AWP Day 1: trains, brains, and automobiles

I don’t really have much to report from day 1 of AWP, except that Seattle is STUFFED full of writers right now, and we’re not even all here yet.

I do want to backtrack and write a bit about my journey up here from Portland, though, because this was my first train ride in the US (unless you count the tourist train through the Big Thicket in East Texas my grandparents took me on when I was a kid). I’ve been on trains before, mind you, but they were both in Europe (in Austria and The Netherlands), and let’s be honest, one can’t really compare the European rail system to the American one. We’re a shoddy second cousin at best. But actually, the short journey I took on the Amtrak Cascades held up quite well to the short trips I’d taken in Europe, and to tell you the truth, I’m officially addicted to trains. I was only halfway through my journey today when I realized I can’t imagine why anyone would ever opt for planes or road trips when you have a train at your disposal. The security nightmares of air travel don’t exist at all, the terminal was charming and easy to navigate, boarding was swift and well-organized. The seats are bigger, the legroom is bigger, the aisles are bigger, the lavatories are bigger, the windows are bigger (and the views just as breathtaking). You don’t have to wear seatbelts, you can hop up and roam the train any time you want (no seatbelts-fastened signs!), there’s a bistro car where you can grab a beer or a cup of coffee (I opted for the latter) and sit at a table and sip in comfort — and the prices aren’t jacked up (if you’ll pardon this expression) sky-high. I paid two dollars for a cup of coffee, and it was perfectly decent, and the barista (there was a barista!) was so friendly he was singing while he worked.

And the conductor on the train — waistcoat and flat-topped cap and watch on a chain — had thick sideburns straight out of the 1910s. I sorely wish he’d also had a mustache and half-moon glasses with which to read the tickets.

So, in short, I loved the train.

Of course, the best part of the train — by which I mean the extra room to really stretch out and enjoy oneself — was that I was able to set up the laptop and get a lot of writing done. I took an hour break to roam the train and drink some coffee in the bistro car, but the rest of my three hours aboard, I was toiling away at a long story I’ve been wrestling with for years, and I think I made good progress. Or, I got a lot of writing done, whether it was progress or not. Students, take note: I set out to cut as much as 2500 words out of a 7500-word story today, and by the time I’m finished, I’ll have added a thousand words. This is not the way you edit! But it’s the way I edited today.

(PS: Heard about Amtrak’s new writing residency yet? The one where you can ride the train and write full time? I’m totally doing that.)

The other best part was eavesdropping on all the other writers on the train, headed to AWP as well. In fact, one fellow writer discovered from Facebook that we were on the same train and we wound up chatting a bit. The same thing is already happening on the streets and in the restaurants of Seattle: at lunch, my friends and I paused long enough in our conversation about prose poetry and flash fiction to overhear another table’s discussion of James Thurber’s “The Catbird Seat.”

After registering at the conference (which is HUGE) and settling in, my friends Hobie Anthony and Amy Foster Myer and I all headed out to Rock Bottom downtown for the Festival of Language reading, a massive opening event with something like 50 readers at the mic, including Meg Tuite and Robert Vaughan, two online friends I met in real life tonight. A lot of people are missing, with flights delayed for hours this afternoon, but already the mood is raucous as the downtown area teems with writers wearing AWP badges.

Tomorrow is a full day, and I’m not sure when I’m going to have time to sit down and record the day, so tomorrow’s post might be short and/or late. But I’ll be here at some point. In the meantime, if you’re reading this from the conference, come find me in the bookfair tomorrow or at the keynote address tomorrow night (Annie Proulx!).

But tonight it’s gotten so late that I just watched a raccoon lope across the street outside my window. (This actually just happened.)

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4 thoughts on “AWP Day 1: trains, brains, and automobiles

  1. I so love getting to learn, live, and travel through your blogs.  I too love trains and Dad and I want to take a train trip someday, even if it is just to Dallas and back.  Jon did this when visiting Kate one time and he loved it as well.  Getting to have residency as a writer on the train sounds awesome!  Hope you get to do that!  Tell them you need a trip from Oregon to Boerne, imagine what you could get written during that time especially if you could stop and enjoy along the way!  Hey maybe I should apply, lol!  Anway enjoy your conference and thanks for sharing.   Julie Snoek

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