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Dispatches from the Rails


Thing2 is getting a little girl-shy these days, and, since, unlike last year's rail journey, most of the other kids are of the feminine variety, we haven't learned the life history of all of our traveling companions. Thankfully human un-nature has lent a hand and reminded me of why, despite some inconveniences, we love traveling by train.

It's nine AM and we're supposed to be in Indiana, but we're still crawling across Ohio. Amtrak trains ride the rails at the pleasure of the freight companies who own the tracks, and heavy freight traffic coupled with a water emergency in Toledo have torpedoed the schedule.

Prior to the announcement that there would be limited bathrooms and no water on our train past Toledo, we'd exchanged smiles and pleasantries with our fellow passengers to the front of and behind us. Like last year, it was an interesting and diverse group – well-heeled travelers smiled on their way to the sleeping cars at Vermonters and an immigrant family and an Amish man – but nothing makes companions out of a cross section of humanity like misery – or even the promise of it.

Mindful of the amount of water I drank last night, I got off at Toledo to use the facilities. The boys in our family were sure they could hold on until Elkhart, Indiana. I ended up between two Amish ladies, and we all remarked on the remarkable event of a major American city bereft of a basic necessity for human survival.

We separated at the head of the line, and no one looked at each other as we headed back for the train without washing our hands (knowing my seven-year-old's research into superpower acquisition it suddenly occurred to me that maybe separating him from glowing green contaminated water with a metal wall was good for a few reasons).

As I made my way forward to my seat there were a few grumbles, but most of the concern was for the water situation in the city we're leaving behind. For the most part travelers understand the conductors on the train had no control over the misery, and people are satisfied with trading an exasperated smile or joke and even an unexpected kindness. I'm watching a family in front of us offer a single mom a sandwich for her toddler, and the six year old girl behind us with a heavy Indian accent has made friends with another girl talking with a familar midwest twang. They're giggling, and I'm hoping Thing2 overcomes his shyness before we hit South Bend. Deep down, though, I think he's learned , as we have over the last couple years of train journeys, that we're really all in it together.