The 2:30 am hookup with the train out of Seattle always wakes me up. The train is pretty full tonight and will continue picking up passengers all the way to the last stop before Chicago. I and my young seat mate, on his way to visit his girlfriend’s family in Montana, will get off in Whitefish. He’s been to four states and four countries. He’s never been on an American train.
A large group of Amish, Mennonite, or Pennsylvania Dutch—I wish I better knew the difference—boarded with us in Pasco, headed home to Pennsylvania. Grandfathers with twinkly eyes and long beards chatted farming and economics with young fathers holding bottles and bright-eyed pajamaed babies. Grandmothers with bonnets and shoulder capes chatted with each other. A young mother with an eight-month-old baby sat down to rest beside me. I heard a slight lilt in her otherwise perfect English as she happily answered my questions about their travels and asked me about mine.
I’m fascinated by groups like this who are not afraid to be different. I buy jams and aprons from local Hutterites and read Mennonite storybooks to my children. They’re not all miserably chained to their existence, forced to conform or else—although I’m sure some groups exert more internal pressure than others. Many are genuinely joyful, happily engaging with each other and with strangers, not unlike the tattooed bikers, bearded hipsters, mission-minded retirees, brawny railroad repairers, and Patagonia-wearing mountain climbers I encounter on trains. There are lines between us, but I doubt they’re actually where we draw them.