Ridin’ the Rails

AMTRAKGenericWe’re contemplating another long trip, this time by train. I say “we,” but the contemplation is mostly mine; my wife is indulging my dreamery and allowing as to how she would be OK with the trip if I take care of the logistics, the requisite comfort along the way, and eliminate all elements of stress that might arise as a result of my little flight of fancy. We’ll see how this plays out.

My first thought was that we’d take the Amtrak Texas Eagle out of Dallas, leaving mid-afternoon and wandering through east Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, and through Illinois to Chicago, arriving just before 2:00 pm the following day.  An alternate—which has great appeal to me for sentimental reasons connected to Steve Goodman’s classic folk song make famous by Arlo Guthrie—would be to fly to New Orleans and take the City of New Orleans, leaving the city at 1:45 pm and arriving in Chicago the next morning after stops in Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, and then rolling through the length of Illinois.

Either way, we’d spend a few days in and around Chicago, visiting Geraldine and other people and places we long to see.  When we lived in Chicago, years ago, we loved to drive up to Wisconsin, stopping in Mukwonago at The Elegant Farmer, a country store (a tourist trap, really, but a delightful one) at the end of an electric trolley line that starts in East Troy, Wisconsin. We’d see the sights and listen to the sounds of Chicago, too, but the communities a day-trip away, places in Wisconsin and Michigan and Indiana, have as much appeal to me as the city…though I do want to see and experience Chicago again.

Once we’d spent all the energy and money we could afford to spend there, we’d head out on the next phase of our trip, leaving on the Lakeshore Limited at around 9:30 p.m., rolling through Indiana and Ohio during the night. Day would break as we pass through western Pennsylvania, somewhere around Erie, and then we’d watch the world go by as we make stops in Buffalo, and Rochester and Syracuse…maybe we’d stop there to visit with Teresa…and Utica and Schnectady and so forth, on into Massachusetts where we would arrive in Boston late in the evening, around 9:30 p.m., to see Carol if she’s up for a visit.

Then, back on the Lakeshore Limited for the rest of the trip to New York City, where we’d spend a few days, perhaps getting together with Larry for lunch and conversation. New York is a beastly expensive place for tourists, and we are frugal to a fault, so we’d probably leave on our trip south after just a day or two or three, getting on the Crescent at Penn Station about 2:15 p.m. and wandering down through Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Charlotte, getting to Atlanta the next morning around 8:00 a.m. Then, on through Birmingham and the rest of Alabama, wandering through Mississippi during the afternoon and arriving, finally, in New Orleans about 7:30 p.m., just in time for dinner.

There’s no convenient way to get from New Orleans to Dallas on Amtrak, so we’d probably finish the trip by flying back into Dallas the next morning.

The downside to train travel in the U.S., aside from limited availability and unfriendly schedules, is the fact that “sleeping” accommodations on Amtrak are miserably uncomfortable and obscenely expensive. The cost of basic travel, meaning decent reclining seats, is not at all unreasonable…much cheaper than by air.  That being said, the trip we’re contemplating would require us to “sleep” only one night at a time in our seats.  I’ve been looking at a 30-day USA Rail Pass, which allows up to 12 travel segments in a 30 day period (from the date of first travel), for $669 per person…equivalent to two round-trip flights by air, if you’re lucky and get non-refundable tickets.

Of course, it takes a lot more time…but it provides opportunities to see a lot more of the USA at relatively close-range than does flying at 35,000 feet after subjecting oneself to unnecessary and invasive infringements of one’s personal space.

I’d like to take the Sunset Limited route west to California, too, and then the Coast Starlight from Los Angeles to Seattle.  But that will be another time.  The loop I’m planning now may well happen soon…or maybe not.  We’ll see.

Needless to say, our plans to sell our house and move to a more hospitable climate are being held in abeyance at the moment; they WILL be executed, just not quite yet.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Ridin’ the Rails

  1. druxha says:

    My, my!! John, you’re beginning to remind me of Lowell Thomas. It is truly admirable, not only how you have planned one trip after another, but also the way in which you plan it, and follow though! No pipe dreams, here. You and Janine are genuine travelers….I think that’s wonderful. Best of luck with your new adventure!

  2. Teresa says:

    I like the way you blithely say “back on the Lakeshore Limited for the rest of the trip to New York City…” You know that that bit of the trip requires backtracking to Albany to meet up with the Lakeshore Limited? Might be more straightforward to get one of the trains going right to NYC from Boston. 😉

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