There are train tracks near the home where I grew up in Western Pennsylvania. They snake through the hills and valleys and part of a dense forest. These are not the rails for passenger trains, but rather freight cars, mainly carrying steel and coal.
As a boy, I desperately longed to ride those trains.
I wanted to jump on like Jack Kerouac. I never did, of course. I was too scared. But I watched the trains rumble by, chugging and squealing through train crossings, and I listened for the occasional piercing whistle.
Living in Chicago now, train travel is a part of daily life. Commuter trains are the landscape and the EL trains clatter around the city 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Amtrak leaves regularly from historic Union Station. More than ever I want to be on one of those trains leaving for long rides across the country.
There is an incredible draw to train travel. It’s in the American DNA. And it’s in mine. As a writer, it seems entirely natural to possess the desire to travel and Amtrak knows that’s likely true for anyone who tells stories. That’s why it continues to offer the Amtrak Writers Residency.
Some doubt the intentions. “It’s a PR move,” they say. “It’s just a way to promote Amtrak,” they say. But as one former Amtrak resident told me, “Wouldn’t you like more of corporate America to support the arts?”
Erika Krouse lives in Boulder, Colorado. She was thrilled to be selected as an Amtrak Writer-in-Residence. Her summertime ride was an opportunity to indulge in observation, thought, journaling, and yes, as you might expect, it informed her writing. Still does. And, she wants to do it again.
I spoke with Erika in this episode of The Bleeding Typewriter. Listen, and then go get on a train.