vegan on a train

cafe car

Behold the glory of the Amtrak Empire Builder cafe car, where you can sip your coffee while waiting for your cell phone to charge AND get trapped alone with the chanty-ranty guy who is probably just autistic and off his meds but scares enough people that he’s escorted off the train and into the back of a squad car.

That’s me in the shadow on the window there. Nobody really spent much time in here—the real action was upstairs, where you could actually get a comfortable seat and a view. Just to my right was the cafe/snack shop, which boasted an Amy’s vegan burger, but since it was packaged like everything else, in plastic, ready to go in the suspiciously fast microwave, I was afraid to try it.

Aside from the burger, there was…no, I guess that was it. Spending 45 hours on the train, I was sure lucky I planned ahead and brought along plenty of food, because unless you arrange it with Amtrak ahead of time, there’s not so much as soymilk for ya. I asked. I even brought along squeezy packs of almond butter, figuring I could get a bagel, but DENIED! The bagel is already packaged all spread with cream cheese.

So here’s what I ended up eating:
• a Sweetpea marionberry muffin, packed in an Earth Balance container so as to maintain its shape
• a chocolate panini from Pearl Bakery. This held up perfectly fine for two days (wrapped up, of course).
• a bagel with Earth Balance and nutritional yeast. This ended up being a gross mess because, in spite of the fact that I chilled it, waiting an extra hour for my late train in a 95° station made it all melty.
• Tofurky Jurky
• peanut-butter pretzels
• fruit leather
• Clif bars
Also, I picked up a plastic flask and filled it with vanilla Silk creamer, then froze it. I figured it would keep chilly at least for a day, but it was in the same 95° station as me and my bagel. Maybe not the safest to use this in my coffee after it had been room temperature for two days, but whatever. I survived.

I wish I would have had a little cooler of sorts, even one of those insulated lunch bags, with an ice pack to keep my stuff cold. I didn’t know how much room I was going to have. Even in a packed train there was plenty of space in the overhead luggage area.

Since nobody could give me any helpful hints before my trip, I searched around online and used my imagination to prepare for living in a box for two days. Baby wipes, baby wipes, baby wipes. I only wish I could have shared with the people around me. Whether you’re running around or sittin’ on your butt, some washin’ up is called for. Most people didn’t change clothes in the airplane-size bathrooms (I did—very carefully), but a little deodorant, folks? Please? A backpacking pillow and a thin throw blanket helped a great deal, for comfort and security. I don’t think I could have gotten those precious 15 minutes of sleep each night if it weren’t for my blanket. And to keep my video Zen charged up, I bought a $35 lifesaver, a back-up battery that was good for five recharges. So I watched movies and listened to music almost the entire time.

Overall, the trip sucked. If Tom or any other non-stranger would have been with me it would have gone much better, I’m sure. But when you’re trying to sleep and some dude’s butt is touching yours, forget it. (Amtrak, would it kill you to put in armrests?) And things like a cooler would be easier to manage with a buddy. As a not-so-social person, there was no way I was going to try the dining car, where they seat four to a table whether you know each other or not, but I might with a friend. Oh well; it was a cheap alternative to flying, and it was a new adventure. Fortunately, my parents took pity on my sparkly-headed, sleep-deprived self and surprised me with a flight home. (Note to self: Try to put them in a really nice home when they get old and crazy.)

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