Sunday, March 09, 2014

I've Applied For The Amtrak Writers Residency of my nicknames that longtime trans activists call me is the 'Air Marshal'.   I got that nickname to not only differentiate me from 'Sea Monica', aka Monica Helms, but because I was working in the airline industry at the time I transitioned 20 years ago next month and frequently flew to many trans community lobby days and events in the mid to late 90's-early 2K's. 

One of my international bucket list things I want to do is ride one of the bullet trains in either Japan, China or France 

Hopefully before I leave this planet I will see that type of high speed intercity rail service operating here in the United States.  The Acela is a distant cousin of the French TGV, but despite the design of the locomotive and the train high tech aspect that make for a comfortable ride even at high speed, it isn't traveling in the Northeast corridor at over 200 mph like the TGV and other international bullet trains do.

File:The Sunset Limited & The City of New Orleans.jpgBut to get that high speed rail service, we'll probably have to kick the anti-infrastructure spending Republicans out of national power for at least 40 years for it to happen.

The last time I took an intercity train trip predates the Amtrak years.   It was in 1966 when my dad was working for WBOK-AM and I was a four year old living on the West Bank in the New Orleans suburb of Marrero.

Mom took me and my brother to Houston on the train to visit my grandmothers for a few days before we headed back to NOLA.  A year later Dad got transferred back to Houston to start his morning drive time show at KYOK-AM and we moved back to H-town where I subsequently stayed until I bounced for Louisville in September 2001.for my nearly nine years stint living there. 

2010 02 24 - 2055 - Washington DC - Union Station.jpgSo yep, it's been that long since I've taken an intercity train trip.   A lot of that is fueled by the fact that I live here in Texas and not the Northeast Corridor, Eastern seaboard or the Left Coast where that mode of travel is a far more frequently used option.  In the Northeast there are daily service train travel options that are used, with one of the enthusiastic Amtrak passengers being Vice President Joe Biden.

Some of my colleagues who came to Washington DC for the recent LGBT Media Journalists Convening I just attended who live and work in the Northeast Corridor did so by train.   The fact that you can transfer to WMATA rail trains from the cavernous and renovated Union Station makes it even a more desirable and relaxing way to travel. 

I've been to Union Station a few times during my DC trips to not only catch WMATA rail trains from there, I've also shopped and had dinner there as well.starting with my 1998 lobby trip to DC. 

We do have an Amtrak train that comes through H-town three times a week in the Sunset Limited that runs from Los Angeles through Tucson and San Antonio to New Orleans.  

The Amtrak terminal here is a small one on Washington Ave, but for those of you who frequently travel on METRORail's Red Line you'll note that the Burnett TC Station platform s elevated.  

HoustonAmtrakStation.JPGIt was designed that way to not only to get over the railroad tracks there, but was part of a design for an intermodal transit station that would have combined the light rial line with METRO bus, commuter rail, and intercity bus service that got canceled in 2010.  

It could possibly be revived when METRO gets the funding to build it and talks with Greyhound and other bus carriers with bus stations scattered across H-town allow it to happen, but for now the small train station at 902 Washington Ave that was opened in 1959 is what we have to work with. 

In New Orleans the Amtrak terminal is less that a mile from the Superdome and the New Orleans Arena and 1.4 miles from Bourbon Street and the French Quarter.   Eastbound Sunset Limited travelers from Houston can connect in New Orleans with the City of New Orleans route that goes through Memphis and eventually ends up in Chicago or the Crescent that goes through the ATL and eventually ends in New York. 

The Sunset Limited if I ride westbound on it, I can connect with the Texas Eagle in San Antonio to go through Dallas, Little Rock, St. Louis and eventually end up in Chicago to connect with the routes that go through there or if I continue from San Antonio to the Sunset Limited's western terminus in Los Angeles' Union Station I can connect with all of the West Coast service which goes through that city

What has me musing and talking about train travel is the announcement that the Amtrak Writers Residency program is official and I applied for it.   If my application for one of the coveted Amtrak residencies is accepted, that train trip in the States could be happening sooner rather than in the hazy future.

#AmtrakResidencyThe new Amtrak Residency program is taking applications for up to 24 writers to experience round trip train travel while honing their craft.   The idea came to fruition after New York based writer Jessica Gross got major attention after her piece Writing The Lakeshore Limited was published by the Paris Review and another writer tweeted that he wished that Amtrak had residences for writers. 

Well, what Alexander Chee put out there in the Twitterverse and Jessica Gross got to test drive is now an official Amtrak program that 24 writers will get the opportunity do.  

The selected writers will get to combine their passions for train travel and writing and take a long distance round trip Amtrak train ride subject to availability to work on their craft.   It's one thing to travel by bus or car across sections of the country and I've done both in my life.   It would be an amazing experience entirely to travel across the country by train and get to write about it.  

It appeals to the history buff in me because train travel evokes memories of an era before passenger jet service and the interstate highway system when it was the preferred luxurious way to go across country and had the same cachet among Hollywood stars of that era of traveling by private jet or in first class.  

The selected Amtrak writing residents will be given a private sleeper car equipped with a desk, bed, power outlets and a window to watch the American countryside roll by for inspiration with the Amtrak routes the resident travels to be determined based on availability.   

The residency applications will be accepted on a rolling basis and reviewed by a panel with up to 24 lucky writers being selected for the program starting March 17, 2014 through March 31, 2015. 

What are the qualifications for the residency?   A passion for writing (check) and an aspiration to travel with Amtrak for inspiration (double check) are the sole criteria for selection with both emerging and established writers being considered for it.   Residencies will be anywhere from 2-5 days and you can apply here. to my homegirl Dawn Wilson I've been aware of and interested in it since the Gross article came out, but had to wait until Amtrak finalized the details about the residency program before I could apply

Since I have applied, the hurry up and wait hard part is coming.  But the bottom line is I have just as good a chance as anyone else who has submitted an application to win one of those 24 potential slots.

Hopefully if I'm blessed enough to be one of the people selected, you'll see a post coming from me composed as I rode the rails with new laptop in hand taking in the countryside of whatever route I'm fortunate to be on.  

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