I packed a suitcase (larger than the carry-on variety), a vintage Samsonite shoulder bag, and my vintage Samsonite train case. This last object embodies a lost and fetishized past for me in all sorts of ways. Mine is from the fifties and is notable for its raccoon sticker on the inside mirror. What did this sticker mean to the person that once owned this item? – I have no idea. The case is engraved with the initials D.L.R., so I’ve decided that a Dorothy Lucy Rochester once owned it and that she was a feisty newspaper lady back in the day. (I’m sure you know which day I mean.) She probably wore tweed skirt suits and drank bourbon and kept her male colleagues in line. The inside of the train case is lined with old blue plastic and smells like a clean Band-Aid. These cases were really designed for makeup, and they’re pretty bulky and heavy. Not the most practical of luggage. I didn’t fill it with makeup – no indeed. It just fit my planner, a few pens, two scarves, two hats, two brooches, a small bottle of bourbon, a half bottle of champagne, a small tumbler with a mid-century silver band around the rim, and a vintage etched champagne coupe glass. You can’t forget your travel necessities.
It would have been nice to travel with all vintage luggage, but let’s face it – it’s very hard to carry vintage luggage around as most of it doesn’t roll, and as I don’t have my own personal porter or manservant, although I am working on this. I found that it was best for me to stick with my rolling Target suitcase. And believe me: I had a hard enough time getting all this stuff down the stairs to Penn Station whilst wearing heels, but you gotta do what you gotta do.
So…what else does one want to bring on a train excursion? I looked into buying a travel blanket and pillow, but those things are very expensive: many were $100-200 simply because they pack down relatively small. But you know what else packs down? – My Ikea comforter from my very own bed, rammed into a stuff sack. And I did the same with a down pillow – right into a smaller stuff sack. Sometimes it’s nice to have your own things with you when you travel, and I really prefer to drool on my own pillow when possible. As I fell asleep on the Lakeshore Limited on my first night, I looked out onto a snowy landscape, and although my room was not cold, it was snug to have a proper comforter with me. (I also brought an eye mask and ear plugs. I am a big fan of earplugs. I wanted to have them in case there was any noisy malarkey.)
I also gathered a few things to do on the train. It never hurts to have some entertainment on hand. I brought two books: Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Middlemarch. I have read the former about ten times; I have never read the latter. I brought nice hardback editions that feel good in your hand. I also packed magazines of the trashy (Real Simple, Lucky) and non-trashy variety (The New Yorker) and a draft of an article I was writing. And I figured that it would be nice to watch a movie after dinner, so I brought The Cassandra Crossing (1976) and Strangers on a Train (1951), both of which depict utterly disastrous train trips. I am happy to report that there were no deadly outbreaks of disease on my trip, and so far as I remember, I did not intimate to any socially awkward strangers that I would like anyone in my life killed.
I also really like stuff, so in the weeks leading up to the trip, I collected some Amtrak paraphernalia that I have written about here. I found vintage postcards, old advertisements, a 1950s or early 60s brochure for the California Zephyr, blue plastic Amtrak swizzle sticks, an old used Amtrak matchbook, and a matchbook for the Fred Harvey Shops at Union Station in Chicago. So I popped all of those things in an envelope and brought them along, too. These objects tell a story about what these trains were like in the past.