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photo by Sheri Dixon

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Dude, Seriously- Where Did You Park the Car?

"I'm sorry- for a minute there I thought you said you were taking the train".

"That's because I said I'm taking the train".

*Stunned silence*

The above is a conversation I have every time I ride the train, unless I'm talking to someone who knows me well enough to know the love affair I have with trains.

When I was little, all the other girls wanted to be ballerinas and fairy princesses. I wanted to be a train engineer.

Of course that's when we were all small and silly. Much later in life (high school) all my friends were aiming for becoming nurses, secretaries or mommies. Thankfully, the aptitude test the career counselor gave us all set me directly on the path of my actual calling- lumberjack.

No, I didn't become a lumberjack, but even at the time I figured it beat the hell out of being a fairy princess or a secretary.

Back to trains.

Here in America, we are addicted to 3 things- the idea that we're Number #1 in every regard (which makes us full of #2), reality TV, and our personal autos.

You can take away most anything but for the love of all that's holy- do NOT take our cars.

Some folks in the more urban areas don't have cars. They use outlandish modes of getting around like "public transportation" or "carpooling" or "feet". But they're not quite right anyway, so they don't count.

No, a REAL American MUST have a car. Possibly even 2 or 3 cars, just in case one of 'em is in the shop.

Because nothing says "I'm no longer a free person" than being without gas-powered wheels.

Of course there are exceptions-

-if you're traveling say, over an ocean, an airplane is acceptable. As long as a rental car is procured within 30 minutes of landing.
-if you're taking a cruise, you may leave your car while you do that.

Otherwise- your personal car will take you wherever you need to go- you and a gabazillion fellow drivers, all going in the same damn direction at the same time.

But how ELSE are you gonna get from point A to point B?

Private jets are too expensive.
Busses are just icky.
Jet packs haven't been invented yet (DAMN that George Jetson!)

What?

I'm sorry. For a minute there, I thought you suggested the train.

We have trains.

Commuter and long distance trains. They're called Amtrak.

I know all the bad press about 'em. And it's very unfair because most of it is not their fault.

Does Amtrak run late? Yes. But only almost 100% of the time. The REASON they run late is because they must wait on freight trains before they can use tracks and switches- because the freight companies own the tracks.

Why does every route go through Chicago? If I'm going from Dallas to New Orleans, I may not WANT to go through Chicago! See above. The freight companies own all the tracks and limit what Amtrak can use.

Aren't the trains old, dirty and smelly? No- you're thinking of the bus. Amtrak trains are very clean and non-odoriferous.

Aren't the seats really uncomfortable and tiny? No- you're thinking of planes. Amtrak seats are large and comfy- they recline and at night the nice conductors come around with blankies and pillows. Seriously.

Aren't the people who ride trains all losers, druggies and felons? Nope- that's the bus again. Overwhelmingly the passengers on a train will be those who can't afford a plane ticket (college kids and families) and those who don't care how long it takes to get there but don't want to drive (senior citizens). I've never been nervous of anyone taking anything on an Amtrak trip, and everyone is friendly- especially the conductors.

Don't they routinely fall off the tracks, crash and burn?
Not as often as it seems. And most of the time, that's due to track damage- which is the responsibility of the freight companies.

I've ridden the train from Milwaukee to St. Louis, Milwaukee to North Dakota, Milwaukee to LA, Mineola (TX) to Minneapolis, Mineola to Sturtevant (WI), Mineola to Austin and last week Dallas to Mineola. I love the train.

This last trip was for a conference in Dallas. I found lodging across the street from the train station and 4 blocks (very walkable blocks) from the convention center. If I had driven, the parking would've been $12 per day at the convention center and $16 per night at the hotel. I was there 4 days. The train cost $34 round trip. I mean, seriously.

I get motion sickness at the drop of a hat (Really- watching a hat drop to the floor is enough to make me woozy).

Yet for some reason, I love the train. The coach cars have the seating on the upper level and windows all up and down the sides so there's no claustrophobia. The train rocks back and forth gently, tracks clacking rhythmically, the whistle sounding at each crossing- haunting and familiar. I've never lived out of earshot of a train track.

If the tracks were opened up so Amtrak could actually use them all, the possibilities would literally be endless. We HAVE a form of mass transit that could go north to south and sea to shining sea without changing a damn thing.

We're planning an upcoming vacation around train travel- taking the train from big city to big city and using public transportation while "landed". There's only one segment we'll need to rent a car.

It's going to be an adventure of the best sort. Of course, all of ours are- just being together makes it so.

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