Day 9

Breakfast with Tracy: scrambled eggs, toast and an apple – simple and perfect. I was a little worried by the fact that a couple of inches of snow seemed to have fallen overnight. But that's just me thinking London thoughts. As Tracy pulled back out of her garage over the fresh white stuff, I knew it wasn't going to affect our journey time to the station at all. I got to experience drive-thru banking sitting in Tracy's passenger seat while she tucked a payment into a tube that then shot through to the cashier. Then a little grocery shopping so that I had Wisconsin cheese and brats to munch on the train and off into the city through the slush.

I realised how little time I've spent in downtown areas so far. I've been much more in suburban residential spots and I've liked it. However it's also good to soak up the power of areas with great big chunks of stone, steel and glass.

Hugs goodbye for Tracy and laughter that I would see her again the next day although she wasn't going to leave Milwaukee for nearly 24 hours. I was relieved when my tickets were printed and I had them in my hand and I was on my first train. This was a 90 minute commuter train to Chicago via the airport. Whizzed by. Really not sure what I did except for a bit of writing and some staring out the window. If I was in the mood for downtown after Milwaukee then Union Station Chicago didn't disappoint. I took a stroll around a few blocks as I had an hour or so before the next train. I went down to the post office and sent some stuff home. I wish now that I'd had a bit more time to explore the station itself – everyone's been saying how wonderful it is. All I saw was the line to the train – and then someone's calling my name – it's Arie Moyal regular tuttler and one of last year's SXSW buddies course, he's also getting the train to Austin. Somehow it's completely not out of the ordinary at all for me to be in a train station in a city I've never visited before and to bump into someone I see most weeks in London and for neither of us to be particularly phased by it.

The bad news when we got on the train was that there were very few power outlets in the whole train and none at all in our car – there were three other people admitting to being headed for SXSW and all were dismayed by the lack of power, especially the pair who seemed to have counted on this time to put some finishing touches to some software they wanted to show off.. I need to write something about what I've picked up about seat allocation on Amtrak. Anyway, knowing that the train was bound to be pretty full given that I'd had to beg for my reservation at 12.30 the previous night I let go of finding the perfect seat and just sat down. Next to Marisa Hricovsky (I didn't find out her name till much later) an artist from Chicago heading down to Dallas to see a friend of her's MFA show.

I did some writing, ate some lunch, satisfied myself that the power situation was indeed as dire as it seemed and went back to sit and snooze a little. Remembering the guy I sat next to on the way to Seattle whom I didn't talk to hardly at all and regretted it later, I made an opening gambit by offering Marisa some gum. “No Thankyou” she said very clearly in what struck me as a “don't take candy from strangers” voice. OK snooze.

I don't know exactly how the conversation started now but after I woke, Marisa and I were talking (ok, mostly Marisa was talking and I was uh-huh-ing) for most of the rest of the day. She works with ceramics but wants to do more inter-disciplinary work. We shared stories of “people who don't understand” and talked about the importance of just making stuff. Her stuff includes porcelain maggots, a cockroach fashion parade (you dress up dogs, why not cockroaches?) and a set of teapots that look they got mixed up with alligator skin handbags in the teleportation device from The Fly. Beautiful. What a privilege to accidentally end up sitting with an artist. We exchanged mailing addresses to indulge our mutual enjoyment of postal art, which is when I found out her name, she said it comes from the name of a Slovakian town (i'm guessing Hričovské Podhradie)

We ended our evening sharing headphones to watch The Never Ending Story on her laptop. But it was the early ending story for me because I just went off to sleep.

Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman

Day 8

I had a better night on the train, well kinda.  I worked out a couple of comfortable positions to lie in (for some value of comfortable) and I alternated between them.  At one point I thought "There's a blog post in here: 'The 10 most comfortable ways to sleep in a coach seat on Amtrak'" but then I realised I'd have to think up another eight and I'd have to find some way of describing or illustrating them.  So yeah I just got foetal basically.

I woke, of course, to more snow, more big blank snow and then some – today was Minnesota and Wisconsin.  If I kept my mind relatively blank the day before, today was more of the same.  But today I had mobile coverage again, so I could check in on Foursquare (earning myself both the super user's badge and the over sharer's badge) and I could connect a little with others on twitter and by e-mail.  It's amazing how clear it is that you receive only small amounts of useful stuff in e-mail when you see a whole day's worth piled up in your inbox.

So, I did enough writing to assuage my work-guilt, plenty more slow video as the train halted or just got going.  I'm thinking of finding a way to sew these clips together to make a movie that's just views from the train moving slowly.  It needs to not be too repetitive but it will have to wait till I'm back and I've got everything and I've a machine in front of me that can handle editing video comfortably.

The train was filling up.  At Wisconsin Dells, I gave the other half of my double seat to Lindsay, a young singer (an actress really) with a blues band in Chicago.  I gave her a quick beginner's ukulele lesson and sang her a little song.

I had lunch on the train for the first time because my provisions from Seattle had run out.  Not the greatest cuisine on the planet, but it kept me going.

It really didn't feel like 43 hours on that train.  Milwaukee is the cleanest, brightest, most modern Amtrak station I've been to.  Sadly, it didn't have what I was expecting, a spare seat on the train down to Austin on Wednesday/Thursday.  I was told to call after midnight when there may have been some cancellations.  So I started to compose a "Solve it while I sleep" post in my head.

Tracy checked into the station on Foursquare while she was waiting for the lights across the road, so I knew when she was there.  Always good to see her, but just so good to see a known and friendly face after all that time.  After a little detour to her office to pick up choonz we headed for home.

Milwaukee has this weird contrast of being a heavy industrial city but also a lakeside town.  There's one stretch of highway up the coast and on one side I could easily have been going through anywhere in the Black Country and on the other there's this great stretch of water that I know is a lake but looks pretty much like the ocean to me.

@tappsestate is lovely and I got to meet @moethecat  – I struggled to get on the wifi because I didn't read the instructions properly but once I was on I managed to get my fix of getting through e-mail and catching up on twitter and stuff while Tracy fixed up jambalaya for the evening's festivities: a Mardi Gras party at her church (yes, you read that right – a *family friendly* Mardi Gras party that would be finished by 7.30) Part of me wanted to just crash out, but I'm really glad I said yes to going out – we had a great time, lots of laughter, met lots of lovely people, lots of music, a masked parade – great food and I even got a temporary tattoo and some purple beads.

So we were home by 9pm but I had to work quite hard to stay up to talk to Amtrak after midnight.  I wrote my "solve it" post anyway in case I just fell asleep.  In the meantime the option of a lift from one of Tracy's friends dematerialised.  So I was very relieved when I spoke to Connie in California to confirm my reservation for the following day – so I put a little update line in the blogpost and went down to sleep in the TappsEstate Basement, resplendent, as you might expect, with cocktail bar, rainbow flag and kick-ass drum kit.

Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman