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Leaving a job you had somewhere you’ve never lived? Take the train to say goodbye.

I rode the rails west to say “bye” to Colorado coworkers I'd never met

A view of Denver Trolley tracks. The trolley runs from Confluence Park to Mile High Stadium. (Zach Bright, The Colorado Sun)
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This spring, I’ve had the opportunity to write for The Colorado Sun. But, surprise! I don’t live in Colorado. 

I’ve been reporting as an intern from my home in Evanston, Illinois, something I didn’t even know would be possible before the coronavirus pandemic changed my life. Instead of working for a news outlet in person, I had to work from afar — but as if I’d lived there.

Also, I’ve only been to Colorado twice. The first time: a decade ago on a family vacation. The second: last month on Memorial Day weekend. 

On that second visit, I rode the rails, opting for an overnight trip on Amtrak’s California Zephyr rather than a flight.

My roommate and I had wanted to go on an end-of-the-year trip to celebrate my undergraduate graduation and simply cap off the end of a remote and, frankly, sometimes weird academic year. Once we got fully vaccinated, we set the date and made plans.

I had just over a month’s worth of experience at The Sun under my belt when I began reporting on the hospitality industry in Colorado, through which I learned just how low some hotel room rates were. And I had only had the pleasure of meeting one of my coworkers, Erica Breunlin, back in April when she happened to be visiting family in Illinois. So my trip meant I’d have the chance to meet at least a couple of the people I worked with closely.

Growing up, I spent summers seeing my mom’s family in China, home to a high-speed rail system that set my standard. But I wasn’t acquainted with Amtrak. We started the journey from Chicago’s Union Station, a high-ceilinged hall, dotted with a handful of passengers in the main complex. The gates were beyond capacity, with throngs of passengers waiting for their train to come.

When the gates opened, a sea of people moved out onto the platform. We boarded the train, squeezed our way up some stairs to the upper level, and found our seats in coach. There was ample legroom compared to what I’d find on a flight. Then began the 18-hour ride. 

Things started slow. We were delayed for over an hour, after which our train lurched from the station onto the open rail. We left Chicago that Thursday afternoon and made our way through what felt like more cornfields than grains of sand on the Earth. A flight wouldn’t have provided us with that view, not to mention the time to relax and unwind. 

I actually got a chance to read for fun, diving back into my book: “The Making of the President 1972.” My friend decided that it was the perfect opportunity to traumatize herself by watching “The Lovely Bones.” 

We arrived at Denver Union Station on Friday morning, and I finally got to experience in person some of what I had reported this academic quarter. 

For one, the mask mandate had mostly lifted, something we noticed visiting places like the Denver Zoo and the Denver Botanic Gardens. When I finally got coffee with Dana Coffield and Jesse Paul on Sunday, the place refused to accept cash, something that soon won’t be possible with a new measure passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis. And the weather that weekend confirmed May was definitely a wet month, with rain following us as we hopped around thrift stores in Denver’s Baker neighborhood later that day. 

As soon as it began, the weekend ended, with our train back home leaving Sunday evening.

How did I end up at The Colorado Sun to begin with? 

My work was part of Northwestern University’s journalism residency program. The school partners with papers, magazines, production companies, and marketing firms across the country to give us hands-on professional experience. As the name implies, my peers and I would, in normal circumstances, go out to all sorts of publications and workplaces. 

This year was anything but that. Many of us stayed home, learning to navigate our jobs without meeting anyone in person. That’s what I had the fortune of doing at The Sun. 

I forgot to snap a photo with Dana and Jesse during my time in Denver, but I certainly got some good memories. Even from afar, working with the staff taught me how to be a better reporter, and going to Colorado showed me that you guys live in a great state. With my new experience under my belt, I’m heading out farther west to Reno, Nevada. There I’ll be reporting as an intern for The Nevada Independent, just 11 more stops away on the California Zephyr.

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