Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Choo Choo Charlie and a .... CLASS AAACT!

Some quick-hit thoughts about my first half-cross-country train trip:

  • I spent over 13 hours on the train, each way. 26 hours total. The train was the Lakeshore Limited, traveling from NYC to Chicago and points in between. It was pretty much on time the whole trip, which apparently is rare for this line known as the "Late-shore."

  • I got excited arriving in Chicago on Friday morning, but even more excited arriving in Syracuse on Monday.

  • I slept probably a total of 6 hours, which isn't bad, but it wasn't a deep sleep. Every bump in the track made me jump awake, and in both directions someone decided to be loud. Heading west around 1am, a mouthy know-it-all got on the plane and began to pontificate everything he knew about trains, travel and American history to the stranger next to him, all while the rest of the car was trying to sleep. At about 4am heading west, a woman (who's voice was identical to Mia Farrow's, by the way) began yelling at her (I'm guessing) husband about "who unlocked the door!" Apparently one of the kids locked the door, and then suddenly it was unlocked, and she wanted to know WHO THE HELL UNLOCKED THE DOOR for about 40 minutes before she slammed closed her cell phone before storming into the restroom sobbing. Of course, she went from Chicago to Syracuse, depriving me of more sleep. In fact, I was surprised by how many people were going to Syracuse from Chicago.

  • Since I knew I'd have unlimited train time, I brought the entire three-box set of all three extended versions of The Lord of the Rings in case I got bored. I got halfway through "The Return of the King." I was never actually bored. I turned the iPod on for maybe an hour total, and got through about 5 pages of one magazine. I had two seat-mates on the way to Chicago and sat all by my lonesome on the way back.

  • I enjoyed traveling across the country, because even though it took so much longer, it was cool to travel through different cities (even though there wasn't much to look at in Buffalo, Sandusky, Toledo or Gary, at least at their train stations) and arrive somewhere. It felt more like a journey. Also, I wasn't 1/10 as nervous on the train as I would have been on a plane. Irrational to be sure, but it got me through the trip. Plus it was only $136, round-trip.

  • Union Station in Chicago is smaller than I expected, but it's clean and the people who work there are friendly. In fact, the people in Chicago -- and I'm told, the Midwest in general -- were so much friendlier than in New York, Philly, D.C., Boston or almost any other large East Coast city I've been to. Everyone I dealt with there was incredibly nice and helpful, and no matter what they were doing, they didn't act like they hated their jobs or their lives. Everyone from the baggage claim guy to the gal behind the bar at the station restaurant to the Hertz rental guy to the baggage check guy was friendly, smiling, helpful and pleasant. Plus, the station is where they filmed the "staircase scene" in The Untouchables, which is awesome!

  • Another note about Chicago, the city. It's a great place, brimming with life and culture, and unlike most cities (I'm talking to you, New York), it doesn't feel a constant need to TELL YOU how great it is, but rather, it just IS. On the other hand, it's a very hard-to-navigate city in that if you don't know the local areas, you have to circle around a dozen times because you missed the sign -- if there ever was one -- the first time.

  • I walked in on a woman taking a leak (I hope) when she didn't lock her door. She slammed her door angrily, but maybe if she had been paying attention she wouldn't have had to worry about it. All I said was, "Oops." I mean, it was a full door, so I couldn't check for shoes. I do have to say, the train did smell like pee from time to time.

  • I don't know that I could ever make the trip alone, but I'm kinda glad I made it in the first place. It's the furthest I've ever traveled by myself, and it didn't go completely without a hitch.

Epilogue: I would highly recommend travel by train if you have no hurry to get to where you need to go, and like to just relax while gliding across the country. I wish it maybe wouldn't have taken so long, but as long as you keep enough stuff around you to keep from being bored, you'll be fine.


Willie Moe said...

Everyone was nice Bill, because you were in the Midwest or "real" America. I'm sure Joe the Ticket Agent, Jim the Conductor,and Skip Baggage Claimer were all very nice to you.

The VP said...

You know what city doesn't have tell you its great? Schenectady!

DG Dunford said...

Inspired by this, I'm training it from NYC to DC and back this weekend.

Toastie said...

More importantly, did you get any deep dirt pizza. By gum that stuff is delicious!!

and you're right Bill, Chigago is pretty much the shit, until mid January when that wind is whipping off Lake Michigan at 25 mph at sub zero temps and your EL train doesn't have heat. But I'd trade that for the douche's I have to deal with daily down here in the District.

Oooh, David Lee Roth's "just a gigolo" just came on. JACKPOT!! And how 'bout that Philly Stinks Kid now huh?!