Seattle to Chicago: Empire Builder

We are prepared for this last big leg of the trip. Despite having to take two city buses to arrive at Amtrak and having a food bag tear open, we are early. We check our bags and take only our food bags and laptop. The Empire Builder train to Chicago will take 3 days, so says the attendant. It’s 2.5, really.

There are many things to laugh about during this leg. There is an annoyingly vocal, older transsexual across from us. Her travel partner–younger–sounds like Jennifer Tilly. In front of us, there is a group of Japanese girls with one Japanese man. The girls pull out tall cans of beer and bottles of wine within the first hour. We theorize that the Japanese man is their pimp. One girl gets in trouble, and we do not see her again until after the trip is over.

Through Washington, there are endless trees. Every so often, the train curves into the mountain before being swallowed in its darkness. I’m in awe of how these tracks were built.

We imagine ourselves in small towns, such as Skykomish, WA, and wonder if we’d survive being an interracial lesbian couple.


On the second day of the trip, I am vexed and slightly antagonistic. An old republican lady and the transsexual from Arkansas loudly discuss Obama, who they think is a Muslim, and illegal immigrants.

“They’re illegal for a reason. Why don’t they stay in their own countries and stop taking our jobs?”

Fifteen minutes later, I’ve had it. It is still morning.

“Excuse me, can you go to the lounge to finish your conversation? People are still trying to sleep.”

“You go to the lounge and stop eavesdropping. This is a private conversation,” says the old lady.

“The whole car can hear your conversation.”

“It’s a free country.”

“Yes, it is, but you’re disturbing people who don’t care to hear about your beliefs. I can hear you through my ear plugs.”

The transsexual asks if she wants to go to the lounge. They continue in an audible whisper, but they got the point. Later, we hear the transsexual talk to the lady about being experimented on when she was younger. After she asks for another seat assignment, we don’t see the lady again after that.


Montana surprises me. I’m expecting snowcapped mountains or more evergreens like in Washington. Instead, I see flatland and mesas, and I’m suddenly in the southwest again.

The rest of the trip is peaceful. We get absorbed in movies and computer games, mainly Zuma’s Revenge. The transsexual tries to make peace several times by asking about our activities and offering her splitter and extra set of headphones.

By the time we get to Minnesota, the train is 2.5 hours behind schedule. We’ll arrive in the afternoon, so this delay does not alter our plans much.


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