by Pat Kight
Our Amtrak adventure is a modest one, compared to all the wonderful tales of cross-country vacations. But it's a story that's literally dear to my heart.
Just over seven years ago, a longtime friendship blossomed into romance. There was only one problem: I live in Albany, Oregon; he lives in Renton, Washington, 236 miles away. For a variety of reasons, neither of us is in a position to move. Long-distance romances can be fraught with obstacles, but we decided to give it a shot anyway, with an agreement that we'd make a real effort to spend at least one weekend a month together.
At first, we each did a lot of driving. I gave up on that early; chronic back problems make driving for more than a couple of hours painful, and the Seattle-area traffic is pretty daunting. But Amtrak's Albany station is just blocks from my front door, and I'd enjoyed pleasure trips to California and Washington before, so I figured the reduced hassle and improved comfort was worth the extra cost.
It was — and is — wonderful. I leave work a little early on Friday, catch the 5508 bus to Portland and then the 508 train to Tukwila, arriving relaxed and rested instead of frazzled and in pain. I usually take my knitting, and some of the train crew have come to know me as The Sock Lady (one sock up, one sock back). When I'm in a conversational mood, there are always people to talk to. When I'm not, I put on my headphones, listen to some music, watch the scenery. Often, I take my camera — it's surprising what good photos you can get from a moving train, particularly when the scenery is as gorgeous as the stretch of Puget Sound south of Tacoma.
It didn't take long for my sweetheart to give up driving and start taking the train, too. As gas prices have increased over the past few years, train tickets have become an even better bargain, and I've enjoyed watching ridership grow as more and more people discover the joys of rail travel.
Since starting this adventure, we've taken longer train trips together — the Empire Builder to Minneapolis, memorably, with a sleeper and all that astonishing scenery. But the Cascades route will always have a special place in my heart, and his. (As I write this, he's on the 509, headed down to spend a long weekend for his birthday.)
Friends sometimes ask if it isn't hard, being in love with someone who lives hours away. My stock answer: "Thanks to Amtrak, not at all."