During "smoke stops" the train stopped long enough for passengers to get off for some fresh air (or a cigarette). My favorite smoke stop ritual involved racing back and forth along the platform with Tyler and four of our new friends.
Tyler and I were on our way to DC for the holidays. Because we had the time and like an adventure, we decided to take the train from California instead of flying. We planned to break up the three-and-a-half day trip, visiting friends in Madison, Wisconsin, where Tyler used to live. Everyone we told thought it sounded really cool. Folks who had taken the train before, told us how social it would be.
And it was. I Jauntied my first passenger in the Emeryville station. On board, I chatted with a few people, but spent most of the first day relaxing. I kept my phone off, enjoying being unplugged. I read and ate clementines. Initially, I didn't have the energy to socialize much.
Passing through the Rockies, I successfully "cold read" Laura, a woman in her sixties who is into long-distance, solo hiking. Kat had just finished a year at an educational farm and decided to take the train back to Pennsylvania, rather than flying, to ease into the next chapter of her life and figure out what to do next. It was touching seeing her draw monsters with Emma, a seven-year-old Australian. I loved talking with the Aussie family who were starting a fifteen-month trip through India and Nepal.
In connecting with people, I discovered everyone was taking the train for one of three reasons:
2. They wanted an adventure. Or in a few cases,
3. It was cheaper.
Tyler and I fell into the second category. Here, people in the first group could talk openly about their flying phobias and no one would make fun of them. But apparently they'd gotten a lot of flak from people at home.
"Why on earth are you taking the train?" People scoffed. "So you had some bad turbulence once? Get over it."
This got me thinking about "frame." When Tyler and I told friends and family we were taking the train, they all thought it was really cool.
Similarly, everyone on the train was so friendly, approaching strangers felt totally normal. I hung onto this frame off the train too. Our longest smoke stop was in Denver, where Tyler and I ran off the train into the grand, new station. I laughed with the woman in the ice cream shop and struck up a conversation with a South African photographer. I felt like I was bursting with magnetism and didn't think it was remotely strange to talk with anyone. And because I believed it was totally normal, so did they.
"All aboard!" Choo-choo!