Do not ask why I love rail travel. It makes no sense. The equipment is falling apart, the attentiveness to schedules casual, your fellow passengers a mix of Greyhound misery and People Express cheapskates.
(True story: A friend of mine was traveling by bus one day, coming back to Columbus from somewhere in southern Ohio. Her seatmate said she’d been visiting her husband in Lebanon. “What’s he doing there?” my friend asked. “Three to five,” she replied.)
It doesn’t make financial sense, either. For short hops, you might as well drive. For longer ones, fly — it’s faster and cheaper. But for trips like the one we did this weekend, Detroit to Chicago, it still works. Travel time is less than an hour longer, and you avoid the big-city headaches of traffic and parking. Tickets for Kate and me cost $192 round-trip. We saved $70 in parking and $60 in gas, leaving a difference of $62 for the satisfaction of having five solid hours to sit back with a book or stare out the window at the passing junkyards and rust-belt industrial graveyards. I’d call that: Priceless.
We took the Wolverine, which ran on time and reaffirmed my faith in rail scheduling, probably because this train only goes back and forth across the Mitten, three times a day. The trains I took out of Fort Wayne — the Capitol Limited, the Lake Shore Limited and the Empire Builder — were long routes, NYC to Chicago and beyond, and had many, many opportunities to get behind schedule. It wasn’t uncommon for them to be an hour or more late arriving at the cursed siding in Waterloo, Ind., which served as the Fort’s station. (We once had our own, and lost it — long story. Short version: It was the railroad’s fault.) Bonus: You’d sometimes take your seat to find that day’s Daily News or Post abandoned in the pocket in front of you. And maybe you have to be a writer, but there’s something about sitting down in the club car with a beer and looking at the posters for the other routes on the wall — the California Zephyr, the Sunset Limited — that makes me think, “That’s one for me.” It just has a nicer ring than Flight 32.
I didn’t grow up riding trains. If Columbus, Ohio had passenger train service, it was long gone by the time I was going anywhere. People in the eastern states take rail travel for granted, having done the Boston-New York-D.C. route too many times. Large city interurban routes are nothing special to them, either. I guess it’s even possible, in these places, to see your car as an escape from the drudgery of rail commuting. All I can think is, rail commuters read newspapers, and drivers listen to morning radio. Case closed.
Only once did I spring for a sleeper. I went to Syracuse to visit my friends Lance and the Blonde, and got a berth for the trip out. Fort Wayne to Toledo, where I caught the Lake Shore Limited around midnight, just in time for the porter to fold down my bed and plump my pillow. I climbed in with a copy of “Clockers” and drifted off in perfect comfort. I awoke several times through the night, watching one frozen town after another pass by through the frosted window, and drifted happily back to sleep, knowing someone else was driving. It was like being a kid asleep in the back seat, heedless of seat belts, while my dad took us home.
Yes, we had a great time in Chicago. A bit chilly, but otherwise fine. More tomorrow. A little bloggage:
I never thought of Bode Miller and George Bush as the same person, but when you put it this way…
There’s a moral in this story — sort of a Midwestern version of the two Samurai standing in the rain.