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We are on the Amtrak headed south to Manhattan.
The Hudson River is a frozen block of twilight.
Ice Cutters have created a narrow path that
winds south to the Ocean.

Dots of lighted factories and houses
reflect white shadows of shoreline
that seem to float in the window,
like fractured fragments of futility.

From Grand Central Station, another train takes us to Chicago.
We board the Southwest Chief heading to LA.
While sitting on the observation deck,
strangers surround me with tales of their travels.

I never thought I would say this, but I miss my RV.
Anything is better than traveling on a sleeper train.
Our berth is the size of a large sardine can.
The sun never shines inside the cabin.

You can’t open windows unless it’s an emergency.
You can’t breathe the recycled air.
The incessant clanking noise
licks your eardrums clean of any beautiful sounds you may remember.

There is this smell that proliferates the hallways of this outhouse on wheels.
The toilets are all connected to the common “black water” holding tank.
When you flush, either by closing the seat down or pushing a button,
there is a bang, then the woosh sound of a vacuum cleaner.
You are afraid that you may be sucked into the unknown.

You roll and bounce back and forth, and up and down
past beautiful mountain and water vistas,
rolling stubbles of corn and wheat,
endless farmland with silos dotting the hillsides,
small towns overflowing with porches, abandoned cars and churches,
sections of cities where factories, junkyards and garbage dumps form the landscape.

States pass by as if picture postcards
are pasted to the window.
Bushes spring from the hillsides of brown,
flat, brush and trees blackened by recent fires.
Irrigation channels border old family farms.
Barbed wire fences encircle horse and cattle ranches.

Endless piles of rolled and stacked hay
red rocks, adobes and small towns
are interspersed with tracks covered with devastating poverty,
piles of junk and abandoned cars.

While I attempt to walk the narrow corridors and dining car,
through the coach section to the dining car,
I feel as if I am on a County Fair’s funhouse ride
where the metal floors keeps moving under your feet.

I am being thrown around a small metal box,
like a yo yo or a raggedy Andy ragdoll,
or a punch drunk prizefighter going down for the count.
I walk like a duck, side to side, against doors and chairs.

Our fellow travelers are an exotic mix of
poor inner city families and Hell’s Kitchen hoodlums,
"regular folk" who are afraid to fly during these terrorist times,
college students on Spring break visiting their parents,
kids and chaperones on a junior high school class tour to “The Big Apple,”
born-again Christians ministering to one another
with Halleluyahs and Praise the Lords.

The meals, now that’s a sad, sad, story.
The food ain’t too bad,
the people who serve you are super,
but the menu is quite limited.

Being a vegetarian is never easy,
but on the Amtrack train,
a good meal is even more difficult to attain.
Vegetable lasagna with a red cream sauce is served for lunch and dinner.

Instead of continuing to Flagstaff,
we get off the train in Winslow.
The porter tells us that in 25 years
no one has ever gotten off the train in Winslow.
We step down the stairs into the darkness,
cross the tracks, and begin our adventure.

The next day, in downtown Flagstaff, the traffic stops
at the intersection of Route 66 and San Francisco Avenue.
The bells ring.
The red lights blink.
The railroad crossing gates close.
The train whistle blows.
The BANF Freight train glides down the tracks.