The California Zephyr, or the great crossing of the United States by train

Part of the reason I decided to take a 72-hour train journey from New York to San Francisco was because I wanted to slow down. This new pandemic year had been equally strange, but very different from the previous one. 2021 has been marked by a kind of back and forth between isolation and a return to freedom. In isolation, we continued to talk about hoping for a return to ‘normal’, even though we quickly realized that there would be little ‘normal’ left in our lives. At least, normality would not be the one we knew before.

But after more than a year of confinement, we had also managed to convince ourselves that our lives before had been, in many ways, too fast. There now seemed to be great virtue in slowing down as much as possible, rethinking our priorities and passions, and promising to live more intentionally once “this situation” was over.

Yet, at the slightest hint of a return to freedom, we seemed to collectively abandon this concept. In some neighborhoods of New York, the city seemed to return to normal life. Newspapers proclaimed the summer of 2021 to be the new “Summer of Love”, hinted at the return of the Roaring Twenties, and even announced the potential beginnings of a new Renaissance.

People under 30, like me, went out every night to bars and restaurants in the East Village. After midnight, nearby Washington Square was so often overrun with throngs of revelers that wealthy residents of the towers surrounding the park complained, prompting late-night scuffles with riot police.

Suddenly, “the summer of love” has also become the summer of all plans: plans to see friends, have dates, find apartments; travel plans, back-to-office plans. Projects to make up for lost time.


Of course, all this refers to a simple but essential idea: we would do anything not to feel alone. Especially when you’re just beginning to find your place in the world, the pressure to not feel alone can be almost overwhelming on its own.

And 2021 was out of the ordinary in terms of loneliness. Drowning in my own futile plans, I realized that after all the months in which I had had so much time I didn’t know what to do with it, and all the others in which I came to the conclusion that I had to lead a slower and more leisurely life, I suddenly found myself in a race to “catch up”. Now my time was anything but mine.

I was anxious, tired and felt deeply alone. I knew I needed to do something to get away from it all. Something just for me that I knew no one else would do with me.

This is how I found myself crossing the United States by train. It takes two trains to go west: the first, the Lake Shore Limiteddeparts New York at 3:40 p.m. for Chicago, where a six-hour layover leaves just enough time for a brisk walk to Lake Michigan and stock up on snacks before returning to the second train, the California Zephyr.

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