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Riding the rails

February 1, 2013

It has been a couple of weeks since my last post, and that is mainly because, well, not a whole lot that was interesting was happening. I was mainly laying low and visiting friends and family; taking some “downtime” to do some reflecting and preparation for my relocation.

The relocation has now occurred. I decided that, instead of flying out to my destination, I would take the train. After all, I thought, I was not going to be short on time, and I would get to bring much more luggage than I would on an airplane. What I did not consider was the fact that on a long train ride, you are in a small space with some awfully interesting people…and as it turns out, I had a good time while making my way across the country.

Of course, getting to and on the train was the first thing to accomplish. Though I set my alarm, I had been staying up pretty late in the days prior to my departure, so when my alarm went off at 4:20 a.m., I dreamt that my alarm was going off, but did not actually wake up. Thankfully, my dad came in and turned the light on, while calling for me to get up. We departed in the early a.m. and arrived at the station with plenty of time to spare. When I brought two suitcases to check and told the customer service person that there would be two more, he asked “how many people are going?” and looked rather surprised when I told him it was just me. Apparently, there are not many people who actually check four large suitcases when they travel by train…

While in the waiting area, I noticed that an unusually large number of police officers were showing up, which made me curious. Was I going to be traveling with a convicted felon (and don’t they usually use another mode of transport to travel)?  Did someone find drugs on the train? Were they waiting to arrest someone?

I did not ask for answers to these questions (best to not appear TOO nosy) but found out the answer when I was directed to car 15, and when I got on, saw a young woman talking to a police officer (two more greeted me on the way in. I half expected them to search my carry-on baggage). She was describing the “negative energy” that she had been feeling on the trip, and was having difficulty being more specific when the officer asked her for more specific information.  She just kept repeating how there was “negative energy”.

For this, there were eight officers and a dog at the station. Well, good to know that police respond so well to a request for assistance.

The first part of my journey on the train, from St. Paul to Chicago, was uneventful other than the snow we went through and the forty-minute wait we had while people worked to remove a truck that was blocking the track. Most people slept the entire way. I had hopes of using the wifi to noodle around on the computer, but those hopes were quickly dashed when I asked if the train had wifi (well, some do!) and was informed that no it did not.

After arriving nearly an hour late and trotting over to my departure gate in Chicago, I chatted with a few people, and did not realize that when they called priority passengers, I was actually included in the category because I had a “roomette”; otherwise known as a “sleeper”. I did not particularly love the idea of a 17 hour train ride where I was sitting upright (and those seats are very comfy with a lot of leg room but not for sleeping in my eyes).

I must say, for anyone planning to travel on a longer-distance train, getting a roomette or deluxe room, etc. is the way to go. You get priority boarding and the person who is assigned to your car offers to help you with your carry-on luggage as well as making up your bed at night. A waiter from the dining car (meals are included in the ticket, as is bottled drinking water) comes to make a dinner reservation. In the dining car, you get great service and the food is pretty good. I was lucky that I was sat with three nice people and we all hit it off, so after dinner we continued to talk (until past midnight).

I am sure if I was a person who slept on transport, I would have had a good night’s sleep because relative to the sleeping accommodations I am used to, this was super luxurious. However, there must be some bad rail karma going on because the next morning as we were nearing our destination, we once again had to stop on the tracks for nearly half an hour while a fallen tree was removed. Ah well, all part of the journey. Another of the passengers (my breakfast companion and his wife) are apparently Dean Martin fans and played his music all morning (which wasn’t so bad at first, but then the music started to loop). So off I went to the lounge car to watch the scenery go by and chat with my dinner companions some more.

Something I learned on my overnight train journey; not only can train travel be less expensive than air, but the people who do it on a regular basis really like it. In fact, I met a number of people who eschewed flying in favor of taking the train – even in the winter. These are folks who have taken trains all around the country and just love it, would not do it any other way.

As for me – well, I enjoyed my journey and am glad I chose to travel that way. It is nice to have options!

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