ST. PAUL, Minn. — It’s 10:30 p.m., and the First Class Lounge at the AMTRAK depot here in St. Paul is starting to fill up. Outside, a few dozen coach passengers sit in the waiting area; there are maybe a dozen more of us in the First Class Lounge. We’re there because we’ve booked sleeper cars for our trip West. And when the train arrives in about a half hour, we’ll be ready to call it a night.
I’m at the beginning of a five-day journey West aboard the Empire Builder, one of AMTRAK’s premier lines that connects Chicago with Seattle and Portland, Oregon. I will spend tonight and all of tomorrow on the train, stepping off in Whitefish, Montana late tomorrow night. The plan is to spend a couple of days exploring Whitefish and nearby Glacier National Park before rejoining the Empire Builder and continuing to its terminus in Portland.
It’s been a long day already, but a good one: after leaving Lexington this morning, I took advantage of the few hours of free time I had in the Twin Cities to visit my old friends Audra and JP, who live just outside of Minneapolis with their two young daughters. I don’t get to see them nearly often enough these days, but whenever my travel plans bring me through Minneapolis, we always make an effort to get together.
Today’s visit was simple: We had dinner at their place, and then spent an hour or so driving around the countryside in an RV that JP just picked up for a song yesterday. It was great to catch up, to get to know their awesome little girls, and to get a home-cooked meal before hitting the rails.
This time tomorrow night, I’ll be at a hotel in Whitefish. But what awaits in the next 24 hours – life on the train – is anyone’s guess.