A dispatch from the middle of the Great American Train Trip

A dispatch from the middle of the Great American Train Trip

Having just created this blog yesterday, with the invaluable and substantial aid of my nieces Farrin and Mariela in Redwood City CA, I don’t have here much content. Nor do I have any description so far of the current trip on which I am only about midway through. As I write, I am on an Amtrak train somewhere just northeast of San Francisco Bay and heading overnight to Portland OR. From start to finish this trip will cover over 5,000 miles by rail. Air miles, while substantial, don’t count for me. Having accumulated around 2.5 million air miles in a working career, they don’t impress me much anymore. More trouble than adventure in today’s world.

Before they make up my bed for the night, and as I savor the Kouign-Amman pastries which were tucked safely away in my bag back in Redwood City, I will try and bring us up to date. I may fill in some more details as I go, but it seems wrong to start talking about where I am now without first describing something about where I already have been. The account in this particular post will be a skeletal view only; conversations and notable events may peek out at a later time as I cover various topics. 

For all that know me, there will be many opportunities in this blog to fully express any cynical observations that occur to me. In fact I am highly skeptical that anyone will want to read a blog by someone that hates most travel bloggers and doesn’t wish to follow in their footsteps. Short version, I am not a fan of bucket lists and the mindset they accompany.  And breathless, simply fabulous and exotic travelogues leave me cold. There, I said it. But for now I have to say that this trip makes it hard to dredge up such hard-pan commentary as would mostly suit my temperament.  It’s been pretty much great all around. Sorry, disappointing.

So for now suffice to know that I packed up my favorite travel backpack (I will at some point offer up my views on travel backpacks) and side-bag, all told weighing 25 lbs (heavy this trip but several climates I have to travel through) and started from home when my son Jefferson drove me to the local train station one morning shortly after New Years. 2019. I took a commuter train to NYC and connected by subway to an Amtrak train to Washington DC out of Penn Station.


I bunked a couple of nights there in a very nice Hostel north of DuPont Circle ($40 a night) and I ate oysters and shared dinner with old prior work colleagues (they are not old, I am) and very dear friends, Kristin and Natasha. And then with my cousins Sarah Kate and Hannah Berman. The hostel was very near SK’s apartment so I was able to see where she is living too. Great older building with a lot of space. Nice residential neighborhood.

As part of this blog I will be adding tips and information about where I stay and various transport options, see category “pro tips”. I understand from Farrin, my website designer, that if you hit that tab you will find all of those. These may not always seem appropriate, for instance I may dwell on how to manage restroom breaks while traveling like this.  But I assure you they are hard won observations. However, for now this is just catching up, so that will come later.

After nice visits I boarded the train for Chicago. In a sleeper car. Left Washington’s Union Station 4pm and arrived slightly early at 9am Chicago next morning.  Dinner and breakfast in dining (not snack) car. Very civilized. Before the sun set over the panoramic windows in the observation car we had some nice views of the Potomac including Harpers Ferry and the West Virginia mountains. Slept great in a bed being rocked to sleep by train’s motion and occasionally waking to find ourselves in places like Pittsburgh and Cleveland or just watching the farms of Ohio slide past in the moonlight.  In any other context these things would never pass for entertainment, much less excitement. In the morning I wished the train would be late so I could sleep in a little more. But got up and made my way to the dining car for breakfast and a few views of Lake Michigan, rusting steel mills, and Trump casinos all bathed in a sunrise glow.

The visit to Chicago began with a short bus ride from the train station to UIC where my brother John teaches history.  He met me at the student union and we toured his campus and then sat in his office for a bit. I was glad to see his work environment because I never had been there. Then a bus back downtown where we both had lunch at the venerable Lou Mitchell’s diner. Then, fully stuffed, I boarded another train north to Wilmette for the next week and a half or so. Brother Bryan had a week before taken a bad fall on the ice behind his house and separated his right quad from whatever they are supposed to be attached to. After an operation he is instructed to not flex or bend that leg for over a month. So I took my turn being on care and household duty.

We had good visits with the whole household which also includes sister Mary, with Katie and James. Family gathering also including John, Jeanine, Cecily, Gwen, Beth, Kathy and Albert when Beth made her annual to-begin-the-year-right meal. 

After-Dinner at Bryan’s. Most of us in a happy stupor due mainly to overeating, not medications

After-Dinner at Bryan’s. Most of us in a happy stupor due mainly to overeating, not medications

Way too much but excellent food all week, including some memorable trials of tapioca making. Mary and I got to see Cecily and her team play volleyball. And we all got to do a bit of shovelling snow. I was glad to see Katie’s new apartment which she arranged and rented while I was there. Bryan made a lot of progress during the week or 10 days. Not really sure how long. He went from being essentially immobile to walking around with one crutch.

Another highlight of the trip to Chicago was a dinner with my old partners Bob and Cary. The three of us have been together for almost 40 years of professional life, and more importantly we have been close friends and mutual supporters that whole time. We hadn’t connected in a while with all three of us together at once.

Then there was a gathering of many of my old friends and Lake Michigan sailing buddies. Verterens of many races including too-many-to-count Mackinac races. Robin, Gail, Gordon, and Catherine came by Shelley’s. It had been perhaps over 20 years since I had seen most of them. Maybe 25. But we started right up as if we had just seen each other last week. Shelley made us a great dinner and we shared old sailing misadventures, brought each other up to date and by and large just laughed a lot.

Next morning I flew to LA to begin my west coast adventure. Starting with a night in a hostel in Hollywood just off the walk of fame. This was my own boulevard of broken dreams moment, which inspired the category name here for my more cyclical observations to come.

Right around corner from my hostel

Right around corner from my hostel

Thus far I have traveled about 1,500 miles over rail track. It will be another 3,500 miles before I get back East.

More on that later.

Monty is here to make up my bed for the night in my Amtrak Roomette. When the sun comes up I should be almost in Oregon, and hopefully have Mt Shasta outside my bedroom window. We shall see.