Culturematic trial: tweeting train travel from Chicago to Detroit

Chicago on way to train station "Why not take the train?"

I was in Chicago Saturday.  I needed to get to Detroit.  What not take the train.

I'm a train buff.  So the train always occurs to me.  And I think of it especially when confronted with the prospect of spending any time in a crowded, airless metal cylinder at 31,000 feet.  Whenever I can take the train, I do take the train.  (I hope the train reduces my carbon footprint, but honestly I don't know that it does.  We burned a lot of diesel getting to Detroit.  [If anyone knows how to do the "carbon math" here (train vs. plane), please let me know.])

Love of trains aside, I was also looking for a culturematic opportunity.  My definition of the culturematic: "a little machine (or pretext) that helps make a cultural artifact."  (See the post called "Culturematic: a device for making culture in two easy steps" here.)

The simple rule in this case: tweet whatever happens to you on a 5 hour train ride.  There's something nicely bounded about a train ride.  It edits the world for us, driving lots out, keeping lots in. 

Engine with flag With this culturematic working for me, I didn't have to make very many literary decisions of my own.  Just write about whatever happens on the train.  These days people are not very well acquainted with train travel and I am assuming relatively few know the Chicago-Detroit run.  It looked as if this simple rule would craft an interest artifact. 

It went pretty well, I think.  Over 5.5 hours, I tweeted around 60 times.  (These are reproduced below.  Note that they should be read in reverse order.)  I did everything from my ThinkPad using my own wireless AT&T link.  (The train doesn't have WiFi.)  There were some moments of poor reception, interminable pauses as I waited for a text and photos to upload.  The audio files were especially time consuming and I lost a few.  But generally, things went smoothly. 

Farm equip from train leaning I had a set of rules within my culturematic.  I wanted to be entertaining and for this I was prepared to be maximally opportunistic.  I would use anything that came to hand.  I also felt some vague compulsion to give the reader the sense of "being there."  So I was looking for things that helped me tell "the train story."  The general idea then: be lively, be interesting, have fun, craft something that had some internal coherence and some expository heft.

Some tweets were a simple gift.  The sound system at Union Station in Chicago has a glitch so that each gate is announced by a disembodied voice that has its own build-in repetition and echo.  I recorded this using Tweetmic.  (I think the links in the stream below are live.  If they aren't I will try to insert them here.)  It sounded like something straight out of Blade Runner, the movie. Excellent.  I now had a "literary" reference. 

Ethnographic observations are called for.   One of these occurred to me in the waiting room from which I tweeted. 

"Chicago2Detroit by train: from the waiting room: some travelers absorbed in their books.  Others self conscious & look at watches ostentatiously." 

Boarding the train (It's 6:30 in the morning so I misspell ostentatiously. Don't look.)  People are often self conscious in public, and one of the usual deflection/displacement techniques we use is to look at our watches.  It's says, "I'm not just sitting here.  I'm waiting for something."  But of course everyone in the lounge was also waiting for something, the same thing, so the message was in this case badly formed…and therefore kind of charming.   We are reminded of the master observer of social life, Irving Goffman, who recorded many of the rules of public life.  Its unlikely that readers see this tweet as an evocation of Goffman, but it made me feel like I now I had a "social science" reference too.

Then there was the Safety brochure in the seat pocket.  Perfect.  It easy to see what the problem was.  The designer felt obliged to use icons, because, as we all know these are the secret of clear communication.  Please, she had one for fire that was pretty standard.  But smoke?  How to represent smoke?  Hmm.  She did her Amtrak smoke depiction easy target best, leaving us with a perfect target for a little gentle ribbing: "This is what smoke looks like in a train emergency."

No train travel is complete without intrigue.  Everytime I went to the club car, I noticed a woman scribbling furiously.  My tweet:

"There's a writer in the bar car.  It's easy for a noticer to notice a noticer.  I just asked her to let me know if she publishes something."

I kept missing good photos.  Working with an iPhone (slow) from a train (fast) means you often find yourself thinking "damn, that would make a good photo" when blammo, the train hurtles onwards and the opportunity is gone.  Hm, I thought, the problem is tweetable.

"Several missed photo opps: Farmhouse with "FIREWORKS" written hugely on side.  A tiny bank with it's sign installed upside down." 

Train food I ordered lunch and was appalled.  The train still serves 20th century food, manufactured and artificial.  The tweet here was easy too.  A photo and:

"Lunch on the train.  Hold the silver.  Hold the china.  Bring on the I-cysteine azodicarboamide.

Pretty easy target.  But I'm not proud.  I'll take anything that comes my way.  Naturally, I felt a certain pang here.  I didn't especially want to make fun of the train.  Some part of the point of the exercise was to persuade to use it more.  Still, I think the honest tweeter must include the bad with the good, in this case, Amtrak warts and all. 

I think the most effective pieces were the recordings.  (And for these, many things to the application called Tweetmic.)  I managed to record the sound of the station, the train leaving the station, the voice over apologizing for a brief delay.  I almost got a woman talking to her mother.    I hope you can hear these in the links below.  (I'm not sure how to include them if you can't.)  Let's see if this works.  Click

Amtrak lift off

for a sound file of the train leaving the station. 

I leave it to you to decide whether this culturematic worked.  I think it is probably best experienced in real time episodes.

Acknowledgements

Thank you to Jeanne Vaughn, Celestine Arnold, Christine Huang, and Global Hue for the invitation and to Google for the hospitality.  Thanks to Russ Hopkinson for hosting an impromptu meeting of planners.

The Twitter feed for my train trip from Chicago to Detroit, Saturday, November 7. 


today's meeting in Detroit: Organic Detroit , 2600 Telegraph Avenue Bloomfield Hills. Hope to see you there. Starts at 1. Ends at 2.
 via web
Detroit, a city in turmoil is a model of (and for) an imagination released from orthodoxy. Is this why this place so provocative of ideas?
 via web
C2D train: made it! Detroit. Motorless city. Five and a half hours of endlessly interesting. You may disembark.
 via Tweetie
C2D train: Beautiful old homes abandoned.
 via Tweetie
C2D train: wow. Do I stand corrected. In west Detroit a lot of factory space shuttered 
 via Tweetie
C2D train: I think this is a garbage mountain. See pipes for off gassing. 
 via Tweetie
C2D train: Just saw some serious factories. As opposed to the giddy kind. Lots of woods, though Call it very mixed use.
 via Tweetie
C2D train: another general observation. If this is the rust belt there is surprisingly little rust! Mind you. Still at Ann Arbor.
 via Tweetie
C2D train: That last piece of audio is actual "footage" of the train god apologizing. (tweetmic wouldn't let me rename after stall.)
 via Tweetie
Listen to my audio tweet. 
 via web
There r many things to love about train travel but this is a favorite. Unlimited energy. No plane drain.
 via Tweetie
C2D train: can't load my latest Tweetmic audio file but otherwise AT&T has been pretty accommodating. Despite all that Verizon taunting
 via Tweetie
C2D train: some quite good train graffiti but am shooting into the sun. Tradoff here: yr wk is legion but u don't get local props. Worth it?
 via Tweetie
Cathedral space. What in the dickens could be inside?
 via Tweetie
C2D train: from Albion to Ann Arbor.
 via Tweetie
There's a writer in the bar car. It's easy for a noticer to notice a noticer. I just asked her to let me know if she publishes something.
 via Tweetie
C2D train: I wish you could smell this. Locals are burning autumn leaves Banished from cities. It is the best smell. All the world a humidor
 via Tweetie
 no doubt no doubt
This world before corn? 
 via Tweetie
C2D train: a general observation. Maybe it's the route, but almost NO garbage tipping in evidence.All that friend of earth talk paying off?
 via Tweetie
Where breakfast comes from. 
 via Tweetie
I like the signals train people leave for one another, like tramp language in the uk. much info here?
 via Tweetie
Some cars going in the wrong direction
 via Tweetie
 yhx! of course I will not do it justice. Not armchair anthro so much as golfcart anthro.
C2D train: this ride has some of the same qualities as bilbao. You are out of time. And I don't mean the terrain. I mean me.
 via Tweetie
 look away! Look away!
C2D train: Battlecreek has these great 30's stalinesque skyscrapers. 
 via Tweetie
C2D train: Kalamazoo has a tremendous feeling about. But put off by big sign that read "come to the forest where the other you lives."
 via Tweetie
C2D train: wonderful wood frame houses in Kalamazoo
 via Tweetie
Kalamazoo suburbs under construction 
 via Tweetie
Lula says Brazil will be the world's 5th largest economy in a video interview 
 (via 
)
 via Tweetie
C2D train: chickens? 
 via Tweetie
C2D train: wonderful gull like irrigators.
 via Tweetie
C2D train: corn fields for ever 
 via Tweetie
C2D train: what's this reflection. My screen too small to see 
 via Tweetie
C2D train: something blooming about this light.
 via Tweetie
Amtrak station. Niles. I know, right? 
 via Tweetie
C2D train: Several missed photo opps: Farmhouse with "FIREWORKS" written hugely on side. A tiny bank with it's sign installed upside down.
 via Tweetie
C2D train: lunch on the train. Hold the silver. Hold the china. Bring on the l-cysteine azodicarboamide.
 via Tweetie
If you're in NYC from 2-4 this afternoon, join us at the SVA/MPS Branding Open House. Details: 
(via 
)
 via Tweetie
C2D train: train clinic 
 via Tweetie
C2D train: fellow traveler.White 50s female making plans on phone to take mother to dinner tonight.Will see if I can record.Just rang off.
 via Tweetie
C2D train: Indiana dunes I think. Several beaver ponds complete with beaver homes. No photo of same.Sorry 
 via Tweetie
C2D train: homes with an excellent view of the train.
 via Tweetie
C2D train: Inexplicably, train passes thru Shanghai just after World War II. No clarifying announcement.
 via Tweetie
C2Dtrain: voices from the bar car. "that's what they do! That's what they do. I love your style."
 via Tweetie
C2D train. Tug boats are the train's aquatic equivalent.
 via Tweetie
C2D train. Another train. 
 via Tweetie
C2D train: Convivial in that "i don't see you" way. AA woman in her 50s said hello to all of us when she got on. We said hello back.
 via Tweetie
C2D train. lift off 
 via web
C2D train: This is what smoke looks like in a train emergency. 
 via Tweetie
the sound of the actual engine. sorry can't send u the smell 
 via web
C2D train: Hoping this visible. It's the actual engine. Not the virtual engine or the metaphorical one!
 via Tweetie
Chicago2Detroit by train. from waiting room: Some travelers absorbed in their books.Others self concious & look at watches austintaciously
 via Tweetie
Listen to my audio tweet. 
 via web
Chicago to Detroit by train. Supporting evidence 2.
 via Tweetie
Listen to my audio tweet. 
 via web
Taking the train chicago to Detroit. Stage 1 
 via Tweetie

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