The Amtrak smells of coffee both fresh and stale – Have you noticed that? Hazy footprints of visitors long-since past, mixing with fresh ones from passengers just now boarding. I like it; it’s like a mini Starbucks on each train car. Beats the rotten, old-air smell of the public transportation trains back home. I always get a weird sense of pride when I notice nice things like this around Providence. Similar to how I root for the Patriots now instead of the 49ers. I think it’s because this place, with every passing second, is becoming more and more like home than the place I have left behind. You can tell a home by a football team.
I was taking a red-eye train back from Pennsylvania, a bad decision by any standards. I was bad at falling asleep in vehicles, and even worse at waking up. I was expecting a disaster, and when I woke up on the train seats at 6:49 AM–with the knowledge that we were supposed to pull into Providence at 6:45 AM and were now instead speeding along to the next stop–I had a good bit of time to think about my situation. Twenty minutes, at least, before I could get off at the next stop and figure out how to Uber back to Brown. I thought about how this train ride was allowing me to see more of the East Coast than ever before, plus this little extra, dawn-darkened and ephemeral sky outside the train window, due to my mini sleep-in. I thought about how strange it was that you could travel for an hour and hit about eight different states on this side of the country, whereas eight hours at home would take you from California to a little more south of California.
I checked the train schedule on my phone. There was time to kill before the next stop, so I stood, walking past sleeping college student after sleeping college student. The train was full of them. I’m sure they all had the same idea last night: stretch Thanksgiving break out to the longest, stay at home just an hour extra, and then an hour more, then take the redeye back and sacrifice comfort on the train for a little more comfort at home. The café cabin was just opening for the morning; the man behind the counter looked even more tired than I felt. I wondered if he’d gotten a Thanksgiving break too; did grown-ups get vacations, or was it just for us kids to go home?
I didn’t go home this break—Did that make me a grown-up?
These sorts of thoughts indicated a need to caffeinate, so I ordered some shitty coffee and a bag of chips, which I like to call a breakfast of champions. It wasn’t rich in appearance, but when you feel like this—at this time in the morning—it isn’t too far off from something fresh off the skillet from your kitchen. The café cabin even had a counter, mottled black like the kitchen counters in houses. The gray reclining chairs were the beds, and the identical cabins the rooms back home. The parallels disappeared slowly from my head as I sipped the coffee, but they were there, certainly. It was a replacement for home, whether it be a four-bedroom house in California or a Brown dorm. Home for a night.
In high school, my teacher said, “Once you graduate and go off, this place will never really be your home again. You’ll come back, and it’ll be different. You’ll be detached.”
“Chill,” we said. But it must be true if my standards are now so sunken that I find a piece of a home on an Amtrak train car hurtling away from the stop I was supposed to get out on. But I think about finding those homes, local and not local. Maybe that’s what life is—jumping from home to home, finding these little pieces of homes on our walks and train rides and coffee runs. That place I grew up in might not be my home again, but the point is that once, it was my home.
Seeing this train cabin as home, for fifteen minutes more, as it takes me away from College Hill doesn’t make any less of the previous ones. I’m sure it will offer me the small comfort of bringing me back too.
Photographs by Jack Hegarty
Edited by Rachel Lee