch She & Him before they went to bed, catching up on life and school, tea and tortoises. They were great hosts, very kind and very dedicated to living life. Thank you for your generosity.
Film & Color
The next morning, I quickly regretted indulging myself with the extra hour of sleep on a proper bed and after enjoying a hot shower. I got ready quickly and walked briskly through the beautiful city streets, basking in the glow of the sun and friendly breeze into the SoHo district. I found The Director on the second floor of the sun-streamed Apple store. He looks better than ever. I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by genuine happiness and anticipation as we discussed recent developments and how he had grown, living in the city of his dreams. You’re doing so, so well, Director. The world cannot wait to see the world through you.
We are a few of many in the sea of faces, high on life and independent, interdependent, and intertwining like film and color - dynamic, rhythmic, cosmic.
I grab a snapple from the roadside stand and head down to the station to climb aboard another snake of a beast. Time to open my eyes to the northeasterly corridor.
eta 2A: Mistakes, Misperceived
Missing the train seems to be a common occurrence in the world of Amtrak. Everyone I’ve encountered seems to have done it once at least. Still, the nightmares I will be having these next few weeks will consist of law school exams and missing the train.
Contrary to what you might think, missing the train isn’t a completely bad experience. Flexibility and openness are valuable lessons to be learned, and I got to see how I react to the removal of control. Stability was not so easily obtained at first, but it was definitely good to learn to tell myself that no panic was needed, that I will be okay.
On Being Okay
Once the choice was made to be okay with spontaneous change, a whole new awareness was awarded to me. My trip switched from the west side of the country to the east, and my goals were the same: to rest, study, love people, experience new places and people, and learn about life. These also happen to be my long term goals, but I seek them deliberately on this trip in order to be reminded of how big the world is, how many people there are to love, and how inexperienced I am in so many ways. Even though much of my traveling only provides a survey of the cities, each location shapes me into a better, more accurate life – to be lived among all these other lives.
I believe that the changes in the ETA have been intentional shapings by my Maker so that I would get to encounter or be encountered by specific people, as illustrated from ETA No. 1. On the trip from Chicago to New York City, I had actually gotten on the wrong train, having confused the Metra tracks with the Amtrak ones – I got on a Metra train that boarded at the same time as the Amtrak counterpart. Providently, there was another train heading directly into Penn Station just one hour later.
In Vine’s video curriculum for kids, we have been teaching about how Jesus wants us to serve those around us. He wants to do miracles in our hearts so that we are able to see the needs of those around us and respond accordingly. Also, as refrained in the Brooke Fraser song “Flags,” we can be certain that the first will be last, and the last will be first.
Upon boarding the correct train, I spotted a good two-seater that was empty and would allow me to have extra room (a trending behavior among Amtrak riders). However, as I was settling myself in, a mother with a baby approached and commented that there are no more two-seaters. Because I was somewhat tired (and in hindsight, somewhat dehydrated), my brain wasn’t thinking or responding to much of my surroundings. However, my mouth opened and blurted out, “oh do you need to sit together with someone? Because I can totally move somewhere else.” I had no idea where that came from. Then my body got up and started moving my stuff to find another seat.
I spotted a gentleman who had his macbook open; and since Apple products have been extremely significant in my life, my tired mind took it as a sign and asked if I could sit there. We could be mac buddies, I thought. As I was settling down yet again, I noticed that the conversation in this seating area was very lively, so I tuned in. The row was talking about singing parts – one was a baritone, the other was a composer, etc. “I sing alto!” I blurted. So much blurting, geez.
I soon found out that these people have extremely beautiful personalities and are extremely knowledgeable in so many meaningful ways. Every word coming out of their mouths were like gold nuggets, rubies, and sapphires for listeners to gather up, admire, and make art.
It’s a small world, after all. The Writer worked in theater with one of my friends in high school who went to college in the Midwest. He speaks with eloquence, constructing each sentence with such quality of art that it was a pleasure just to hear him express himself. He is working on an educational card game for children that teaches fun usages of idioms. He wrote a limerick in ten minutes, and taught us a stimulating word game called ‘Contact.’ “What’s not to love about Pushing Daises?!” he exclaims.
Hailing from the city of Angels is the Librarian, working hard to preserve knowledge and thoughts for the appreciation of all who desire them. The bravest Amtrak rider of us all, the Librarian has traveled from LA in order to celebrate the festival of Thanks with his friends in the Big Apple. He speaks of humble beginnings in being educated in wine through a friendly, local brewery. He tells us of themed (most memorably, of Pirates) Korean coffee shops that aim to provide a fun and safe harbor for groups of friends to bond more tightly. It is good to know that there are still places in the world where people are encouraged to sit, stay, share, and be, rather than run in, get coffee, and run out.
Engaged and deeply in love with his gorgeous fiancee, the Composer falls asleep to Haydn and fugues blasting out of his high-definition headphones, conducting the orchestra as he slips into slumber. He is out cold.
"I went to school in New Haven," he said, modestly. Wisdom-filled insights would not stop flowing out of his mouth. Incredibly informed and amiably formidable, the Physician was an intellectual giant, with a tiny hint of social awkwardness. With a firm grasp of social policy, the Physician sustained our discussions of biophysics, education, politics, art, law, and progressive healthcare. Unfortunately, he has a headache. He rests.
The beast picked up the Freshman at the South Bend station, slightly after the witching hour. Those around him had been asleep for a few hours. He pulls out Calculus and EMT, trying to find light without waking up his neighbors. How considerate. I lend him my reading light and fall back asleep, waking up every now and then to find him studying hard through my half-closed lids. I drift and return to the darkness.
The remaining half of the trip went by quickly. One’s sense of time does get warped on a long-distance train. Scrambled eggs and coffee were served over a sweet conversation with a seasoned couple. Both having taught in high school and college for over a decade, the soldier and his wife happily share their experiences and pointed out Lake Eerie to me as we passed it. They have successful children all over the world, and had endless stories of their impactful ventures.
Back in coach, the Composer was gone for most of the day, working on his thesis composition. The rest of us continued enlightening conversations…the Freshman was inspired to continue in his exploration of pre-medicine, the Librarian infected us with his passion for creative education, and we all enjoyed each other’s companies without words as we sped down the Hudson River, reflecting on the complete sunset on its rippling surfaces.
And in we roll, destination Penn Station.