The Southwest Chief: Across America by Train in 5 days
British photographer Anne Hollowday documents a cross-country train trip with 35mm film and an artful eye
Nearly everybody I tell in Los Angeles that the train is my chosen method of transport back to the east coast looks at me like I am insane. I explain that where I'm from, the train is a perfectly acceptable mode of transport. They, in turn, tell me about how America is different; its distances too vast, its people too unhinged. But more than anything, they look at me with a strange conflation of curiosity and respect.
I am gifted a journal, alongside a handwritten note that tells me I am inspiring. My British friends back home burst into laughter. Being from an island there's only a finite distance you can travel in any direction before reaching a coast. But when I waved goodbye to LA this time, it'd be another 100+ hours before I saw the sea again.
Traveling by train is a strange trick. There's something about the feeling of being in motion that can conjure great creativity, but by rail, you're moving slowly enough to actually take in the detail of your surroundings. And so, you stare out the window like a kid seeing everything for the first time. The time to reflect is a gift. Use it.
"Traveling by train is a strange trick. There's something about the feeling of being in motion that can conjure great creativity..."
My journey began with a 6-hour delay, which all veteran Amtrak travelers—I was among many—took in their stride with a grin and a quick retreat to the dining car to stock up on beers. Come mealtime an announcement is made to remind passengers that if you're not already in a party of four, you will be sat with future friends. It's a warning and an invitation. A part-time pastor from New Mexico was on his way to his weekly preaching job in Kansas, a couple from Pismo beach were celebrating their wedding anniversary in Santa Fe, an out of work actor from LA was en route to the opening night of his girlfriend's play in Colorado. Transience excuses honesty and thus conversations about politics, mass incarceration, social justice, and the welfare state abound.
After snaking through California overnight, I woke to dawn in Flagstaff. And so on. I busied myself memorizing the order of States over breakfast most mornings, knowing after this journey, I'd never forget them.