My first “adventure” was to take Amtrak from Ohio out to DC for a visit with my mom and sister. I must say part of the adventure was how difficult it is to actually travel Amtrak. The closest place to catch the train is in Toledo, which is a solid 2 hour drive from Coldwater, and the eastbound “Capital Express” is scheduled to depart Toledo at 10:50 pm. Unfortunately, Amtrak has a problem. Passenger rail has been so gutted in America that Amtrak does not own the rails it travels on, so freight trains take priority, and when a freight wants a section of track, Amtrak stops. We ended up leaving Toledo at 12:30 am, which I hear is actually pretty good.
I was surprised how comfortable the train actually was, with seats that are larger and as well appointed as airline first class and an absolutely epic amount of leg room. The ride bumps and sways and clicks along as expected. I compare the ride to the charter buses we take when we take the band to Disney. It’s not unpleasant, and it seemed people were able to sleep. I’ve never really been able to sleep in transit, and this was no exception.
As I surveyed my car-mates, it seems we fell into two categories. First, there were people like me who can afford to drive or fly, but chose to take the train as part of the adventure. (the train ride was 5 hours longer than driving and a similar cost). It’s the second group of people that got me thinking. The people for whom the train was a vital and only accessible way to travel long distances. This group was made up of lower class people traveling to graduations, new jobs, or just to get out of their rut. It also included a surprising number of Amish. I’m not sure where they were traveling or why. I shall have to investigate that. These are the people that will feel the pinch as cheap ways to travel like trains and buses die off.
Probably the most interesting thing was the “we’re all in this together” mentality that seemed to develop as the night stretched into morning and then into afternoon. The train seems to build those temporary friendships that people develop in shared experiences. There’s also an “Us vs Them” mentality between the people who pay for sleepers, and us peasants in coach. One of the funnier moments occurred when one of the sleeper people, a mid-50’s white gentleman in golfing regalia topped with a MAGA hat walked down our aisle towards the sightseeing car. As he passed, each row got quiet, and as the door closed behind him the silence remained until a gentleman in the front row turned and said “well, that m……f……er came to wrong place.” And the car burst into laughter. My favorite part of the whole thing was hearing the Amish man behind me translate it to his wife in Pennsylvania Dutch. I now know the PA Dutch phrase for m…..f….. that may come in handy in Berne sometime.
When he woke up, the young man next to me struck up a conversation and I learned that he is a student at Howard University and was traveling back to DC after a brief visit home in Detroit. He was beginning training to be a Congressional Paige for the next session. He and talked politics, and jazz, and sports and passed the time as the train climbed the Alleganies well out of cell phone service.
I’ll touch on the return trip in a later post, but, all in all, I highly recommend taking an Amtrak ride while it’s still around. Probably not so much if you have kids in tow, but it is well worth the experience if nothing else, to get out of your comfort zone.