If Time Is A Social Construct, Then A Sixteen Hour Amtrak Ride Is The Gaping Maw In Which The Laws Of The Universe Die

Illustration for article titled If Time Is A Social Construct, Then A Sixteen Hour Amtrak Ride Is The Gaping Maw In Which The Laws Of The Universe Die
Photo: Alex Wong (Getty Images)

I’ve been sitting here for an hour. Or maybe it’s been twelve. I think I might have just sat down. I should be home by now, I think, but I’m not even sure I’ve made it out of the country. Life’s greatest questions have always been, “Who am I? Where am I Going? Why am I here?” and they cycle through my head at an ever more rapid pace as I seek meaning in the blurred landscape outside the window. I have no answers. I am on a sixteen-hour Amtrak ride from Toronto, Canada to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and I have discovered hell.

The day starts off on a high. I forget my cell phone in my husband’s car when he drops me off and only catch him because he has to stop at a red light. I almost drop my passport under the train, which I will need to cross the upcoming border and then, in two days, to enter a series of five other countries. I do not have breakfast, nor do I have the necessary dollar amounts to buy anything to eat; the card machines, they tell me, do not work. The train car is almost entirely empty until a man decides he must sit in the seat directly next to me. Somewhere, a child I cannot see is crying. I am, too.

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I read six books and write an entire novel. Or maybe I stare out the window with a blank mind and do nothing, absolutely nothing, at all. The man next to me has disappeared. A man in a uniform is saying, “ticket, please.” I try to ask if food will ever become available, but my seat’s plug keeps flickering out. The man smiles wider. “Ticket, please.”

I don’t remember falling asleep. I don’t remember waking up. I have rested but have never been more tired in my entire life. The train has stopped. Have we crossed the border? Did I miss it? Is this the same train? There is no one in the car to ask. Even the uniformed man has disappeared. Someone is staring at me. I am not sure who.

We reach a station. Everyone politely stands in line. No one asks me about the contents of my bag or my intentions in their country. I watch a vending machine fail, over and over. I watch a woman try to make it work again and again. I do not remember getting back on the train.

This new country is the same as the last. Maybe it’s the same place. Maybe we’ve never left. I don’t recognize any of the people in my train car. They don’t look like the people I saw in line.

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Hours pass. I’ve aged a year. The position of the sun never changes until suddenly it blinds me. When my vision returns, I no longer recognize the reflection in the window. I sleep. I must have slept. I don’t remember the last time I closed my eyes. I don’t remember if I’ve eaten. The dining car seems an eternity away.

They tell me I have to switch trains, but I know this is the only train. A decade has passed. The second train I board is just like the first, except smaller. Maybe the last train was exactly this size. Maybe I have already forgotten.

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We start moving only to stop again. No one is leaving. No one is boarding. Who are we stopping for? What are we stopping for?

The sign tells me this is where I disembark. My legs have forgotten what it’s like to stand. The clock tells me it is a new day. The map tells me I live here, but I am not sure where ‘here’ is. It’s been so long. It’s been no time at all.

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When I look behind me, the train is gone.

Weekends at Jalopnik. Managing editor at A Girl's Guide to Cars. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.

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DISCUSSION

RockfordsFirebird
RockfordsFirebird

Yes, same feeling sitting in an airport waiting for a delayed connecting flight.  9 hours at Heathrow.