It's 9 pm and the electricity on the train goes out. This is planned.
6:30 pm finds me boarding in Austin. I find a seat next to a quiet girl who doesn't really look up from her Netflix. This is good.
The train starts to move.
Almost to San Antonio, the research for my layover plan begins. Trains are famous for layovers. Sometimes long ones that can leave you in a new and strange city for hours, some quick and breathless jolts of adrenaline running from line to line to catch the next train, and some like the layover in San Antonio. Here several cars from one train line are disconnected and moved to a separate train line. While this happens, the lights go out. People sleep. The train is stopped here till 2 in the morning. But without the air whirring and sounds of the train moving it's an eery stillness. Not for me though. I make plans.
My seatmate turns out to be a small town girl attending my alma matter. She was taking her first cross country train trip. Just because. Excited, we decided to adventure together for the night. This happens a lot too. Layover trips with strangers. A quick hour here, 3 hours there. Trusting that they won't lead you astray, or make you miss your train or get you in trouble.
I take her on her first Lyft ride to the San Antonio Riverwalk. We wander among the still lit up Christmas trees and she sees the boats moving down the river and because it's a Monday night its super quiet and the lights twinkle brightly. In the bar we are one of three people watching the game, but we lose ourselves in conversation about how we are alike and different. Small town versus big city, high school boyfriend versus online match. I joined all the clubs I could, she never met one she wanted to try. We both text our husbands who we are with and what we are doing. Our team wins, and we return to the train.
The train cars are still being moved and we are stuck outside. A salesman from Dallas. A few on a cross country trip for the first time. Some hippies singing a song. We cram together at a tiny table in the back of a the station, giggle at the pre-teens partying at an event center next door in fancy clothes and compare them to us, adults in pajamas, laden with luggage. We order pizza, Domino's taking forever and give them directions to meet us at the train station, "we are actually ON a TRAIN," we say, "Meet us here" and laugh. We tell stories. The hippies play the guitar and we sing along. And it's talking in a way you don't normally talk to strangers.
When the train doors open at 1 am we shuffle back to our seats. My seatmate reaches her destination in the middle of the night. I would never see her again. But I'll see the singer in the dining car, the salesman taking a smoke break outside in El Paso or Alpine in the early hours of the morning. We'll smile at each other. And say, "Remember last night? When the Domino's guy couldn't find the train? And those crazy teenagers, right?" It will feel like a dream.
The songs from the hippie's guitar stay in my head, over and over on repeat. And the train rolls on.