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  • Writer's pictureChristopher McHale


Recently, I took a plane cross-country, followed by a train cross-country. So I compared the two.

I flew to San Francisco. SFO. California is beautiful from the air. They lost my luggage. I always check bags. I’m no pack mule. I’m not in the carry-on competition. My bags show up next day.

I took the train from Chicago. Departed at 9:22. Monday night. Union Station is empty. Well, not completely empty. There are Amish-type families. They travel by train.

I left San Francisco early. Something I had to do. I took the red-eye to Newark. It was delayed an hour. Then another. All the way to 3am.

I sit by the picture window. I sleep until Buffalo. We ride along the Great Lakes in my sleep. The passing land and water out my window is hypnotic. Backwoods America. The train whistle Dopplers past us. Another  road to cross.

I take a plane from from Newark to Albany. My bags arrive with me. My miracle. I rent a car and drive into the Berkshires. I test positive for COVID.

I’m heading to New York. The train pulls into the station from Vermont. When I board it’s like I’m home. I sit back down along the Connecticut River. Pass mill towns, industry now bent to gentrified. Lofts and river walks.

Five days in isolation. In a four-hour hotel.

Drive to Albany, just miss a plane. Grab a flight next day and a hotel tonight. Except the plane never leaves. So hotel night two.

When I finally get back to Chicago, they’ve lost my bag again.

I take the southern route back to Chicago. To DC then Virginia then West Virginia and Smokey Mountain sunset, hollers and river gorges. I pull the shade and lean back, the whistle Doppler past my window, steel rail lullaby, dreams in motion.



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