Cross Country Train Travel: Notes from Maceo Paisley
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Cross Country Train Travel: Notes from Maceo Paisley

From the first steam train that rolled over the railways of industrial England in the early 1800s to today’s bullet trains that carry thousands of daily commuters, locomotive travel has changed the way we live and work. Beyond transporting essential goods and materials, the railways can be a transformative travel experience. Just ask Maceo Paisley. The Los Angeles multi-hyphenate creative (publisher, designer, consultant, singer, rapper, dancer) recently crossed the country by train. Whether you’re seeking to discover the great American landscape in areas accessible only by tracks – or simply looking to make a few meaningful connections – consider the great steam engine. Here’s his story on the appeal of high speed rail…

Maceo Paisley looks out on train tracks.

Maceo Paisley taking in the American landscape via train; Source: Millenia Train Project

Cluh-clunk, cluh-clunk, cluh-clunk. It’s the last thing you hear at night and the first thing you hear in the morning, like the train is both your lullaby and alarm clock. I pull the shade and wake up to a new state, a new terrain and a new lease on life…

Maceo Paisley plays harmonica with a friend.

Impromptu jam sessions were commonplace on this train ride; Source: Millenia Train Project

Traveling across the nation by rail may seem like something out of an old Western movie, but along with 24 other social change entrepreneurs and activists, I did exactly that. Because this is the sort of thing I live for! The opportunity to see so much of my country and meet people from diverse regions is my dream in so many way. As a member of the Millennial Trains Project, sponsored by NBC Universal, Nat Geo Travel and Tyson Foods, I was granted the opportunity not only to travel but also to connect with artists, entrepreneurs and activists as we rolled from Los Angeles to D.C. across the American South in a vintage rail car.

Maceo Paisley and author Amy Wilkinson.

Author Amy Wilkinson was one of the creative minds that joined in on the journey; Source: Millenia Train Project

You might think that spending up to 36 nonstop hours on a train with so many people would make us annoyed with each other, but the exact opposite happened: We bonded big time. Mile after mile, we shared stories and ideas and workshopped our projects in a format that was half summer camp, half professional development conference. We’d congregate in the lounge car equipped with records and refreshments. At any given hour, there’d be Lala (the obesity activist from South Africa) and Pichleap (the software engineer from Cambodia) in a deep conversation with Lydia (the Marine vet turned media entrepreneur). And on the opposite side sat Randy (the streetwear social justice crusader) chopping it up with Maritza (the happiness coach). Even if we were sitting in a conference hall, it would have been amazing, but we were in motion – a metaphor if there ever was one.

Train tracks illuminated over the city.

Trains offer nonstop movement, creating the perfect environment to set creativity in motion; Source: Millenia Train Project

There is no way to remain still when you are on a train, so it was my decision to stay moving. I had been reading a book a day since before the train started, so I would wake up, pull the shutter on my window and polish off a few pages. It was tricky to stay fit in those tight spaces, but if you got up early enough there was always a nook to be found.

People look out from the train's caboose.

The caboose is a special nook on the train; Source: Millenia Train Project

There’s nothing like waking up in a different place than where you fell asleep, especially when you know that every mile has been paved with tracks that could be over 100 years old. If you find yourself traveling on a train – be it cross country or just cross town – remember the journey is so often more important than your destination. For me this trip wasn’t about getting to DC, it was about all the people and places I encountered along the way. Be open to the people and places you encounter along the way.