Thursday, March 13, 2008
I take the train to Chicago when I go to UIC for follow up with the islet transplant team. I love the train. There's a romance between the sound of the wheels rolling down the track and the scenery speeding by. I usually take a book, or my Zune. Sometimes I talk to other passengers, but what I like most is just staring out the window at the trees and farms and towns we pass along the way. I like that the trains take you where cars can't. I like seeing the pieces of industry and the backyards of rural America that are missed on the interstate.
I don't actually take the train the entire way to Chicago. A through train only leaves my hometown at 7am and I usually work a half day and catch the bus at 12:25 to Battle Creek, Mi where I then board Amtrak. In a way, I'm glad I take the bus for that short route because there is a 40 minute wait between bus and train and for lack of a better reason to enjoy a town, I like the smell of Battle Creek. If you've ever been there you know what i mean. The city is the home of Kellogg and smells like Pop-Tarts. Breathe deep and I feel my blood sugar rising, the scent is that thick.
I board the train and settle in, and we head west with stops at small town stations. We pass trees and country that a passenger from India once told me looked like jungle. The wheels thump and the whistle blows for cars and kids in parks. Eventually, I turn to a book or my Zune. Time passes. Things look pretty much the same and I zone out until we get near Hammond and the smell startles me back into the present.
Hammond, Indiana is like Battle Creek in that the city reeks of it's industry only in Hammond, Industry doesn't smell so sweet. By Hammond, the view has also changed and the it's gone from corn to scrap metal waste, and the folding chairs and make shift tents of the homeless subsisting along the tracks. It looks like the kind of place that photographers like to capture in black and white, but where no one really wants to live. This is the side of America that trains show you. Its not pretty, but something is beautiful about it nonetheless.
After Hammond, its more the same. Neighborhoods surrounding Chicago. community pools with kids playing nearby. buildings that look bombed out and empty and yet clearly are sill churning out some product or another. The train slows to a crawl and enters the bowels of Union Station . Passengers, already antsy, gather their belongings and queue up to depart for places unknown and I get up with them, walking through the rush and echo of the people in marble halls, out into the air and noise of the city. And suddenly I'm there and on a different wave length.
There's the march to the hotel or hostel I usually stay at and the wait in line to register. I head out to eat and wander, and then return to sleep. In the morning, I take the el to the hospital before most people are thinking about waking and that's a different kind of train all together. The el is high pitched, noisy and at 5am for the most part empty. We go around corners on the loop and sparks flash and light up windows of offices. There's a slow climb up hill, past residences, and more stops before we rush past Rush hospital and come to a screeching halt at the Polk station behind UIC.
I get off the train and wait. No matter how many times I've done it I can't walk when the train heads off and the platform rattles. My knees go weak and nausea hits if I'm moving. So people walk around me if I haven't managed to move aside before the train starts to move and I silently apologize for my inadequacies.
After my appointment, I return to Union Station, usually hours before departure and I find some corner to sit and read or watch people until the announcements begin and people start shuffling to board.
Soon, once again, I'm on the train returning home, wheels thump, whistles blow, children play with the American Dolls they've acquired on their trips, and inevitably on the way home some drunk guy complains about how long its taking and swears he'll never take Amtrak again. I *sigh* and fall asleep listening to it all.
At some point my phone will ring and it will be Transplant Co-coordinator/Nurse Extraordinaire telling me what my lab results were and what medication adjustments to make. We ride past urban spaces, rural towns, and all the places we sped past yesterday and this time the train stops in my home town. I sit and wait for other passengers to hurry up and wait to get off the train and back to their lives. I'm consistently amazed at the number of people getting off the train in Pohdunk, Mi and at the number of people waiting for them.
I climb down from the train, find my own greeter, get in the car, head home and know in three months, I'll do it all again.,,