A 30-hour tour
Every year or so, I have the innate desire to travel by train. I like to fantasize that this is all because I was a train conductor in a past life.
Stranger things have happened.
There’s something I like about the gentle sway of the train cars as they make their way across the American landscape that sparks a fire in me. That motion also helps me sleep during the 30-hour trip from Indianapolis to Glenwood Springs, by way of Chicago.
This trip is not for the travel-weary.
I like seeing the country from the tracks that our forefathers built with their bare hands. They knew change was happening. I might add that I prefer romanticized accounts of history, especially in how our railroad system came to fruition. I blame this on growing up in the age of Cabbage Patch Kids and Smurfs. I’ve always been a romantic when it comes to history and literature. Even sports. Think “Hoosiers.” And “Goonies.” And I like a good story.
So I’ll stick with the Hollywood template of train travel.
As a little girl, the only trains I experienced first-hand were those found at Florida amusement parks like Disney World or Busch Gardens. They took me and my family, dressed in shorts and Mickey Mouse T-shirts, from point A to point B. There were also train cars on display at museums that taught a young me about the advent of steam-powered engines. I remember at one point believing villains really tied damsels in distress to train tracks in the old west on a regular basis.
Maybe they did.
Train travel is not for everyone. Like any mode of mass transit, there can be delays or accidents that cause a train trip to come to a screeching halt. I have been lucky to enjoy smooth trips with delays that are hardly memorable.
Flying is a whole different story.
I think I like train travel because I don’t like logistical nightmares. There a few options for traveling the thousand miles from Indy to Glenwood that can either involve paying exorbitant airline fare, often in the $400-$500 range lately to fly into Aspen or Vail. Flights into Denver are definitely attainable, but that requires a rental car or van shuttle that takes all the excitement out of scoring cheap airfare.
There’s also driving for 20 hours.
That seemingly never-ending stretch of Kansas highway sucks the fun right out of any road trip.
Taking the train has typically been my most affordable option. And it allows me to revisit the charming Chicago train station, where the bar at noon can be a real hoot with the daily commuters and Chicago sports fan set. The Grand Hall of the train station is especially a sight to be seen at Christmas, with decorations lighting up the place like a scene from an old Hollywood movie.
In technicolor, of course.
The cross-country train travel experience really comes to life for me when I travel solo, which I have done more often than not. I watch from my reclined seat as fellow travelers come and go at the multiple stops along the route. I hear strangers making small talk and people acting strange. I think traveling coach especially makes the experience real.
It’s all part of the fun.
On one of my cross-country trips, I had to listen to a quirky teenage girl talk about Dr. Who until I almost lost my mind. On this last trip, a man seated behind me randomly groaned during a short stretch of the trip. I couldn’t figure out if he was playing a video game with frustration or uncomfortably sleeping.
The snoring indicated the latter.
On one trip from Denver to Glenwood Springs, a man and his girlfriend, who later became engaged in the dining car, were dressed as Doc Holliday and a lady of the old west, accordingly. I was intrigued and slightly envious that I don’t try and role play more in life. It’s definitely a conversation starter. I can see myself now in a Doc Holliday mustache holding a gold watch on a chain, explaining to complete strangers my fixation with Doc’s final days living in Glenwood. Oh, I’m supposed to wear the dress and talk about running a saloon before women were allowed to do such things.
Interesting convo from the moment the train gently pulls away.
My most recent ride was spent comfortably, and comically, as I read the iBook of Amy Poehler’s “Yes, Please” and laughed out loud. I like her story, mostly because I’ve always wanted to be on Saturday Night Live. And I always wanted to be from Boston. Meanwhile, a small woman behind me was not finding comfort in her ride. She did not think it included enough smoke breaks. So she sighed a lot. Especially at night when it’s supposed to be quiet time. I could not tell if she was awake all night sighing or just complaining while sleeping, which I’ve been known to do on occasion. Huge difference.
Especially on a train.
April E. Clark will be rocking around the Christmas tree this year. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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