NOTE: this post is rated PG-13 for an instance of mild strong language.
If you feel you need an introduction, perhaps you haven’t read my previous post, “Train Trip – Part 1.” Or perhaps you don’t need this introduction at all, and yet here it is, like that weird snub-nosed hair dryer provided in a hotel room, or those gross individually-wrapped toothpaste-flavored candies in the glass bowl at an otherwise great restaurant. (This introduction exists for the sake of form; I try for a certain consistency with these posts, having not yet read enough Donald Barthelme to develop better habits.) Suffice to say I’m in a huge rush, writing a bit here in the observation lounge before the rest of the family wakes up. Thus, there may not be any structure to this post, and it may run a bit long. The Times regrets—no, wait, the Times breathes a huge sigh of relief—that it isn’t paying me by the word, nor, in fact, at all.
I’m in the observation lounge, looking out the huge window at, uh,
I’ve often filled our water bottles here at this abandoned bar, reaching over its low partition, feeling vaguely subversive. If anybody gives me a hard time about this it’ll be the Scoutmaster to my right, who is presiding over six or eight Boy Scouts on this train. The other day this Scoutmaster scowled at me hard for no apparent reason, though I’ve decided the scowl might just be his natural expression. He doesn’t look happy at all, though perhaps I wouldn’t be either if I had to wear a full Boy Scout uniform in public throughout my vacation.
Anyhow, yesterday evening I saw somebody manning the bar for the first time, but it was a college-age girl, standing behind the partition working on her laptop PC. I couldn’t figure out why she chose that area, having to stand and risking the wrath of the Scoutmaster, when there were seats available. (She wasn’t serving drinks, needless to say.) This morning the mystery is solved: she was there for the electrical outlet. This train, though it looks a lot like the one we took east toward
Downstairs from the observation lounge is the snack bar and a restroom that mainly serves the coach passengers. This restroom is certainly harder-used than the ones in the sleeper cars. We only use it when the kids need a restroom during our meal, as it’s quicker to get here via the observation lounge than to go back through the sleeper cars. During one meal I stood outside the restroom, chaperoning Alexa, when another passenger (ball cap, sleeveless t-shirt, slack jaw, paunch) went right by me toward it. It didn’t occur to him that I was in line. I guess he thought I just preferred standing over sitting, and preferred restroom-perfumed air to fresh. I said, “Hey, dumbass, you think I’m just standing here for my health?”
No, of course I didn’t really say that. I said, “There’s someone in there.” He replied, “Both of ‘em?” and continued down the short dead-end hallway. There is of course only one restroom there. I replied, “Oh, I didn’t know there was a second one.” When the guy discovered there was only one restroom, he said, “Oh, my goodness, right you are! I’ll line up behind you like any reasonable person.” No, of course he didn’t say that. He didn’t say anything: he just tried the latch on the one restroom, where Alexa was. I guess he figured I was lying about the restroom being occupied, or was somehow mistaken, or perhaps he thought that tiny door would miraculously open out into a giant multi-stall men’s room. Alexa called out, “Excuse me, I’m in here.” The guy came back out past me, mouth-breathing, his brain unable (through overexertion or sheer paralysis) to contrive a facial expression. This is the beauty of a train: aren’t you glad this idiot isn’t on the highway instead, buzzing along at 80 in his Ford Expedition, changing lanes without checking his blind spot?
Off the train
Last Thursday we got off the train in
The train was only about four hours late, which wasn’t bad at all over such a long distance, with a freight train derailment along the line. (Amtrak pays the freight companies to use their tracks.) Our checked bag, however, took another forty-five minutes to reach us. It’s hard to know, in a train station you’ve never set foot in, that you’re in the right place, that there isn’t an evil twin baggage claim area that actually has your stuff. There were no announcements of any kind concerning any of this, and when I asked somebody in an Amtrak uniform what was up, he said, “Oh, it’s on the way. They had to wake up baggage.”
We spent the night in
As I cropped the photo just now, this big black woman passing behind me must have looked over my shoulder because she said, “Mm-mmm-mmh.” And she’s right.
It was hot and sunny and humid in
There’s a big park in
Unreasonably close to the departure of our next train—which would take us a short distance up to
There is no window at all in the men’s room of the 96th floor lounge.
It was a bit tight making our train to
After a lovely few days with our friends we headed back to
We still had time to head over to Giordano’s for real Chicago-style pizza. (Doubtless a local would contest the “real” label, since Giordano’s is a chain, but so is Uno, and we have no guide, so what could we do?) Regardless, it was tasty:
(Note, in that photo, how assiduously Lindsay is wiping salad dressing off her plate so as not to taint her pristine pizza.) In case you’re wondering how this ‘za compares to other offerings, it’s quite similar to Zachary’s in
We have many dozens of itchy souvenirs from
During dinner the other night, we crossed over the
If a Martian landed on this train and looked out the window for a few days, he would probably conclude that corn is the main thing we humans eat. And yet all these cornfields aren’t abounding with the sweet corn that humans can eat; it’s all for cattle. So the question is, where is all this cattle? In feed lots, of course, and though rolling by a feed lot or two would be educational for the kids, I’m just as glad they’re not on display here.
We also pass by fields of soy, though I somehow missed my opportunity to photograph them. At least the kids got to see them. In their bedroom at home is a
This isn’t to say the scenery is boring. The rows of manicured crops create nice optical effects if you blur then focus your eyes. The abundance is kind of soothing. Meanwhile, I get to watch freight trains, which pass by regularly. The sheer range of vintages and styles of these trains never ceases to fascinate me. Watching them at stations is the best way: when they come by, you can feel the vibration in your feet and the wind coming off of them. They are serious industrial beasts. Best of all, when I'm traveling by train I don’t have to look at automobiles. In general, I hate cars. If you asked me to rate each car we saw as we drove along an American highway, I’d say, “Ugly, ugly, ugly, ugly, passable, ugly, ugly, hideous, ugly, ugly, okay, ugly, ugly, passable.” And there are too many lousy drivers on the road to give me complete peace on road trips. The train is really the better way to go.
Check back soon for Train Trip Part 3 – Dining Car Ewok Meatloaf Special!
dana albert blog
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