Travel Torture

On Tuesday the 28th at 1840 Central we depart Chicago Union Station right on time and head east on train no. 30 the Capitol Limited. We are in coach this time as it is “only” a nine-hour trip. I don’t imagine we’ll get much sleep but the seats are roomier than on an airplane and I can stretch my legs out and that helps a lot. Sue spotted the young crescent low in the southeast sky just as we were pulling out. That was the most serene thing so far about our experience in the station. That and getting my shoes shined! The guy was just closing up but agreed to do one more. It was only five bucks and I tipped him an extra two. And they look good, too. I figured we might get some rain in Philadelphia so a quick touch-up seemed like a smart move. The throngs of frantic commuters rushing from escalators to gates and across the concourses left us breathless. You could hardly move without some herd blowing past you. I figured maybe the commuter rail connections were tight and one did not have a moment to spare to make a transfer. Either that or everyone was on crack. The Amtrak portion was mellow by comparison. It was stuffed with passengers awaiting their gate calls, and the lines were long and slow moving, but no one was in a rush. Considering that we are now stopped on the tracks just outside the city it’s no surprise. Amtrak sent me an email saying to expect “significant delays” on this run and to check the website for updates. Of course they had no updates so I asked the station agent and he said the trains were on time and no delays expected. Uh, right. Apparently this is SOP for Amtrak. The veteran travelers on this run seem philosophical about it. We’ve had a good experience so far but I’m afraid we may not make our connection to Philadelphia if we run late. No sense worrying now, there’s Game Six to have enough anxiety about. More on that later.

Today we wandered around the city heading north along the lakefront and eventually finding our way to the Magnificent Mile, Chicago’s shopping district on Michigan Avenue. It’s a great city for tourists as the boulevards are lined with wide pedestrian walkways and the intersections give you ample time for crossing. Things are well-marked and easy to find. This trip we didn’t take any of the public transit options although it looked like they would have done the job. We looked for a place to have a drink in one of the skyscrapers and were directed to the John Hancock building right at the end of the Mile. There was an entrance fee for something called The Tilt and that did not seem right so we found ourselves a hole-in-the-wall pub called Pippin’s and had a pint. That always restores the spirit of adventure and we chatted with a young couple who told us to go back to the Hancock and take the express elevator to the 96th floor to a place called The Signature Lounge. We did and found the spot we were seeking. The beers and entrees were ballpark expensive but it was worth it for the magnificent views. The city was beautiful from up on high but the state of Illinois is too damn flat for a native Californian. Where the hell do people go for mountains around here?

At game time (1900) I searched for wi-fi networks and saw several but none were open public access so I once again have to rely on text updates from friends and perhaps the kindness of strangers. One of the passengers in line asked me if we were hoping for a Game Six loss so we could watch tomorrow’s game. Not a chance, I said, go for the kill. I’d rather miss a Giants win than see a loss! He seemed like a knowledgeable fan of the game. We talked about the nature of tournament baseball and how things were quite different today from the post-seasons of yesteryear. He was not sure if Jake Peavy had the makeup for a big start but I countered with Yusmeiro Petit our super-reliever. We talked about how amazing Madison Bumgarner is and he said teams that win the Series usually have to have an ace like him which of course I concurred with. He joked that the Giants needed to take this year’s title because you knew they wouldn’t get next year as it is odd-numbered! I mentioned how I’m still pinching myself that my beloved team is in its third Series in five years. I never thought I’d ever see the orange-and-black be this successful. Alas, the Giants were crushed in Game Six so we know there will be a Game Seven.

By the time we got to Toledo it was clear the chances of missing our connection were good. Sure enough we got to Pittsburgh at dawn and the no. 42 Pennsylvanian to Philly had left ten minutes earlier! TEN MINUTES! We had a 2-1/2 hour window on a nine-hour ride but that was not enough. At least they supplied us a bus to make the connection instead of leaving us stranded. Amtrak is the province of working class travelers. You can bet if rich people rode the train they’d run on time. It saddens me that our Congress is too short-sighted to invest in our passenger rail infrastructure. It seems if you are a billionaire tech wizard or a goddamn banker they’ll fall all over themselves to pass laws to protect your industry. But essential services like the mails and the rails are left to fend for themselves.

The bus ride across Pennsylvania was surprisingly scenic. They have actual mountains. I suppose to a Californian they seem more like foothills, but the ridge-and-valley terrain is far preferable to the flatlands of the Midwest. The state is cut by a series of southwest-to-northeast trending ranges like the Alleghenies and the hill-and-dale pattern seems to be distinctly Northeastern. Fall colors were everywhere and I even saw some conifers. There was at least one kind of pine (I can’t say which) and I’m pretty sure the others were larches and hemlocks. The turnpikes are interesting from an engineering point of view as there were numerous viaducts and bridges needed to cross the many streams. The roadcuts were also intriguing as they exposed a complex sedimentary geology. Pennsylvania is a coal-and-oil state. We crossed the Susquehenna River when we got to Harrisburg. It’s huge, at least five times wider than the Sacramento. They’ve got us beat on size as all the rivers here make ours look like creeks, but we’ve got the whitewater out West.

It’s 1305 on Wednesday the 29th we are finally on our way to Philadelphia. We should be there in a few hours. The ride last night across Ohio and Indiana was not a pleasant one. The coach seats were roomy but the train was crowded and noisy as well as cold. I think I slept for an hour tops as the only stop I missed was Toledo. Game Seven decides the Series tonight so I’m not sure sleep is going happen this afternoon, either. GO GIANTS!

One thought on “Travel Torture

  1. Yay! I was thinking of you guys as I heard the play by play of the bottom of the ninth while driving to the ranch. What a wonderful ending! I am sure you guys are partying up a storm! Also, I have been at the Signature Lounge while at a conference in Chicago. Neat place! Thanks for the updates on your travels. It is fun to read about your journey!

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