There’s a sense of peace that I get from my (roughly) bi-annual trip on the Northeast Regional 164 Amtrak train that I can’t seem to find anywhere else. The subtle rocking of the train car lulls me into a sort of trance, and I’m overcome with the urge to pull out my laptop, pop in my headphones and become “that girl”: the main character who listens to melancholy music while staring out of the train window and writing her next great masterpiece.
Sitting in the fourth car of my Amtrak, I am “that girl”—in my mind, anyway. Romanticizing the ride makes it easier to do work, which I somehow already have even though the break technically hasn’t ended yet. I suppose that right now, this article is my “that girl” masterpiece, which I’m using as an excuse to procrastinate the three readings that I’ve already been assigned.
Nevermind the neck pain that I get from sitting hunched over the tiny plastic train desks, or the fact that this time of year, there’s not much to look at outside the window but a bunch of dead trees: there’s nowhere else that I’d rather be than on this train. My three-hour ride marks the passage of time into the next phase of my life and has taken me from semester to semester, from school to home and back, in mandated shifts that never fail to reflect my mental state. Whether I need to move on from an exhausting first semester or a torpid break at home, the train is always there to take me from one place to another, both mentally and physically.
This is the sort of metaphor I try to focus on as I struggle to carry three bags and a roll-on luggage through the narrow aisle of the train cars. There is beauty in the way my bags bump into the seats on either side of me and in my resultant rhythmic apologies to their occupants. There is beauty in the way my muscles scream in pain as I attempt to lift my bags into the overhead compartment without dropping them on someone’s head. There is even beauty in the fact that the train starts moving as I’m still standing, and I’m forced to stumble my way to the nearest open seat.
So what if my version of “that girl” has to sit next to a stranger on the train because she can’t find an empty seat? That’s normal. As time passes and people disembark, I always find an empty seat anyway. By strategically placing my bags on the vacant seat, I can ensure a solo ride for the rest of the trip. Moments later I inevitably feel bad for hogging two seats, move my bags and end up sitting with a stranger once more, but that’s besides the point.
The people I end up sitting next to are usually very nice — aside from the one lady, who ended up having a very obnoxious phone conversation for half the ride, and that one man, who coughed the whole time and was probably infected with some COVID variant that has yet to be discovered. The girl next to me now seems kind, at least. She put her coat in the storage rack above us when she got on, but it’s since fallen and is dangling precariously above her head as she slumbers peacefully beneath it. One aggressive jolt and the entire thing will fall, either on her or in the aisle. I haven’t decided whether or not I should wake her and warn her.
It doesn’t matter that the Amtrak has had a negative effect on my Spotify Wrapped, either. So what if I listened to Superache by Conan Gray on repeat for an entire train ride last semester? So what if all five of my top songs in 2022 were from that album as a result? My Spotify Wrapped might not reflect it, but I know that my music taste is more diverse than that, and that’s all that really matters. My version of “that girl” also listens to copious amounts of Taylor Swift, which has to count for something.
It’s only with affection that I complain about my ride. Sterling and Bass have nothing on the Northeast Regional 164. I’m more productive rumbling along in my gray leather seat than I am locked in a suffocating Bass study cell—that is, when I don’t succumb to temptation and binge Gilmore Girls instead.
As I type these words and my time as “that girl” comes to a close, my train speeds closer to Union Station and closer to home. It’s still surreal to say that Yale is my new “home.” Over break, the one-year anniversary of my acceptance passed, and I reminded myself that despite the seat-sharing, despite the heavy luggage, despite everything, I love my journey because I love my destination. I can’t wait to walk through Old Campus to my dorm, hug my suitemates hello and head to the dining hall for my first meal back.
There’s a popular saying that it’s the journey that matters, not the destination, but I’d argue that both matter, at least in my case. You need to take the Amtrak to get to New Haven, but you wouldn’t have to take the Amtrak at all if you didn’t have a New Haven to go to. If nothing else, my rides on the Northeast Regional 164 remind me of how lucky I am to have somewhere so special to come home to.