So You Think You Can Work Remotely: Trains

I wrote in a previous post about the struggles of working remotely while I was in Sweden: bad wi-fi, no wi-fi, time differences, balancing work with pleasure, etc. Today, I am going to bitch about working remotely and trains. 

I love traveling on trains. By far, they are my favorite way to travel. While less flexible than driving, trains allow me to kick back, relax, and watch the scenery go by. They are more comfortable than planes, and buses give me motion sickness, except those amazing sleeper buses in Vietnam. Why, oh why, do we not have sleeper buses here?

On the train to San Jose. I got a window seat!

On the train to San Jose. I got a window seat!

And that brings me to my first point about trains in America: wi-fi. The sleeper buses in Vietnam, a developing socialist republic, have free wi-fi. This enables their bus drivers to watch Khmer singing competitions while passing sixteen wheelers at breakneck speeds on one lane mountain roads. It’s disgusting how amazing the wi-fi is on these buses. But do American trains have wi-fi? Yes, some do, but not the Coast Starlight which runs from Los Angeles to Seattle. This train has rooms for you to sleep in with your own shower and toilet, but it does not have internet. 

Okay, okay, it must be expensive to run internet on trains. And Amtrak is slowly getting with the times; the Pacific Surfliner, the commuter train from San Diego to San Luis Obispo, does have wi-fi. It will eventually happen, and I am being a whiny, bitchy millennial who is complaining they can’t be connected 24/7. 

So here’s what happened. My boyfriend and I are in a long-distance relationship. We just started this whole long distance thing and we miss each other. He drives down to Southern California on the weekends to see me and I travel to the San Francisco Bay Area to visit him. It’s like I have two homes, which is really fun, but sometimes I have work deadlines. Big deadlines that require me to work twelve hour days to meet them. 

I don’t need to be connected 24/7 so I can check my Instagram or Facebook or see what Donald Trump has vomited on Twitter. I need to be connected to get my work done. Our entire platform is internet based as well as the communication with the rest of my team members. It is not possible for me to drive and work at the same time, but it is possible for me to work on a train. Or so I thought. 

I already established that Amtrak does not have wi-fi on the Coast Starlight, but what I do have is hot spotting and tethering through my data plan with Googlefi. Yes, this will increase my data charges lightning fast, but when I need to get something done, I need to get it done. I had the brilliant idea that I would just use my cell phone to hotspot and I would be connected. 

The train station in Oxnard has free wi-fi, so as I was waiting for my train, I was connected and working. Boarding call for the train comes, I packed up my laptop, and I head out for the train. I was in good luck. I had a window seat with two outlets and no one sitting next to me. I could hog all the electricity!

Somewhere north of Santa Barbara and south of Santa Maria

Somewhere north of Santa Barbara and south of Santa Maria

For the first forty-five minutes, I was connected and working, but once the train left Santa Barbara there’s no more connection. Being a complete idiot, I didn’t think about whether or not my cell phone would have service in the relatively isolated areas the train travels through. For hours, I struggled to connect, to meet my deadline, and not throw my laptop at the poor woman sitting next to me watching the Desolation of Smaug. 

I frantically sent a million texts to my boyfriend bemoaning what a terrible idea this was, but mostly it was just the word “fuck” over and over and over again. My frustration culminated in a phone call with my boss and the rest of my team back at headquarters that I kept dropping because I didn’t have cell signal. Mostly I just yelled, “YES. FRIDAY. GOOD.” into my headset as the woman next to me curled up into a tighter and tighter ball. 

I gave up six hours into my trip. I pinged my co-worker on Google Hangouts with some bullshit excuse like “My internet is acting up today,” as if my computer had asthma or something. I told him I would meet the deadline, but it would be really late that night. He, being a normal understanding human being, said that’s okay and he would get to editing my work on Monday. I probably could have saved myself the code red level of anxiety if I had just explained the situation to him earlier, but that would have required more forethought than my brain was capable of. 

There’s another Monday deadline. My original return trip ticket to Ventura was for Monday, but I couldn’t meet the deadline if I didn’t have internet. I was not going to put myself through the frustration. I could change my ticket to take an overnight bus and then a train from Santa Barbara to Ventura,  but that sounded fucking dreadful. I coughed up another fifty-five dollars and got a ticket for Tuesday. 

It’s all a learning curve. A really steep Sisyphean learning curve.