Wednesday, July 13, 2011

All Aboard

It seems there are a lot of people it seems have a love affair with the thought of riding a train. Whether it is the romantic view we have of a glamorous era when train travel was the fastest, cleanest and easiest mode of transportation across America. Or to relax and leave the driving to someone else. Or as one of the Amtrak slogans reads "For the America you can't see anywhere else". Or just to experience something new. Whatever the reason a lot of people are saying "All aboard Amrak". And that is what Drew and I did.
The front of our train from my window

Love this station.

Cool building we saw along the way.

Each year Drew drives back to Kansas when his grandparents return from wintering in Arizona. I usually fly back, spend a week visiting before Drew and I return to Arizona. This year we decided to board the Southwest Chief and leave the driving to someone else. Drew and the G-unit had done it once before which was fortunate for us as we learned from their trip.

Now this little adventure did not happen without a hiccup or two. First our train was scheduled to leave Topeka station at 12:29 AM. Instead we left around 3:00 AM. Along the way we had to stop a couple times for traffic to clear off the rail. Then we had to stop because the track switching mechanism was broke. For those who don't know what that is or does here is a little tutorial. So we waiting while the engineers came and fixed. It must be a really big deal because when we finally got going and could see where the people who had come to fix it parked, there were 14 vehicles. Finally we were on our way. By now our arrival would be really late but we were at least moving in the right direction.

Some observations I noted.
  • It may not prove to be the cheapest, fastest or cleanest but it is highly entertaining and enjoyable.
  • As with all public transportation, we met some nice people along the way and some not so nice. Luckily you can choose how much interaction you wish you engage in.
  • Our conductor had a sense of humor. I would think that would be a must in dealing with, shall we say "interesting" individuals and mechanical issues.
  • Thankful we had a blanket and pillow. Although we didn't sleep much, grandma had warned us it can be quite chilly, and the blanket and pillow made the trip more comfortable.
  • Junk food and snacks were a useful staple. Although there is a dining car for meals if you choose to reserve your space and a snack bar, it was nice to have our package of Topsy's popcorn, squirt cheese in a can and Wheat Thins, and Twizzlers. Nothing like a little comfort food during uncertain times.
  • Great place to people watch. Now according to Drew, I stayed in my seat "all the time". But I enjoyed watching the scenery and the steady stream of people walking by kept me entertained. Drew on the other hand spent time in the observation car and by the snack bar meeting people and making friends.
  • Be prepared for the unexpected. We had made arrangements for Allison and Jon to come and pick us up in Flagstaff (which is where we needed to get off unless we wanted to go to California) and drive us to Phoenix. Perfect plan if we would have arrived on time. Since we didn't arrive until 2:30 AM we made other plans. 
  • Appreciated cell phone reception. Although some trains also have WiFi, I was perfectly content just having phone service. With the help of Allison I was able to call and reserve a room at the lovely Little America Hotel and a cab to get us there. I decided after being on the train for 24 hours I wasn't taking a risk on an unknown hotel no matter what the cost. I have stayed at Little America and knew it would be clean and comfortable even if it was only for 8 hours. I also was able to keep in contact with family and give updates along the way. What did we do before cell phones?
So although it wasn't the smooth sailing, zippy trip I had envisioned, I would definitely do it again.

Amtrak MSTS Commercial (Southwest Chief)

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