The train rolled south and serpentined through the Eastern hills and hidden rural gullies behind ramshackle homes before branching off to the west. It was clear we'd left the cities behind, and were being given access to hidden worlds seen only from a train's vantage point. Somewhere around West Virginia, a group of young boys mooned us off a steep hillside. I'm sure this must have been a daily after-school ritual--tribes of bandit kids defending their territories by the tracks, unafraid of the metal fortress that intruded on their kingdom.
I remember the first state we rode across that made me feel truly far from home, far enough away from my comfort zone to wonder what it would be like to "be from here." "Here" seemed like nowhere, just a small cluster of lights--sometimes just a single light shining like a lantern on the horizon. Every few minutes these lights would reappear, flickering, before they'd evaporate like tiny vapor dots, always in sync with the train's rhythm. "Here" it was dark, vast, and lonely, and I couldn't peel my face away from that window. I wanted to know what those lights were. I loved how they made me feel, awakening this wondrous sense of dislocation within me. The train was an invisible whistling force, and it was just the two of us--inside the darkness--passing through Iowa.