Through The Southwest States

Amtrak Adventure 17/31 (about October 16th, 2021)

When we awoke yesterday—10 hours after setting out—we were surprised to learn that our train was running 5 hours behind schedule. We lost 50% of our predicted progress?! How could that have happened?

We learned quite quickly: in the wee hours of the morning, someone committed suicide by intentionally jumping in front of the train. Because this happened at such a bad time and outside of immediate civilization, it took a few hours for a coroner to show up—hours in which the train sat motionless. What horrible news!

I feel especially bad for the engineers in charge—imagine how traumatizing it must be to have someone appear out of nowhere and be unable to fully brake in time! That can’t be healthy at all; a few years, a few incidents, and I imagine many would retire.

Nevertheless, we were on our way; well into Arizona by then. It’s a lot greener than we expected; either there was a recent rainstorm, or it’s not that muchamof a desert after all (I suspect the former).

Sitting in the lounge car, there were some kids exclaiming at the cactuses and bridges, and a man came up to apologize to me for their noise (they were actually quite quiet; I hadn’t even noticed).

Today was his youngest son’s third birthday, he explained, who when asked yesterday what he wanted to do for it said he wanted to go see a train. “How about riding a train?,” they proposed, and promptly booked a 4-hour round-trip through cactus-land. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a happier 3-year-old. What an adventure!

Other than cacti and the occasional sandstone cliff, there’s not much to see in Arizona. I started a book my coworker Dennis had recommended me the day before to pass the time, and before I knew it, we were in New Mexico.

Right after we entered, the sun started setting. It was absolutely stunning:

The first leg train we’re on, which primarily continues through to Houston and New Orleans, is named the “Sunset Limited.” I see why, now.

As dark—and Texas—approached, my stomach started to get restless. You see, despite having a full day in LA yesterday, we neglected to stock up on snacks! This is the longest train Amtrak has, making the error especially painful… and my hunger was hitting.

I went down to the cafe car with Mattea (she goes pretty regularly, having more sane eating habits), only to literally recoil with disgust when I read the prices. Ever pay $3 for a bag of Skittles? $2.25 for a sleeve of Planter’s Peanuts? How about $4.50 for a ~100 calorie hummus snack straight out of a Costco multipack? No thanks.

So I resigned myself to fasting for two more days, on principle, rather than giving into Amtrak’s rent-extracting unhealthy food monopoly. Sure, I can shell out—but 200%+ markups are truly insulting, and I’d rather just starve a little.

Thankfully, help soon arrived: a minute after we pulled into El Paso for a 10-minute break, a voice excitedly announced over the intercom that “even though we’re so late, the burrito lady is here; we didn’t think she would be, but she still came out!”

There’s apparently a woman—known universally as the “El Paso Burrito Lady” in Amtrak world (even on forums dating back fifteen years)—who sells, you guessed it, homemade burritos at the El Paso station whenever a train passes. Thank God.

(Fun fact: if you type “el paso amtrak” into Google, the first autocomplete suggestion is “burrito lady”, even above “train station”! she has quite the enduring reputation.)

What an on-brand welcome to Texas! The first thing we experience is a well-loved local entrepreneur selling Mexican food, sticking it straight to a government monopoly, and probably making an absolute killing off of the situation ($3/burrito * ~100 burritos/train * 2 trains/day = $$$$$).

After a few more hours, Mattea went to bed. I couldn’t fall asleep, though, and kept reading and writing into the early morning. I ended up finishing my book (“Delta-V,” by Daniel Suarez; it’s a hard near-future sci-fi book about asteroid mining) less than 24 hours after it was recommended to me!

The moon was out beautifully, too; I spent a few minutes—with another man who also couldn’t sleep and was drawing instead—mashing my face up against the window to stare at the unobstructed moon and stars. There’s really nothing out here in West Texas; and no cities or civilization means no light pollution!

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