Thursday, March 20, 2014


Last month, my friend Jamie Gadette (whom I've known since we were 16 and I was making amazing punk rock/hip hop mixtapes for her) posted a link to this article.
The Wire -- Inside AmTrak's (Absolutely Awesome) Plan to Give Free Rides to Writers - Amtrak has begun offering "writers’ residencies" to, well, writers – long roundtrip rides aboard Amtrak trains dedicated solely for the purpose of writing.
It's a brilliant idea and a great way to get people back riding trains. Sort of, anyway. Apparently, from the limited research that I've done anyway, it's pretty hard to actually get approved. I imagine that there's thousands of writers that heard about this and immediately tried to apply.

Amtrak had to then figure out what kind of writers get residencies and how often they can afford to offer the program. The thing is that these days, just about anyone can call themselves a writer. Every coffee shop in LA is full of aspiring screenwriters and every coffee shop in Brooklyn is filled with 23-year-old kids writing their autobiography (thanks a lot, Lena Dunham; but Allison Williams, if you're reading this, call me).

Trains are a little bit obsolete in this day and age. Flying is cheaper and faster (though maybe not safer. I mean really, it's 2014 and my friend uses the "Find my iPhone" app to keep track of where his wife is at all times, but - as of now anyway - it's been two weeks and we can't find a god damn Boeing 777 airplane?) and driving is pretty convenient if you're going short distances. Trains take anywhere from 2-5 times longer than flying and is way more expensive.

I've never ridden the train long distances in the U.S. I took one in South America, and it was pretty awesome. It feels like this is a good idea, but Amtrak is probably being very selective about who they give these residencies to. They'll probably want at least a bit of publicity out of each one, so it'll have to be some sort of established writer. Not like a famous novelist, but someone that actually has a wide readership. If it's a journalist, they'll probably be someone with connections to a few bigger magazines or websites. The first writer that tried it out was Jessica Gross. The piece she wrote during her trip was published by The Paris Review.

It's really hard for me to believe that they'd just let someone with a blogger, WordPress or Tumblr account ride the train for free for a few days, but I don't know for sure. I do know that they're only selecting 24 people, which makes it more competitive than I thought at first.

But it definitely won't stop me from trying. That's on my imaginary list for "Things to do in 2014."

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