There are two routes to get to Washington, D.C. from Chicago. I’ve done the shorter of the two many times, which takes you through the northern halves of Indiana and Ohio before cutting straight through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Maryland. The route, however, literally meanders through the southern parts of Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia, choosing to ride the Virginia/West Virginia border into D.C. and avoiding those yankee states entirely.
That, and it takes six hours longer.
In a lot of ways, it has the classical notions of taking the train. It’s a single-level train, with just a small lounge to sit and have coffee in. It takes you on a twisty route through appalachia, and there’s no doubt you’re going through coal country. You’ll see cleared land, and not shortly after energy plants and coal-based towns accompany. I grew up in rural Virginia, and trips to West Virginia always meant being a passenger in long car rides through the tree-dense hills. This scenic train ride brought me back to that in many ways, but Burtynsky-esque scenes that pocked the landscape were sobering.
That said, this was an incredibly social train as well. I’m a total weirdo and talk to strangers pretty frequently, that’s just part of taking pictures of people, but living in big cities the past seven years almost made me forget about how chatty people from the country are. These folk, with their bright, full faces that laugh easy, are ice breakers for those of us who treat public transportation as a daily exercise in burying yourself in a phone or book and interacting with as few people as possible.
I left Chicago on a train only half-full, but by morning it was loaded with complete strangers enjoying the company of their new friends. I even had a cartoon drawn of me wearing a narwhal costume for some reason.