Monday, January 5, 2009

Take the Train

I hate flying. The American Airline industry has outlived its usefulness. Commercial flying has no redeeming social value, EXCEPT that you get there fast. The seats are small, they recycle the air you breathe, there is ALWAYS a crying baby, the 3 year old that spends the whole flight kicking the seat in front of him is seated every time behind me. They don’t feed you. You can’t get a blanket; you can’t get a drink of water. The airline people are arrogant and rude, they cancel flights with no obligation to get you where you are going and their pricing policies are as unfathomable as ancient Sanskrit.

Not to mention that our government has totally violated our civil liberties for “security” reason. “Take off your shoes. “ “Remove your belt.” “You can’t take 4 ounces of shampoo on board.” “Sorry you can’t take your water or food, but you can buy some at our vending machines.” They have confiscated 4 nail clippers. NAIL CLIPPERS! I’m going to attack a stewardess with NAIL CLIPPERS?!? Now they are charging to take your bags. Forget about sometimes I need to fly with a tuba. Hey President Bush, the terrorists have won! Every time I go NEAR an airport, I am reminded about that. Orange alert, what the hell is that?

Take the train. I just got back from an Amtrak trip to & from Chicago, 5 days, 2½ days each way. We left from San Jose, taking the Capitol Corridor to Emeryville. Then we caught the California Zephyr into Chicago. After spending a couple of days in Chi town, we took the Southwest Chief into LA, and then caught the Coast Starlight home.

The California Zephyr goes through some of the most beautiful landscape our country has to offer. We saw frozen waterfalls, the Colorado River frozen and incredible snow formations. A majestic elk buck was standing right next to the train. When crossing the Mississippi, we saw FLOCKS of bald eagles. FLOCKS! Just standing on the shore, and 3 – 4 in a tree. I was aghast! We saw also the devastation of the recent floods, some truly poor Americans, hard working farmers, eking out a living off the land. We saw miles of rolling farmlands, the sight of America’s breadbasket. On the way back, on the Chief, while the scenery is not quite as striking, one gets a true taste of our America. The train goes through some amazing small towns. Places like Green River, Utah; Glenwood Springs, CO; Holdrege, NE; Ottumwa, IA (yes, THAT Ottumwa), Princeton IL. On the return, we went through Galesburg, Il, where the debate of Lincoln-Douglas took place in 1858; Newton, KS; Raton, NM & Holbrook, AZ. I believe these small towns truly reflect that for which America stands. Not the bumper-to-bumper, rush hour, how’s my portfolio doing lifestyle with which I am acquainted. But a simpler, smell the roses, slower life pace that seems healthier and more honest.

Not only did we see some wonderous things, but we met some fascinating people. I met a man who lives in Paducah, Tennessee, who spent his whole life working in the power plant. I met a woman violinist who pays in the Honolulu Symphony. I met a woman who went to school with Michael Tilson Thomas. Boy did SHE have some stories to tell! Another confirmed bachelor, who met his soul mate at 55!  A young man, from Escalon, CA, who just spent a whole month on the train, and told us some incredible rail history centered around Altoona, PA; A woman & her mom, from Milwaukee, who spent Xmas with her grand children in Santa Barbara, a couple from San Diego, who were going to New Orleans, the woman who has NEVER flown, but had been riding trains for 30+ years. We met train personnel, who have GREAT stories to tell; people, at stations, who confirm my belief about the misery of air travel, Native Americans selling arts & crafts on the train platform in Albuquerque. The list goes on & on.

Did I experience some sort of catharsis? Who knows, but I never would have experienced any of this waiting to get my shoes back.


  1. Yo Tony! How was your sleeping situation on board? What about food?

  2. We got a sleeping car - a roomette. The food was so so, but not BAD. On the Coast Starlight, they have a Parlour Car that has GREAT food!

  3. I've always wanted to take a train like that. BTW - I always wondered re: the 4 oz of shampoo...what if a person brought three ounces, their friend brought three ounces, and 10 of their friends brought three ounces and combined them on the plane? A costco sized bottle of shampoo. What a joke.

  4. I am going to Providence, Rhode Island in April to solo with the Rhode Island College Band. I'm taking the train.