Amtrak Resident: Maxwell Ivey
Amtrak’s Writer’s Residency program is meant to assist writers in breaking up their usual routine, exposing them to great scenery, and new people. Some have asked, and many have wondered, how does this opportunity help a blind author with his writing when he can’t appreciate it the same way? As my friend Ryan Biddulph reminded me, you don’t have to have sight to be in the moment.
My trip began in Houston on the Sunset Limited a little after noon. I was greeted by a friendly attendant who familiarized me with the car and its amenities. He also gave me bottles of water and offered me coffee or hot water for tea. I settled back to enjoy a leisurely ride to New York.
During my trip, I had some great conversations with the staff and patrons both in my car, as well as the dining and observation cars. I found people were willing to have a conversation, which is something you don’t always find when traveling by plane.
One of the best things about traveling by train is the lack of high-speed internet. Most of the trains have Wi-Fi, but in the middle of nowhere it doesn’t always work or always run at the speeds we are accustomed to. For me, this was a good thing; it gave me an excuse not to worry about how quickly I was responding to emails. I could take a break from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media.
While on my trip, I got so much work done. I wrote over 6,000 words on the train to New York and another 4,000 or more on the way home. Thanks to the swaying of the train and a wonderfully comfortable pull-out bed, I also got some great sleep.
Big Adventures in NYC
When I arrived in New York City, the real adventure began, and I quickly crossed several things off of my bucket list. I rode my first subway train, and experienced the Staten Island Ferry. I went skating at Rockefeller Center, ate at Katz’s Delicatessen, and saw Wicked on Broadway. I also took a ride in a pedal taxi, had dinner at an Irish bar and grill, and visited Trump Tower and Tiffany flagship store on Fifth Avenue. I even got to experience my first broadcast interview.
There was one experience I missed, though. After visiting much of New York on my own, I was surprised that I was denied access to the observation deck of the Empire State Building because I lacked an escort. I ultimately decided against visiting the 9/11 Memorial or the Statue of Liberty, fearing a similar result. This experience reminded me that people with disabilities should be able to access the same experiences as everyone else–something I’ll always advocate for.
Despite that experience, I want to say a few words about New York City and New Yorkers in general. I was warned that New York was a busy, loud, dangerous place. The truth is, New York was a wonderful place to visit. The people were friendly, helpful, and supportive. During the course of twelve days, I man bought my breakfast in a restaurant, a cabbie tried to give me his umbrella, two fellows from England put me in a pedal cab and pay the driver, and another taxi driver refused to charge me when my credit card wouldn’t work. So many people offered me information, directions, and a shoulder to follow to wherever I was going next.
All too soon it was time to leave, so I boarded the Lake Shore Limited to Chicago, and ultimately, home.
A Trip That Freed Me
I have decided that Amtrak is a blessing for people like me. Before this trip, I thought of myself as isolated and trapped; I felt like I needed to get out and meet more people face-to-face, but didn’t know how.
Living in a suburb of Houston with limited mass transportation, I envied my friends who lived in cities like New York, Chicago, or even Atlanta, but what I learned is that if you can get to the train station you can get just about anywhere in the country. You won’t always get there in a hurry, but sometimes that’s a good thing. Just imagine how much better our lives would be if we could learn to slow down and enjoy getting there.
Is there somewhere you’ve always dreamed about going? Why haven’t you? Take that first step and book your trip.
I look forward to many more travels and meeting many more wonderful people. I hope to run into you out there.
About the Author: Maxwell Ivey is a writer, podcaster, life goals coach, and amusement equipment broker from Houston, Texas. He is the author of The Blind Blogger website.