Recently in Awkwardness: Auto Train Adventure to my New Job!

I’ve missed the last couple of weeks when I was supposed to add more posts about last summer’s road trip but it was because I was too busy packing & moving back to Maryland! I landed a job working on a project at Historic St. Mary’s City, the same museum where I did my field school in 2017. It’s kind of surreal to be back here, it doesn’t feel like it’s been a year & a half, but I’m excited about it!

Coming from Florida to the D.C. area was the perfect opportunity to cross the Auto Train off my to-do list! The great thing about the Auto Train is that you can bring your car without having to actually drive it, it just rides along in the auto carriers behind you.  The ticket cost $379 for me & my car, plus it included dinner & a continental breakfast. So that saved me gas, a night’s accommodation, wear & tear on my car, a meal, & the stress of driving 800 miles. We left Sanford, FL half an hour early at 3:30 pm & arrived in Lorton, VA an hour early at 8:00 am so altogether it was a 16 & a half hour trip that Google says would have taken about 11 hours driving on I-95 but with stops & traffic & whatnot it probably would have added up to about the same. Plus they let you pack as much as you want in your car & mine was FULL, which is no fun to drive with. Boarding is a very simple process, you just show up at the station between 11:30 & 2:30, check in at the entrance booth, drive up to the station building, grab your overnight bag (no access to cars in transit), an employee loads your car onto the train & you’re done until you pick it up the next morning in Virginia. Supposedly the Auto Train is the longest passenger train in the world, mine was 45 cars: 18 for 295 passengers & 27 for 237 vehicles, plus 2 engines. They said it was a full train but nobody was sitting next to me which was GREAT, I could curl up across both seats if I wanted to move around a bit. I saw several people with nobody next to them, I wonder if they allot 2 seats for each vehicle & if you’re traveling alone you get both?

I had the lasagna at dinner, which was very good, but for some reason they pair every entree with green beans. There’s 3 choices for desert & a variety of toppings, I chose vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce. They fill all the seats at every table; if you don’t have a party of 4 they seat you with strangers so that was good & awkward. Fortunately the 3 ladies I sat with had all lived in New York City for at least part of their lives so mostly they talked about that but of course everyone loves archaeology so they were very interested as soon as I told them that’s my job. I didn’t end up eating the breakfast because I just wasn’t hungry yet when it was available. My car was the 2nd to last to be unloaded so I was waiting around in the station for almost an hour & a half but it wasn’t a big deal. I was mostly annoyed that I had yet ANOTHER person wanting to hear my life’s story while I was trying to listen to the station announcement for my car to be ready. I really have to learn that I don’t have to indulge all the obnoxious nosiness of random strangers. It’s really too bad that our society considers it perfectly OK to demand that someone satisfy unwelcome curiosity but incredibly rude to refuse to do so.

So my first week on the job is done, I’m getting settled into my new housing, & I’m excited to be back here for a while. I have a car this time so hopefully I’ll be able to get some exploring in, there’s plenty of state parks around here & Washington is just right there so I’d like to hit some of the museums & the zoo. I’m planning to be here for about a year so there’s plenty of time to see all of those things. Looking to get back on track with my road trip posts probably the week after next. It’s funny how the stress of traveling completely derails my ability to maintain a travel blog. I think I just need to plan ahead so that it’s not a thing I’m trying to figure out on the fly on top of all the other things I have to think about. Make a list of pictures to take & times to post them or something. Anyway, onward & forward!

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This Week in Awkwardness

I made it back to Florida in one piece!  All went well right up until I got off my train in Orlando, only to find that my duffle bag had not made it onto my train in Alexandria.  Fortunately it was just on the next train but I still had to wait around for two hours just hoping it would be there.  Also, Amtrak ripped a hole in it, which is currently covered with duct tape.  I have a little time off before the new semester starts, so I’m just trying to relax a bit when I’m not at work before my hectic fall schedule starts.  It’s good to be home.  I feel like I’ve been gone forever but also like I never left, it’s weird, like I just imagined that I was in Maryland for two and a half months.


Added to the Travel Map:

Wreck of the Francisco Morazan, South Manitou Island, Michigan – a freighter that ran aground in a storm.

Vasa Museet, Stockholm, Sweden – world’s only preserved 17th-century ship, raised from Stockholm Harbor.

Wanli UFO Village, Taiwan – mostly abandoned resort neighborhood of Futuro & Venturo houses.

Hunot Gorge State Reserve, Shoushi, Turkey – wooded canyon with waterfalls & medieval village ruins.


Crossed Off the Travel Map:

Mount Vernon, Alexandria, Virginia

Williamsburg, Virginia

Historic Jamestowne, Jamestown, Virginia

Jamestowne Settlement, Jamestown, Virginia

Journey: Amtrak’s Silver Star

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Orlando, Florida to Alexandria, Virginia – 934 miles

Coach class on the Silver Service trains uses single-level Amfleet cars, so the view isn’t quite as good as on the double-decker Superliner cars on some of the long-distance routes but it was still a lot of fun and I spent pretty much the whole 18-hour trip just staring out the window.  The Silver Star and Silver Meteor use the same tracks for the most part except that the Star swings west to hit Columbia and Raleigh, while the meteor takes a more direct route through Charleston and Fayetteville.  Neither has any ocean view at all.

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The historic Orlando station.

I didn’t have anyone next to me until the station before my destination.  There was supposed to be someone but…I guess they lost them.  The car attendent kept wandering around going “where is my Philadelphia?”  Pretty sure they got off in Florida and never got back on.  Great for me, probably not so much for them.

I got on in Orlando in the evening, fell asleep as we were crossing into Georgia, and woke up two states later just inside North Carolina.  We passed through several major cities and all sorts of tiny adorable towns.  The only sad part was that it was dark out for such a big chunk of the trip, on my way back I’m going to try & book it so that I go through those places during the day, and the ones I already saw at night.

The Silver Star isn’t exactly the epitome of comfort but I arrived in Alexandria on time (!) the next afternoon having spent $117 and basically no effort in the process.

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Where I Extol the Virtues of Train Travel

Journey: Amtrak’s Southwest Chief

Chicago to Flagstaff, 1,782 Miles


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So I’m in Arizona for the winter, and instead of spending 3 super crappy days or 5-6 somewhat less crappy days in a car, spending hundreds of dollars on gas, lodging, and food, I decided to let Amtrak do the heavy lifting.  For $154 I got to spend two days lounging around reading & watching the world go by while still managing to end up on the other side of the country.  Flying would have been shorter, but almost certainly more expensive (I have better things to do than check prices on 47 different airlines) and a bigger pain in the neck.  I boarded the train with absolutely no hassle.  I didn’t have to show up two hours early, or spend any time at all standing in line to have a stranger pat me down & look at my skivvies through some weird Star Trek machine.  I brought a large backpack, 44-pound duffel bag, purse, blanket, pillow, snacks, outside water, AND nail clippers on board, nobody batted an eye. Try getting all that on a plane.

Along the way I got to see not only my origin & destination, but everything in between.  I wasn’t hurtling along 30,000 feet above it, I got to be a part of it, all the wild animals, little towns, big cities, and beautiful landscapes across nearly 1,800 miles, with no effort involved.  And seriously low-stress travel: wide comfy seats, footrests, legroom, no screeching babies, and there was a whole lounge car to go hang out in if I got tired of my little nest.  My fellow travelers were pretty mellow too, the only time I heard anyone get even a little upset was some guy who didn’t like his upper level seat because he struggled with stairs; the conductor put the smack down on him pretty fast, he’d bought the wrong kind of ticket, and there was no fixing it now.  I never saw anyone being rude to other passengers or staff.  Even the cell-phone chatters were quiet and respectful of the people around them.

The only problem I had was with my second seatmate.  The first one was pretty close to perfect, he sat quietly and we ignored each other for five hours until he got off in Missouri.  The second lady, she wanted to talk.  She gave up on me pretty fast, because I went mm-hm and stuck my earbuds in, but I saw her chatting up other people through the whole trip.  Not one time did I see her sitting alone reading or whatever.  I don’t think she even slept, she was like some kind of chatty vampire, feeding on other people’s exhaustion.  Speaking of sleep, it was surprisingly easy to come by.  We spent the night crossing the plains so there was nothing to look at anyway, the seat leaned back pretty well, with enough space that I wasn’t in the lap of the person behind me, I had my blanket, pillow, and eye mask. I took a drowsy motion sickness pill to help a bit (I didn’t need them for nausea and I need those for small roller coasters) and just passed right out.

Yeah it took forever, but this was a great trip.  I re-read one of my favorite books (Tricky Business, by Dave Barry), saw lots of interesting, beautiful things, and finally got to cross the Southwest Chief off my bucket list.  So many people just want to get where they’re going, they miss a lot.  The difference between planes & trains is the difference between tourists & travelers.  Do you want a journey – an experience?  Or merely a destination?

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