Sunday, June 03, 2012

Taking the train to D.C.

 I told Leila that I wanted to take the train because it was cheaper than flying.  This is true, but not all true.  The real truth is that I wanted to take a train trip.  It seemed so cool, like a hipster way of travelling better than the frantic queues of frustrated fliers waiting to get through inane security.  (Does anyone really think taking off our shoes keeps us safer? Don't get me started.) I hate driving long distances and the train stops one hour from Huxley.  And somehow a train trip is an adventure, with the potential for good and for bad times.  When I told Leila about the cost that was just an excuse.  I wanted to do something exciting.  

It takes ~ 28 hours to go from Osceola, IA to Washington D.C. Union Station on the train, including the 5 hours downtime in Chicago between trains.  Leila saw through my arguments completely and decided that this adventure was one she could sit out.  Sleeping on the train, in our seats, potentially bad food, truly strange strangers, and the very real possibility of train delays were actualities brighter than any romantic notions of train travel.  Aleah and Emily I volunteered.  I told them it would be awesome.  

We were supposed to catch the train in Osceola, IA at 7:30 AM.  I got the girls up at 5:00 AM to get there in time to get a parking spot and to be on time for the train.  We didn't need to hurry.  The tiny station was close to empty, and the train didn't get there until almost 9 AM.  When the train pulled up, it was still exciting though.  He tooted his horn and we climbed aboard.  The seats were larger than plane seats with room enough that I couldn't reach my foot to the seat in front of me, only to the footrest.  

Aleah in the Lounge Car.  She just beamed at everyone.  
It took about 6 hours to get to Chicago, and then we had a long wait until our next train.  We wandered around the city and Aleah quickly tired of walking with her stuff.  We decided to get a locker, but then discovered that when we squeezed our bags in it broke the kindle screen.  That was one expensive locker.

On the way back we had the same long wait in Chicago, but ditched our stuff sooner and made it to Millenium Park to see the sculptures and the play in the fountain. Chicago's Union Station is probably the worst designed building I have ever seen.  This beautiful waiting area is mostly empty, because to get on your train you have to go down a level and cram into a small, poorly lit, waiting area with threadbear dirty carpet.  Someone really should have planned that better.

We worried about sleeping on the train.  The seats were large and leaned back quite far, but it still is tough sleeping sitting up.  Leila packed us a whole bag of food and another suitcase with three pillows and three large blankets so we were set. Aleah schmooshed herself against me and quickly fell asleep( or asphyxiated  - she was pressed so tightly against me).  The man sitting next to Emily felt uncomfortable with her leaning against him and asked me if I would switch with her.  I put her next to Aleah, but she didn't want Aleah to touch her.  That didn't work.  Aleah and I went to the lounge car and slept there.  The conductor woke us up a couple of times, but didn't make us go back to our seats till morning and we all were able to lay down and sleep.

The best part of the trip was the diversity of passengers: Amish, Mennonite, Brethren, Hipsters, Hispanics, Black, White, Indian, and Muslim. I had a couple of long discussions with the Amish families travelling.  There was a little Amish girl that was Aleah's age and they played together some, but she mostly spoke Dutch and little English.  It was a hoot to hear from two brothers' plans to increase production of furniture and hopes to be able to sell their chairs in China.  We discussed corn prices and my job and the difficulties of raising kids in the world, but not of the world.  I am fascinated with the balance of modern and traditional lifestyle from the different Amish and Mennonite groups.  I feel like I have to make some of those same tradeoffs now, even though I have most of the modern conveniences.

I will put some more pictures up of the rest our trip later.  It is getting late and I have to go to work tomorrow.  Too bad I can't have a vacation from my vacation before going back to the everyday troubles.


Anonymous said...

This is great so far. Don't forget to add. Bob.

Anonymous said...

This is great so far. Don't forget to add. Bob.

Anonymous said...

Brian, I know that line well.  I despise and abominate flying and have travelled by train from Denver to Massachusetts five or six times.  You are absolutely right about Union Station.  The only thing worse than the space is the maddening,  two-stage boarding sequence, which requires passengers to queue twice in order to board the same train.  I have many memories of Amish families; they are always present in significant numbers.  On one occasion I was marveling at the elegant simplicity of a young, bonnetted girl seated in front of me, only to have the effect somewhat spoiled when she pulled out a small cellphone and began urgently texting a friend.  Another time there was couple in their twenties who were traveling with at least six young children.  They had devised some sort of timetable that allowed them to take turns returning alone to their room for short breaks, while the rest of the family stayed in the observation car.  One falls into the most wonderful conversations on trains.  Just before Christmas in 2009, I was seated next to a student from a small Protestant college, and we talked late into the night about Tolkien and Lewis.  Mostly, however, I love to get a cup of tea, and stare out the windows of the observation car for hours.  I always bring a book for the trip (usually some sort of long Russian novel) but I find that I often lay it aside in favor of the passing scenery.  One of my favorite views is the Burlington Rail Bridge, which I think you must have seen as well.  It is one of the toughest looking structures I have ever come across.  When there were heavy floods in Iowa a few summers ago, I looked it up, and the Bridge seemed barely perturbed even though it had been overrun by the River.