Journey: Amtrak’s Southwest Chief
Chicago to Flagstaff, 1,782 Miles
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.
A pigeon in the waiting area of Union Station.
Chicago Union Station
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.
Upper floor of the lounge car with its huge windows.
Lounge car lunch. Personal pizza & can of Mountain Dew, $8.25. A bit steep, but it was nice to have one meal that wasn’t peanut butter based.
Crossing the Raton Pass into New Mexico.
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.
Sunset outside Galesburg, Illinois.
Mississippi River, having just crossed into Iowa.
Hutchinson, Kansas, 3:18 am, Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, October 2014
Dawn, Day 2, somewhere in western Kansas.
Autumn trees in Colorado.
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?