Thursday, April 21, 2011

Train travel

Perhaps there are better times to reflect on the merits of train travel than within four hours of dismounting from an eight-and-a-half-hour train ride. My legs are stiff from sitting for so long and my stomach is not feeling so great after a daylong diet of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish and insufficient fluids – not because beverages weren’t readily available but just because my willingness to become mildly dehydrated trumped my willingness to use an on-board restroom.

Nonetheless, once the journey is over – at least one way, with the second half to commence in another few days – it seems in retrospect like time well-spent. During the years my sister has lived in Washington D.C., we’ve done the journey by plane, train and automobile, and I always end up concluding that train is the best way, even though seven hours into an eight-plus hour trip, it might not always feel that way.

My kids always prefer train over car for this trip because they know it means I’ll be more available to them than I would if I’m driving. I admit I’m not piles of fun on a train – at their current ages of eight and twelve, I expect them to be fairly self-sufficient when it comes to their own entertainment, and I don’t devote hours to reading aloud or playing card games – but they still appreciate the fact that I can give them more attention than I would behind the wheel. They also like the fact that unlike in a car or on a plane, they are welcome to walk up and down the aisles as much as they wish. They made so many trips to the café car when we did this same trip a year ago that the café attendant recognized them yesterday and gave them each a complimentary bottle of water.

And for the most part, the train journey went really well. Holly’s newfound love of recorded music was a boon; she listened to songs she’d recently downloaded on my iPod for hours on end, and read a couple of books she picked out earlier in the week. Tim spent a little time texting with a friend; then he too read. Together they watched a DVD on my laptop.

Due to delays we weren’t particularly aware of at the time, the whole trip took an hour more than it was supposed to, and by the final hour we were pretty tired of being on the train. At that point, Holly made up a game for all of us to play called “Eight Clues.” It’s sort of like Twenty Questions on Speed: it entailed Holly thinking of a person, place or thing and then immediately telling Tim and me eight facts about it, after which we were free to guess what it was. Games that are really easy are a good plan for the last hour of an eight-hour train trip.

The most important aspect to any leg of transportation is a safe arrival, and I’m happy to say that we couldn’t have asked for more in that regard. We arrived at Union Station a little weary but otherwise fine, and as soon as we emerged into the warm sunlight of a spring evening in Washington, we spotted Sarah and her kids, who were excited to see us and even more excited (on the kids’ part) to tell us that they just saw a man throw up on the sidewalk.

Train travel still wins first place, in my book. It’s easier than dealing with airports and it’s a lot less stressful than driving. And if I’m not exactly chomping at the bit to get back on the train for the eight-hour ride home, I’m still really glad that we chose Amtrak this time around.

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