#AmtrakResidency – I (basically) did this, and it was awesome.

#AmtrakResidency – I (basically) did this, and it was awesome.

March 10, 2014 2 By Tad Reeves


Amtrak is running a contest right now under the handle #AmtrakResidency, giving writers the opportunity to live on an Amtrak sleeper car on one of Amtrak’s long-distance routes for a period of 2-5 days, so as to foster their creative juices.

I wanted to throw in my own opinion on this, seeing as I’m a pretty dedicated Amtrak fan (taking my kids on as many trips as possible), and I (basically) did this #AmtrakResidency trip on my own about 15 years ago.

Over Christmas 1998, I was in Chicago doing computer work, was a single 21-year-old guy, and missed my flight back to Portland, OR.  The airline was unable to reschedule me for anything less than $900, so – in protest, I decided to take the train back to Portland.

At the time, Amtrak offered something called the “All Aboard America Pass”, and at the time allowed one to go anywhere west of the Mississippi for up to 6 months, and get off the train as many as 8 times along the way, all for about $350.

So, I took my bags and my laptop, and proceeded to take an absolutely epic journey around the country.  Starting at Chicago Union Station, I first went down to St. Louis to hang out with a pair of my friends who were going to college there.   One of the two girls happened to be planning a trip to Kansas City the next day, so after spending the night with them, I next took the train over to Kansas City with one of them to spend another day romping around the city there.

After that, I took an Amtrak connecting motorcoach up from Kansas City to Omaha, NE, stayed the night in Omaha at a friend’s house, and then got on the California Zephyr out of Omaha, bound for Oakland, CA.

Amtrak trains all are riddled with 110v power outlets (located in every sleeping car, by every coach seat, and even in the lounge cars and the excellent panoramic view cars as well), so on the long journey through the midwest, I was able to get considerable work done on my laptop, writing the copy for a whole website, and doing all of the design work for it as well.


We stopped for about two hours in Denver, where I was able to get off the train, walk around the city, and get breakfast at a local deli, before boarding again and taking that most-breathtaking climb into the mountains from Denver, our three GE Genesis locomotives pulling us on the winding track that lead up out of the city and past Winter Park, CO ski resort (which, in hindsight, was an asinine move to NOT stop at – being one of the only ski resorts in the USA directly served by an Amtrak train), and through the snowy Rockies to Grand Junction, and thence on to Salt Lake City.

We stopped to refuel in SLC, and as I had time on my hands (and as I was barely 21) I decided to set off on a beer run and attempt to retrieve alcohol for the three girls I had met on the train.   I caught a ride to the 7-11 from a guy who, I later find out, is a bum, and who manages to con me out of $50 because of some sob story he cooked up.  I was 21, naive and absolutely bought his story as well as his promises to pay me back.  What can I say.  I learned.

Returning to the train as the newly-christened “beer guy” (as I was known by all of the Amtrak attendants despite the fact that I barely ever drink), I rode the train the rest of the way through the Sierras to Oakland, CA, where I said goodbye to my new friends and hung out in Jack London Square for a while before picking up the northbound Amtrak Coast Starlight for Portland.

The whole journey took me about 5 days, witnessing the last sunrise of the trip over the awesome Mt. Shasta in Northern California.

Mt. Shasta from the Amtrak Coast Starlight

Mt. Shasta from the Amtrak Coast Starlight

I’d have to agree with Amtrak’s reasoning that there’s nearly no better environment to sit and write in, than in the lounge car of a long-distance train.   You’re without cellular service for long periods of time, have fantastic scenery, and power for your laptop – a perfect recipe to sit and bang out some work on a laptop.

The All Aboard America pass I took on this journey has now evolved into Amtrak’s USA Rail Passes, which are available for 15-45 day periods, and unlike my trip, one is not constrained to west or east of the Mississippi, and take the trip in up to 18 segments.

Just figured I’d put in my plug for what I think is a fantastic way to relax and see the country.