Morning Train – Reverend Charlie Jackson
Well, it should have been a morning train, arriving at 8:15am at Los Angeles’ Union Station. In actuality, however, the train arrived shortly after 5pm, which for me didn’t represent any real loss arriving back home in Los Angeles after a great vacation with family in the Northeast (despite climatically resembling the region mapped in the photograph above).
The folks I really feel bad for were the roughly dozen or so Wisconsinites on our train who had trekked all the way from the Midwest for a certain football game scheduled to start at 2pm, theoretically giving them enough time to arrive in LA that morning, rent a car, and drive up to Pasadena for the floral themed game. Unfortunately, they all missed the game, though perhaps it was better for them to not have to endure their Badger loss on New Year’s Day.
Some general pointers and tips for those of you who may at some future point consider traveling via Amtrak in the future.
- Actually do it. Though what follows may seem a bit like complaining (it’s not), traveling cross country by Amtrak is actually a great experience. First of all, it’s far more comfortable than flying; the amount of leg-room is astounding, in addition to the observation/lounge car with full length window views, comfortable tables for games/reading/conversing. The fact that each pair of seats also has a pair of electrical outlets makes it easy to find electronic diversions as well. There was no Wi-Fi, but it was actually nice to be able to not have to worry about checking your Facebook status every 8 minutes.
- Pack right. Traveling cross country by Amtrak is basically “camping in a moving tube”. And like camping, you won’t necessarily smell all that nice at the end of the trip, but on the plus side, you won’t smell like campfire smoke. Essentials: comfortable eye-mask, your own pillow (Amtrak’s pillows suck), a blanket, a long book, your iPod pre-loaded with not only music but also some great podcasts (my favorites are “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”, “This American Life”, and “Radiolab”).
- Don’t bring your dog. Do I really need to say anything else?
- Make use of layovers. Traveling from Syracuse to Los Angeles required a 5 hour layover in Chicago’s Union Station. Rather than sitting in a train station (which was nonetheless architecturally breathtaking) doing nothing, I ventured out into downtown, crossing the frigid Chicago river, and enjoying one of the true Chicago highlights, some deep dish pizza from Giordano’s, a delicacy mostly unknown here in Los Angeles (except for a lone pizza oasis started by a displaced Chicagoan).
- Build in time. Build in time. Build in time. Bachman-Turner Overdrive hit the nail on the head: “If your train’s on time, you can get to work by nine”, that is, rail punctuality is “fluid”, at best. Essentially, our train arrived 8 hours (or roughly 20% late), which is a huge amount of time. Lucky for me, I didn’t have to be anywhere until 10pm (when a friend’s band played a show), but as alluded to above, there were quite a number of frustrated travelers. Build in time!
Anyway, I don’t ride the train often, but after all is said and done, I’d do it again, although perhaps not in a heartbeat.