Planes, Trains and Automobiles

By now, I’ve traversed this 3,000-mile stretch of country by every form of commercial transportation known to mankind except watercraft and hot-air-balloon. Planes, okay, we all get that, and most people have taken a road trip and a train: well, even a trip on the rapid gives you some perspective, so in the end, what do I have to say? Moving your body to a different location sucks, and I don’t care if we’re talking about cross-country skiing or arguing about who’s going to DD for the night, it just sucks, but you should try a train, just once, because it’s pretty decent if you get lucky. C’mon, if it’s good enough for Sir Topham Hatt, then it’s good enough for me.

But then again, you can get a shitty situation like I did on the short coach leg from Chicago to Cleveland. It smelled like coleslaw in my car and I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. An obviously homeless woman asked the conductor for help and after he explained, she responded: “Thank you, I get kind of confused sometimes, because I think I had a stroke. That’s why I’m taking the train, so I can go to the hospital in Chicago.” Eventually, I fell asleep and when I woke up, the white-trash woman across the aisle was changing her kid’s diaper right there on the seat. And it still smelled like coleslaw.

But the majority of the trip was great, from Chicago to California. I saved a lot of dough, that’s for sure. They even bumped me up to a sleeper. One major difference, is the price doesn’t fluctuate as much as it does for a flight, so there’s no need to book it months in advance. There are outlets, which is a definite plus. Because there’s no way you’re gonna toast Hot Pockets in a plane or a car. In a train, there is no “fasten seatbelt sign,” in fact, there’s no seatbelt at all. So you can wander about and stretch and sit the café or the observation car and whatnot. Security is lax, so it’s no big deal to bring your transformers or drugs on board.

That’s what’s measurable, but something different made it really valuable. I won’t tackle the obvious here and try to convince you that 40 hours of desert scenery really made it worth it – it definitively didn’t. What really made the difference is the collection of people on the train. You do meet people on a train, no matter how hard you try not to. In the dining car, they force you to sit at a table with three other strangers. I met a woman with 11 kids and a husband in Iraq. I met a New Orleans refuge who lived in his car for 3 weeks. I met a Persian from New York who rides trains to avoid harassment at security checks. I met a blind guy from France. I even met a fellow screenwriter. I don’t want to get all “wise” so I’ll stop there, but you get the point. Other ways of moving about are weighed for their convenience, but after you’ve been on a train you realize what it’s really like to travel.

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