Traveling by Train

This was being built in South Station in Boston. It's huge and intricate.

This was being built in South Station in Boston. It’s huge and intricate.

I’ve decided I like traveling by train. I come from a family of sailors, so the old saw “it’s about the journey, not the destination” was part of growing up. After all, if there isn’t enough wind, you might not get to your destination, so the journey would be all you had. There’s also nothing quite like skimming across the water hearing nothing but the sounds of the waves and the wind through the rigging. You may as well enjoy it. Travelling itself was also an event once upon a time. When it took days or weeks to get to a destination, it wasn’t just to pop in for a cup of coffee between tennis lessons and book club. Going somewhere was an event for both the traveler and the one being traveled to.

Somewhere in Iowa, I think. Look at how rich and dark their soil is! Can I take some home with me?

Somewhere in Iowa, I think. Look at how rich and dark their soil is! Can I take some home with me?

When I decided to visit my family for Thanksgiving, there were three choices for travel. I hate flying. Well, that’s not true, really. I like flying. What I hate is rushing to the airport, waiting in line, being inspected, having my stuff inspected, rushing to my gate, waiting at the gate, and finally being shoehorned into a seat that, let’s be honest, just ain’t big enough for a significant portion of America whether you are measuring height or width. Option two was to drive. I like to drive, and I have driven myself from the East Coast to Colorado. That would mean that I could take anything I wanted, and I would be travelling on my own schedule. The problem there is that I couldn’t do anything else for the two- or three-day drive, and as much as I love my car, she isn’t super gas-efficient. That’s not helpful for my wallet or the environment. That left the train. I was allowed two carry-ons and two checked bags, which is all I can carry, anyway. I would have hours in which I was neither asleep, nor occupied by another task, which would let me read things I’d been putting off for a while. It is also far and away more fuel efficient to travel by train than by plane or car.

I love how water just happens in New England. (Sadly, trains don't stop for photo ops.)

I love how water just happens in New England. (Sadly, trains don’t stop for photo ops.)

I came to the conclusion on the journey that we need to go back to shipping our politicians via train for their campaign travels.  There were stretches of countryside, and for most of the trains we were up high enough to see quite a bit of it. Seeing the differences as we went along was fascinating. Every town that we went through, however, we got to see the armpit of. Even if you do live on the “right” side of the tracks, if you live near the tracks, it probably isn’t the good part of town. Chicago, in particular, was tough to look at. I think it would be good for more politicians of all stripes to step away from the people that go to $1,000-a-plate fundraising dinners and take a closer look at how the rest of us live.

Chicago, not far out of the station.

Chicago, not far out of the station.

The main drawback to train travel is that not everyone can take the time for it. I appalled a few people by mentioning that the trip from Colorado Springs to my friends in Baltimore was 48 hours. With layovers, the trip from Boston back home will be more like 60 hours. I happened to luck out with having both the time and the money to afford it. If I had been working with the usual two or three weeks vacation over a year, I wouldn’t want to waste four days on travel that I could have been spending with family and friends. (I also shocked a few by mentioning that I had done 18-hour stretches on trains without wifi! The horror!)

That is encouraging, isn't it?

That is encouraging, isn’t it?

Then, there were the people. They were all over the spectrum. Some of the more memorable ones included the woman that was having a phone conversation behind me at 1 AM. Her vocabulary had all the range of a stereotypical trucker, and I’m not sure I heard a single complementary thing come out of her mouth. This was particularly delightful since my seatmate was 10 years old. On the good side, I talked to a grandmother, a chemist, a soldier (thank you), a pot grower (from Colorado, it was legal), and a delightful young family that was moving to South Dakota. The two girls in that family impressed the heck out of me. They were helpful and cheerful despite the very, very long trip, and the older one was fun to talk to.

There is some hope for this version of transportation, though. Denver's Union Station is having some major renovations done.

There is some hope for this version of transportation, though. Denver’s Union Station is having some major renovations done.

The other drawback to public transportation like trains and buses is that it isn’t terrifically popular in our car- and plane-centric society. The train stations aren’t necessarily as well kept as an airport, and they don’t really have as many amenities. There also aren’t as many transports. I am writing this from a Starbucks in Denver because the only Grayhound bus that goes from here to Colorado Springs leaves 12 hours after my train got in this morning. I checked twice. One. Down from two due to lack of use. Ah well. I’ve always wanted to be one of those people sipping a latte and typing away industriously on their computer in a cafe. I am embracing the journey.

 

Addendum: I may have to slightly alter the armpit of the town statement, at least for Denver. They’ve done some awesome stuff with the old warehouse district that is, naturally, within spitting distance of the tracks. Funny what you learn on long layovers.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. I haven’t traveled by train since I was a young child, but I remember loving it. Great choice on your method of travel, and I enjoyed reading a bit about your experience.

    Reply

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