Friday, June 02, 2006

Planes, something, and automobiles

I'm going on record in saying that I absolutely love train travel. At lest, train travel under certain conditions. But when those conditions are met, there really isn't any other way I'd rather travel over long distances, crazy as that may seem. If it isn't obvious, I had a lovely time on my trip... I'll provide you the sort version of my travel log. (And yes, I kept a travel log... how do you go on a cross-sountry train trip and not keep a travel log?)

On Monday, I arrived at Penn Station with no hassle. I got there in plenty of time to print out my pre-paid tickets, then waited around with the other expectant passengers to see and hear the announcement of my departure gate. Once we got the information we were waiting for, a herd of us slowly made our way through a turnstile, down an escalator, out to a platform, and down the length of the outside of our train until we each reached our designated car, based on our travel destinations. I was headed for Chicago, so I'd be in the last car. I sat in coach, next to a really nice woman, a special ed teacher who was headed home to Indiana.The seats were very large, very comfortable, with footrests and leg room aplenty. There was also an electrical outlet right next to me, which made my movie-watching and general laptop endeavors a sweet reality. Dinner was spent in the dining car with a retired couple on their way home from seeing their grandkids... they lost their house in a tornado a year ago, but they're in a nicer house now and doing very well. Then, I went to sleep in my chair... not bad, considering it was a little tough getting perfectly comfortable. Still, I've certainly been through worse.

The next day, we arrived in Chicago. I skipped out on breakfast, not feeling too hungry. It was about 10:00 AM when we got to Union Station, and I made my way immediately to the first class lounge, which I was now allowed to use because I'd gotten a sleeper for the second train. Oh yes... things were going to be a little different from this point on. I got free coffee and soft drinks and snacks, complimentary lugage storage while I waited for my departure time, and lots of cushy seating and big screen TVs everywhere. Since I had a few hours to kill, I walked around in Chicago for a couple of hours, then read my book in a park across the street from the station before going back inside and sitting around with my free coffee and couches. We were then escorted to our train, which was a two-story superliner. I would be in a roomette for this leg of the journey, a small sleeper designed for two and with plenty of room for little me. It was awesome... the food was already included in the price of the ticket at this point, plus complimentary bottled water, juices, shower facilities, and a 24-hour attendant who saw to my every need, including turning down and making up my bed like some kind of ninja... I have no idea how she knew when I would be gone or how long I'd be, but she always did.

The meals on this train also included more great conversation with interesting people. A mother with two small kids told me she was excited about having gone back to school to get her BA, and was looking forward to continuing on to her masters. Another woman was visiting relatives she'd gotten separated from when she escaped from her home in New Orleans during Huricane Katrina. A lovely elderly genleman was on his way to his 29th national bowling tournament, and was looking forward to seeing San Antonion again for the first time in about twenty years. Pretty cool. Oh... and on top of all that, the food was great. Needless to say, I was never bored... between the conversation at mealtime, the reading, the laptop for movies or work or journaling, the newspaper the attendant brought to me in the morning... I definitely found ways to keep myself occupied, and it was never a challenge to do so. By the time I got to Dallas, I actually didn't want to get off the train.

The verdict, of course, is a glowing review of my overall experience. Frankly, I never want to fly anywhere again. Okay, sure, it took a while to get from point A to point B, but it was so enjoyable and relaxed that I could have stayed another day. There's a lot to be said for looking out the window and seeing the country as you travel through it, of meeting is people, even in passing... Yeah, this was good, and I highly recommend it, especially if you get a roomette. the train rocks around a little, and it's a world of small spaces... it's also not a great place to be if you can't stand being around people much at mealtime (although there are ways around that, but that takes the fun out of things). If those things aren't an issue, though, and you have the time in your travel agenda, definitely take a look at AmTrak. There. Hopefully, someone from AmTrak will come across this blatant little commercial and thinking kindly enough of me to treat me to a free ride. You know... for all this good press I'm giving them. But seriously... if you've never done it, you should, and make your own judgment. Obviously, I've made mine. I don't think it'll be long before I'm on my next train trip, and I almost don't care where it's going, whether it's to glory, love, or Clarksville.

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