Monday, October 18, 2021

Observations from the Road

For the second time since the arrival of Covid I taking a trip to see my kids and grandkids in Las Vegas. The previous time, in May, I drove. This time I'm taking the train. 

While the train is my preferred mode of travel, this is the first time I've been on Amtrak in 19 months—the longest stretch I've gone trainless since the early '80s. To celebrate my reemergence on the rails, I'm doing this trip via a USA Rail pass, which allows me 10 segments within 30 days for a set price. Fall is a great time to travel (less extreme temperatures and beautiful colors) and I'm doing a giant circle: Minneapolis—New Orleans—Los Angeles—Las Vegas—Seattle—Minneapolis. While the centerpiece is 16 days in Sin City with my downline, I'll also enjoy six nights on the choo choo, rumbling through two time zones and as many climates as America has to offer.

In addition to seeing my kids (a high priority) this is a break from the busiest 12 months of consulting and teaching I've ever had. It turns out that pandemics are good for business. Who knew.

I. The eastbound Empire Builder

This train was full last Friday. While that complicated my ability to write reports (no room to spread out papers) I was glad for Amtrak, and we arrived into Chicago on time.

II. The southbound City of New Orleans

Ridership thinned out after Memphis and the ride into the Crescent City was spacious enough for me to start working on reports in the Lounge Car. About 20% of the homes on the north side of New Orleans sported blue tarps on their roof, marking residual damage from Hurricane Ida last month. Although you can't see the social damage, I encountered plentiful homeless encampments and sleeping bags in doorways.

I ate dinner last evening at a Japanese restaurant close to my hotel, and enjoyed teppanyaki. You needed to be masked and proof of vaccination to get in (or a recent negative Covid test) and they only placed customers at six of the 10 seats that fit around the grill, to allow for a modicum of social distancing. The other five at my table were a couple with their daughter, and childless couple. All four adults were fully engrossed in their cell phones while we awaited the start of the cooking show. I remember when eating out was more of a social occasion, but I'm not so sure it is any more.

III. The westbound Sunset Limited

There are just four ways to get from the Central time zone to the West Coast by train, and the Sunset Limited is the least used of these. It runs three times a week from New Orleans to Los Angeles, and I sought this route out because I've traveled it the least and it takes me through terrain I otherwise rarely see. Originating this morning in the steaming humidity of the Gulf Coast, we will traverse 2000 miles (half of it in Texas, from Beaumont to El Paso) to get to the City of Angels. As we proceed, the moisture will gradually be wrung out of the air until we're parched in the Sonora Desert of southern Arizona. 

Although there are still blue tarps on some of the houses in Lake Charles (courtesy of the double whammy that hit this city in August 2020, first Hurricane Delta and then Laura), I was impressed by how much the physical damage has been repaired. 

While the first two trains legs of this adventure both ran on time, we're already spectacularly behind schedule on this one, mainly due to freight train shenanigans. Good thing I'm not in a hurry.

1 comment:

Carolina said...

Thank you for posting about your journey on Amtrak. I was wondering what it is like during the pandemic.