Link to Amtrak.com

The Journey Back

A Much-Needed Chance to Relax

by Maggie Nerz

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

My journey begins well before New York, in my one bedroom apartment by the art museum in Philadelphia. I awake, usually too early and too tired from staying out later than I should have the night before. Chances are I have had a little too much of something: appetizers, dinner, dessert, drinks, fun. I am a social butterfly, my world created in Philadelphia more social than I can bear at times. People think all social butterflies want their situations so. I am proof that this is not true. The many intimacies I mostly happily maintain deplete my energies at times. I do not regret or undervalue the wonderful people I know and love, I just regret that I am not bigger or deeper somehow so that I can have both — the people and the down time I need in excess.

The smooth line of the Amtrak train pulling into 30th Street is always a welcome sight to my tired frame. I have risen, as I said, early, washed my face, grabbed my bag, and called my cab. I have enjoyed my purchase of coffee and a muffin bought at Bucks County Coffee and I exhale as the escalator pulls me down below ground to the track. The sliding doors moving aside to welcome me signify my first entry into peace. The blue/grey silence of the sleeping passengers, the people exhausted from rising even earlier than me, in Baltimore and DC, and places southern, sleep with pillows and blankets brought from home. I choose my seat carefully, with plenty of space, if I can, as far away from noise as I can find. I am on my way, rest settles deep in my bones as I pull down my tray and take out my pen and paper. I settle in as Kelly Drive, where I have, over the years, run literally one thousand miles, passes below me, the zoo and Boathouse Row fall away, Trenton too. I am headed far away from where I live, but toward the part of myself no one knows but me.

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In Penn Station New York I replenish, use the impossibly designed ladies room, buy my lunch, visit the Franciscan church across the street, then paradoxically the pedicure place also across the street. I have an hour or two to kill and use my time well. Twenty minutes to boarding I move back into the station, quickly checking the status of Train 283, Empire Service to Niagara Falls. I know all the tricks: how to get on the train first, by sneaking downstairs at Penn Station, to watch the second set of monitors with the other "in the know" travelers below the main concourse. I know to ask the conductor which car to sit in for Syracuse. I know which side of the car to sit on, the river side, for the prettiest view. Like my trip from Philly, I organize and settle in, this time for the long haul.

My personal journey is an inward one, from the moment I leave Philadelphia and make my way through and apart from the hustle and bustle of the tangle of the northeast corridor to Syracuse. The river marks my passage, reminding me of the natural beauty that always awaits outside of all the urban splendor I have deemed necessary in life. The river's small waves lap at its tiny shores. Its docks reach out to boats, some opulent, some meager, that rock and bob along. West Point peers over and off from its imperious perch. We pass quaint towns and well kept stations, depressing slightly abandoned looking drop-offs, a mysterious midstream castle eroding in water, and the stucco station of the state capital. Town after town pass. In Utica I make my call to my parents where we decide what time they should pick me up. My parents. For I am going home, to a house I never lived in as a child or young teenager. My parents have lived in this house since I was 19, now I am 38. That's enough to make it home, or the quantity of years just doesn't matter. It's a place where I need to to go to restore what is essential to me. No matter how I look at it I know when I take the train from Philadelphia to New York to Syracuse I am going back from which I came, the train's low rumble and lonely whistle echoing the smooth sweep of blood through my veins back to the steady buried beat of my heart.