Tag Archives: train

An “Ice on the Bay” Milestone

A couple of days ago, I completed the first draft of Ice on the Bay, my third Howard County mystery. Its completion coincides with another change in my life: a job change. For the past 10 months I’ve been making a two hour commute by car, train, light rail, and foot from my home in Baltimore County to northern Virginia. Today is my last day there. On Monday, I assume a new position much closer to home.

Both changes impact my writing. The completion of a first draft is a time to sit back, relax, and recharge. Not that I don’t continue writing. I currently have two other projects in the works: my SF/humor novel Space Operatic, which is about two thirds complete, and the rewrite of a manuscript my father left behind. But now I need to get some distance from Ice on the Bay, so that I can evaluate and revise it.

The job change means I won’t have writing time on board the commuter train anymore. Much of Ice on the Bay was written while riding the rails. I won’t know how my writing life will be arranged until I see what the new position is like in terms of schedule, commute, and work load. In previous positions, I often wrote on my lunch break. That may or may not be possible this time.

Either way, change provides new inputs for writing: new people, new experiences, new settings. All parts of life are interconnected, even if only in subtle ways, and any of it could be fodder for the next story.

 

Writing on the Train

A couple of months ago, I started working in Washington, D.C.  I live in Baltimore, which is reasonably close to the nation’s capitol, but it’s still a fair commute, around 55 miles driving distance and well over an hour travel time.   That’s why I don’t drive.   I take the train.

Commuting by train doesn’t reduce the travel time, but it makes it a lot easier.  Instead of driving, I can read, write, stare out the window, or sleep.  Frequently, it’s some combination of the above.  With a book and my laptop in tow, I’m ready for anything.

At first, I wasn’t sure how well I could write on the train.  It’s not always a quiet environment, nor is it necessarily private.  I had visions of the person seated next to me reading my words as I wrote them, while people behind me chattered away to my intense distraction.  But it hasn’t turned out that way.   Commuters aren’t much interested in what the person next to them is doing, and once I start writing, I’m nearly oblivious to the noise.

Many of my fellow passengers, in fact, are plugged into their cell phones, listening to music.  Many others read, either from books or tablets or e-readers.  (Book readers like myself seem to be in the minority, but we are still a large minority.   Print isn’t dead yet–not by a long shot!)  Others close their eyes, possibly to sleep, possibly to shut out the world.

In this environment, I can get sufficiently lost in writing that the journey seems far shorter than it is.  Nor, it seems, am I the only one.  Just yesterday, a young fellow sitting next to me opened up his laptop and began writing.  Although I didn’t read over his shoulder, I couldn’t help but notice his fingers flying almost nonstop until just before we arrived at Penn Station in Baltimore, where he closed up shop and debarked.  Whether for work or school or a project of his own, he’d written an impressive quantity during the ride.

We both had discovered the same thing: writing is a great way to commute!

 

Making Tracks

Kathy and I have been traveling by train with some frequency in recent years.  Kathy’s first long-distance train ride was 13 years ago when our oldest granddaughter was born.  The delivery had been difficult (to put it mildly) and grandma’s presence was required for a few weeks.  Upon her return, she waxed euphoric over the wonders of train travel.

I had ridden commuter trains for awhile, but my first Amtrak ride took place a couple of years later, when we attended the Association for Baha’i Studies conference in Calgary.  We rode the Capitol Limited from Washington, D.C. to Chicago, and from there took the Empire Builder out to Shelby, Montana, where we rented a car for the drive up to Calgary.  (If you’re ever there, we recommend the O’Haire Manor Motel, a nice place and, if things haven’t changed, the only place in Shelby you can have a rental car delivered to you.)  The return trip featured the same two trains.  But this voyage wasn’t so smooth as Kathy’s previous; the train was late getting to Chicago, the Empire Builder broke down on the way back and was horribly late getting back to Chicago, and I learned that although like Kathy I do enjoy riding trains, unlike Kathy I can’t sleep very well in a coach seat.

For awhile, I thought maybe I was train-incompatible, because nearly every time I boarded a train, something happened to delay it, the people around us were strange, or something alarming happened.  On one trip, a woman who had spent three days on trains with her three young children had to get off with the help of paramedics when two of the kids got very sick.  I hope everything turned out okay for her and her family.

This past weekend, we took another trip to Chicago via the Capitol Limited, this time to visit my parents.  On the return trip, we spent the extra money for a sleeper, which made the trip even more enjoyable because it was quiet and I was able to actually sleep.  We met several nice people in the dining car along the way, including a couple traveling east to help their son’s family move to a new home and a teacher who had some very definite opinions on the test-driven paradigm of present-day education.  (Hint: He seriously didn’t like it.)

One interesting thing about train travel is that many of one’s fellow-passengers are veteran rail riders.  Amtrak ridership has increased significantly since 2001 and the increased hassle of traveling by air, but convenience and the relatively lower cost aren’t the only reasons people go by train.  Many truly love this form of transport, and it’s not hard to see why.  You don’t have to drive, you can get up and move around, you can see the country, and (if you’re a people person) you can meet lots of interesting characters.

There are downsides, to be sure, but that’s true of any form of travel.  For us, the pluses outweigh the minuses.

So long as I don’t put a hex on the train, anyway . . .

Header image courtesy of tiverylucky at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.