Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Adventures in train travel, part 1

I seem to fly a lot. Whether I’m flying to my folks place in Oklahoma, Grandma’s place in Florida, my folks place in Oklahoma, or some other random location, I’ve become so accustomed to flying that one might say that it has lost its luster (and that one person would be me). While road-tripping and I have a special thing going - a special thing that I’m not sure will ever lose its luster - I can only solo roadtrip so much (If you were to define my relationship status with roadtripping on facebook, it would say "In an Open Relationship") Back in July, when my buddy Caleb asked me to stand in his wedding in Little Rock, I knew I had a tough decision to make. Do I fly (again)? Do I solo roadtrip (again)? OR, do I embark on a journey the likes of which this young adventurer has never before experienced?

That’s right, friends. Amtrak it is.

I purchased my ticket back in October - a one-way ticket from Milwaukee to Little Rock - and have been anxiously awaiting the journey ever since. A phone call to the Amtrak office the night before I embarked helped to answer a few last minute questions, and as I went to bed that night, visions of the Polar Express (okay, I've never actually read/watched this story, but when the wife of a friend heard I was traveling by train she said, "Oh, like in Harry Potter!", which was met with a blank stare, because likewise, I haven't read/watched. Seemingly disgusted, she countered with, "Or, like in the Polar Express!" Not wanting to doubly disappoint/disgust, I enthusiastically nodded my head) were dancing in my head...

And now, in an effort to mimic my favorite article style of writer Bill Simmons, what follows is the play-by-play of my latest adventure...

6:00am - My Nokia 5600 cell phone alarm abruptly erupted (yeah, say that three times fast), followed by a swift poke at the snooze button.

6:10 - My Nokia 5600 cell phone alarm abruptly erupted (what if we morphed that into one word: abrupted) followed by a swift poke at the snooze button.

6:20 - My Nokia 5600 cell phone alarm abruptly erupted (are you still reading these lines or do you assume they are the same as before because they start the same?) followed by a swift poke at the snooze button.

6:30 - Okay, I'm up. After a nice long shower and two cups of coffee, the finishing touches were put on my packing, and I then loaded up an ice chest (or, for those of you in the north, a COOLER) with cokes (or, for those of you in the north, sodas) and snacks (or, for my brother, snack'ms).

Editors note: Go do an image search on of "ice chest" and see which image comes up first. Seriously, go do it. I'll wait....

... And, boom goes the dynamite.

7:50am - A fellow Camp Grayer, Sean, kindly agreed to take me to the train station, which meant I didn’t have to deal with paying for parking (which seemed like a solid idea until I had 16 hours of solitude on a train to weigh the cost of $5/day parking vs. an extra round-trip from Camp to Milwaukee. At the end of the day, I'll call it a push.")

8:38 - Sean and I paid a quick visit to my old friends at the East Madison Panera Bread Co. Unhesitatingly, I ordered a cinnamon crunch bagel, which of course was bread sliced to my proper specifications (If you've never ordered a bagel "bread sliced" at Panera, do it now.).

10:23 - After being dropped at the Milwaukee train station, I strolled into the station feeling a bit out of place, even if my suitcase no doubt screamed, "The guy carrying me has traveled by trains for years..."

(this isn't actually my suitcase, but does have a solid resemblance.)

11:11 - The station in Milwaukee isn't a "hub," so once the train arrives, you simply load up and go. There isn't any security, no frisking, no bag checking, or even assigned seats. You just grab your stuff and go.

11:47 - As the conductor meandered through the train collecting tickets, he excitedly asked about my Pittsburgh Pirates hat. He told me that he has followed the Pirates extensively ever since the Pirates radio play-by-play man once traveled on his train. Two women behind me overheard our conversation and mentioned that they too were Pirates fans. This, of course, thrilled me - for a while now I've assumed I was alone in my Pirates fandom - and it also debunked a comment a man said later on my journey:

a man: "You play ball?"

Me: (Assuming he is making mention of my Aderhold Height) "Basketball?"

a man: "No, baseball, I noticed your Pirates hat..."

Me: (Surprisingly excited that he actually thought I was a professional athlete) "Ah, nope, just a fan."

a man: "Oh, well, there aren't many Pirates fans out there."

Me: (Hoping to end the conversation rather than get into a debate about how I was recently surrounded by 3 fellow Pirates fans...) "Yep"

12:29 - Arrive in Chicago, where an old college friend, Katie, is waiting for me with a Chicken Caesar Sandwich from Panera Bread Co. (Any day that involves Panera for both breakfast and lunch is a good day!) We reminisce about the good ole days (she once ate a spaghetti dinner with my family and flipped a fork-full of noodles onto her white shirt), devoured our sandwiches, made eye contact with a fellow train traveler that appeared two eye-contacts away from an all out conniption fit, discussed the improbability of my friend Caleb tying the knot, and then find where I'll be boarding for the next leg of my journey. The first portion of the journey was relatively quick and easy, but this next section of rail will test my adventure seeking mettle...

To be continued.... (soon!) (like in a day or two!) (Go Pirates!) (Go Thunder!)


Monica Herron said...

Haha SO GLAD a blog is back! And while apparently there are other people in this world besides my grandfather who refer to coolers as ice chests, I would definitely invest in google image #3 if I were you. Just saying...

Timmy said...

To be continued!?!? Man, I was really getting into it Toph. I will be eagerly awaiting the rest of your traveling adventures with bated breath sir.

Patrick said...

What! I need to know what happens. How can you leave me in such suspense.