Here’s what you need to know if you ever have the regrettable pang of desire to try it out yourself…

I waited too long to book my flight to Denver for the holidays and the prices had doubled. Realizing my gainful employment as Rooster’s third handsomest writer wouldn’t be affording me the luxury of air travel, I was forced to think outside the box when it came from getting from Eugene, Oregon to Denver. A quick Google search revealed that my last, and only, option to get home post-Thanksgiving was a $200, 60-hour joyride through the 9th circle of vagabond tweeker hell, sponsored by Amtrak, America’s favorite dying transportation brand.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen … I would be taking a train home. Imagine ‘Snowpiercer,’ but with more oppression sprinkled in.

Look, train travel is not glorious.  You’ll never be quite comfortable, you’ll be dying for a shower and a good night’s sleep afterward, but there is still something inherently unique and inexplicably satisfying about the whole experience. The nostalgia of the cross country train ride is, after all, pure Americana.

Unfortunately, one slowly realizes there’s a reason why Amtrak still exists, and it isn’t out of sentiment. It’s because an enormous portion of the country is really, really fucking poor. That, and you can’t bring crack on an airplane. Out of all the people-like creatures on the train, it’s a pretty even split between poor families shuffling from one part of the country to another for whatever reason and nearly expired elderly people who are presumably terrified of flying on newfangled airships.

Needless to say, I was pumped.

I caught my first train at the downtown Eugene, OR. I would be spending the next 15 hours of my life on the endearingly named “Coast Starlight” line into the bowels of California, where I’d catch my connection to Denver.

I quickly learned that the first rule of thumb for train survival is to bring your own booze. This is of course not allowed by Amtrak, but it’s the only way of maintaining your sanity and is also your hope of passing out and getting any sleep whatsoever.

They do serve booze on board but it’ll cost you. The individual bottles of liquor are $7 a pop and a can of goddamn Budweiser is $5.50. For the fancier dilapidated vagabonds on board, there’s the option of a half bottle of wine for a stiff $16. Instead of bankrupting myself with these prices, I grabbed a pint of Beam’s 8 Star at a liquor store near the station. I chugged a 40 along the tracks as I waited to board.

I took a seat near the rear of the train and tucked my belongings overhead. I kept all of my valuables–the whisky, my wallet–on me.

With the whisky and beer were working their magic, the dopamine took hold and I convinced myself things weren’t so bad. Just look at that view of the Deschutes National forest through that bird shit-spangled viewing window.


All the food was just a variation of some sort of microwaveable, nutritionally absent, mechanically separated and re-formed shit. I ordered one of the plastic wrapped “hamburgers” from the cashier. He grabbed it from the shelf, pulled a rusty box cutter from his pocket, stabbed the package so it could vent and nuked it for two minutes. I grabbed some ketchup and mayonnaise and dipped my rubbery burger in unofficial Amtrak fancy sauce and tried to avoid watching a mom change her kid’s diaper on the table next to me.

Unfortunately, when it’s time for your body to desperately try to eliminate said hamburger, there are hundreds of people on board, but only two restrooms per train. When people aren’t shitting in them, they’re fucking in them and when they’re finally done with either you have the privilege of being ping-ponged about between the cramped booger and shit-stained walls.

Less majestic, but still majestic.

Now let’s talk leisure. When you’re not catching a few winks or taking a quick whore’s bath in the tomb of farts on wheels, the observation car is as good as it gets on the train. It’s a large open train car with small tables, individual chairs and several bench seats facing the open windows with a glass ceiling overhead. It doesn’t have the same cramped claustrophobic feel as the rest of the train. I spent most of my time in the observation car sipping whisky and reading. Most people are in there sipping beer or coffee minding their own business. A few drinks in, I got loosened up and accepted the invitation of a fellow passenger and played another grown and similarly drunk man in a random game of Battleship. The loser had to buy a round of drinks. I won.

We drank our Budweisers and went our own ways with a handshake and that was that.

The environment isn’t conducive to sleeping for more than 20 minutes at a time. People are always getting on and off through the night and as they move between cars the doors open letting in the cold and the loud screeching of the wheels. I put in my ear plugs, washed down some Dramamine with some bourbon and managed a few hours of sleep before sunrise.

I had very little much time between transfers in NutSacramento. I left the station and grabbed another bottle of bourbon and some aspirin. I made it back to station with a few minutes to spare. I stood on the same tracks waiting on another train drinking a similar 40 … Just 30 hours ‘til Denver…

The train broke down twice in Nevada, so they handed out individually wrapped cookies to people on board for the inconvenience. Thanks, I think? When it broke down for a third time, there were no cookies left and that was fine. I sat with my legs propped up against the window as the sun burned down overhead. A couple of porters threw off a pair of freeloaders in Salt Lake City then the train was trudging along again. A million hours later, I was in Denver.

I’d need to fumigate my luggage for bed bugs first and foremost and I hadn’t showered in several days, but somewhere around Eastern California looking out at the Stanislaus Forest, drunk on Beam and picking at a stale personal Digiorno pizza, I beat a different stranger in a gerrymandered game of Go-Fish and at that moment I was so strangely content I could’ve just shit …