Day? Goodness Knows what day. The long train ride home. A new adventure. Now with people!

I am midway through the great unraveling of my trip Westward. I am in Omaha, talking with a woman from Pougkiepsie [sp. impossible] about her youthful dalliances with Frank Sinatra and that time he had his friends beat up Shecky Green at the Copa. "Frank," she needs to point out, "could be mean sometimes."

Frank from the snackbar is on the intercom saving us from illegal card games and reminding us of the federal regulations requiring shoes. Safe now, here is what I'm up to.

I am in the Lounge Car. I have become a small fixture here (a lamp?). I am one of the original 40 and can quietly trace my ancestry to the Emeryville station outside of San Francisco. We know all the other originals, we dine together on trout and vegetarian lasagna (twice), and we politely smile when new passengers complain about how slow we're going.

My great bike story is quite famous now -- I have given many variations ranging from humble to whatever the opposite of humble is -- and I click around in my cycling boots. Another guy my age is returning from a cross-country trip that was longer and harder than mine. I will deal with this. I am louder. I also have plans to throw him from the train if we ever go fast enough for it to do some harm.

Things move in and out here, just as passengers hop on and off. I move in and out of naps, in and out of cars, and when I am not in the bathroom and trying my best to shower under the sink, I am in and out of conversation. The train is a very social environment and, as a nice young man, I am often called to talk and be a fourth at meals.

We have two 12-year-olds coming back to their mother after a summer working on their father's carnival. I traded them pistachios for carny secrets, that I share with you gratis.

"Ok, so, the thing is, the hoop is an oval, it's not round, so you can't really get the ball in good. My cousin's really good at that game. Balloon pop? I'm the best at balloon pop. Once, my cousin and I made it so we played until we popped them all. It was long"

At this her brother chimed in: "My peanut." This is, apparently, hilarious because it is repeated over and over again. His sister shuts him up by wiping ice-cream across his face.

We have Robin and Sue and Sue's charming mother, Joyce, from Australia. We ate dinner together on my first night (vegetarian lasagna). Robin was once a cyclist but a particularly unpleasant hill ruined Sue's introduction to the sport and any hope of a couple's activity. I side with Sue here. Joyce is lovely; she has the voice of a bird. They are amazed that I haven't got a trace of an accent (accentless?) and I am amazed that people keep mistaking their accents for Chicagoan. Robin told me about the Auz gold rush of 51 and it turns out that some Americans, after reaching the Pacific, kept going in search of shiny rock. I am happy to be going east.

We have Connie, who talks, and her husband, who doesn't, but must have at one point because he is a retired judge. They are both from Columbus, OH, although they live in Iowa and recently had some farm equipment stolen by meth heads. We all talk meth, bike rides across Iowa, and her trip to Australia.

I talked pretty about Brett Farve with a family from the Bay, Utah with an elderly couple from Utah, Joan Crawford with a gay man from San Francisco, Cyprus and recent history with a Canado-Brit, poetry with a poet from Ithaca, train hopping and hitch hiking with some smelly (but visibly priviledged) kids from Oakland, and I muttered nice things to myself as I deliberately squashed the foot of a man with a New England Patriots jersey.

One of the train hoppers, a young man my age, was reading a Lebanese poet in large print. "Khalil is the man," he said, and there was no debating this. He swapped books with the girl I was talking to and cried out loud in the part where Woody Guthrie's sister died.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I just had to pick the part when she died, you know?"

This worked somewhat, and while I was sad to stop seeing the girl, I did at least stop seeing him.

Everyone lumbers up the rocking hallways. I saw a woman barrel up it like Charlie Mund in Barton Fink. I saw a man fall into another man's lap like a child. Standing is taking your life into your own shaking hands. The most sensible woman I saw was on the lower deck of the third car. She was wearing an oxygen mask, spread herself widely across the ground, wore no underwear, and armed herself with a bucket of fried chicken large enough to sustain even with Amtrak's constant delays.

Here are some thing I did not see on the bike: telephone wires can be made to dance if you pass them quickly; stationary clouds can be moved; there are water parks; parking lots where spots had been converted into small farm plots; alkaloid fields; mountains cleared by pine beetles; Nebraska; yourself in everything, reflected in the glass.

The nicest thing I saw was this: an elderly man and his daughter drinking coffee together. They were perpendicular to me, she held his hand, and when they laughed hard and rocked you could see the features that his face had lent hers.

We pass time in different ways. Young people watch movies on laptops and portable DVD players. Very young people play videogames. Very, very young people run around screaming until they are told not to. People my age play solitaire on their computers. Older people play solitaire by hand. These same people would rather exercise their minds with sudoku than stare at the scenery. Everyone reads.

This kills me:

A, B are old ladies. C is B's sister, hitting on a woman, downcar.
A: Five letters. 'Waiting for _____.'
B: Godot.
A: How'd you know that?
A: It was in People's crossword last week.

The woman C was hitting on seemed charming. Later, she would chat in my ear while I struggled with a particularly dense passage in Blood Meridian. As I could not beat her, I joined her. She was convinced that Richard Farina was on smack at the end of Been Down So Long because she was on smack in the 60s too. She had the entire train waiting to see a dinosaur in a cage near Glenwood; this was a big disappointment. Shortly thereafter, she put sandals on her tanned feet and walked off the train.

Mr. Minx and his sister conductor Mr. Livingston are trying to make up time into Chicago. Undoubtedly, I have missed my train. Perhaps I'll have to see the town.

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