Trees, trees, and more trees

I awake to a very different world, in heavily forested central Washington state. T-Mobile reception picks up again, and I squeeze in calls to voicemail as the signal meter rises and falls. One message is from the movers. They want to drop off my belongings. Because of the one day delay introduced by the Capitol Limited, they beat me to the destination.

My room in the second Seattle sleeper car is on the lower level, and the view feels less commanding than from the towering upper level. Across the hall are two retirees who'd gone to the same high school, hadn't seen each other for forty years, had just recently reconnected, and had finally gotten together. They were, in fact, going to a vacation in Alaska with several high school classmates. "Only six couples are coming," the woman explains. "Not everyone can afford the cruise."

The man is retired, having once worked for US Steel in Pittsburgh. As a freight train roars past on the next track, he describes how poorly freight cars are maintained, and counts the flat spots on the wheels. The two of them have saved up for the trip for months. They are fortunate indeed to have caught the tail end of the age of the blue-collar working-wage job, where one could do a bit better than making ends meet. Organized labor struggled for centuries to achieve this, and enjoyed it for only a century. The protected industries of the past — protected by tariffs, by oligopolies and regulated monopolies — which could afford to give concessions to labor to keep their workers happy, are fast disappearing.