All Aboard! The Biiiiiiiiiiig Apple!

New Yawhk Citee! It’s an obvious East Coast stop, and a required one. Most west-bound trains leave from NYC. I never tire of New York City. I am not sure if I would live here, but as a visitor I have never been in want of anything.

The commuter train I took into the city was packed. As any train going into NYC, I suppose. I’ve taken the Accela before, but this is a regional. It’s comfortable enough. Seats recline slightly. Leg room is not lacking, not where you desperately beg for the premium economy for an extra 3 inches of space they call “six.” The quiet cars are not truly quiet, but people know to keep their mobile conversations at a lower tone. No one talks to each other, only to the mobile. The demographic ranged the entire spectrum from a very neatly dressed elderly woman to thoroughly pierced teenagers holding their skateboards. Not many sported large heavy suitcases such as mine, making luggage storage space a little easier to claim.

Highlights of the city I enjoyed that evening:
Chicago musicale. Broadway enthralls me. I am a big fan of musicales. Living in Asia has deprived me of this entertainment venue for too long. I am a bit surprised that I’ve never seen this particular one, especially since I lived in Chicago for a while. Maybe I just didn’t remember seeing it, the memory of the movie having overtaken any recollection. Oi. I am getting old.

– The world is crazy about Serendipity on E 60th Street and its froze hot chocolate. As for me, I prefer the larger neighbour, Dylan’s Candy Bar, and its hot chocolate selection, made of real rich chocolate chips. There is no shortage of chocolatiers in the city, but Dylan’s hot chocolate is a bargain compared to the specialty stores. (Skip the store, though. The ice cream parlor is the part worth a visit)

– Some random closing camera store. Going out of business. That’s when you started seeing photos from me using the Nikon D5100…

My stopover was very brief. Really just a night’s sleep before the next leg of the train ride.. a tortuous uncomfortable red-eye.

All Aboard! Manifest Destiny by Rail

Three weeks of free time. What would you do?
Travel the world? I already do that for my living.
Lay in a cruise? Too sedate and confining for this globe trotter.
Hang out with family? Three whole weeks, seriously?

I went cross country in the United States of America, my native country that I hadn’t live in for years. The country that I probably explored the least, much to my chagrin to realise.

My original plan was to drive, one way. With my move to a new continent, the movers can pick up my car at the opposite coast and ship it onward to a foreign destination. Well, that didn’t work out.

By the time I found that it wasn’t going to work out for me to drive my own car, we were two weeks away from my free time. I already had my heart set on hiking, on seeing the national parks of Old Glory. From going Sea to Shining Sea. It was too late to just forget about it.

Plan B. My other dream. To do a cross-country train ride. If I had a fourth week, I would have come back to the original coast by train. Sadly, of most countries I’ve been to, the USA has some of the poorest coverage by rail. As I found out through experience, the country was just too freakin’ big. In fact, with three weeks, I really didn’t have enough time to drive. Manifest Destiny, my @$$. I’d say the politicians of the day bit off more than their followers could chew. Anyway, I digress.

Northern Pacific Railway. That was the route I followed. Quite a bit of history once I found out which tracks I retraced, literally. The tracks obviously have been maintained and rebuilt over the years but the route remains largely unchanged. And I got an unique view of the country I haven’t seen in too long.

So I purchased a 15 day pass, that allows 8 segments. I went from East to West. My three weeks was cut down a little so I can attend a family reunion, hence the 15 day option was *perfect.*

I was surprised how many people were on the trains, all segments. Why would people pay the same price of a round trip air fare on a slow economy train ride that takes you only one way at the price point? I’ve disliked air travel more and more lately but I consider it a necessary method of transport because it gets me great distances in a short amount of time. Train in the States does neither.

Passengers fight for storage space for their large suitcases. On the western legs, people dashed to claim their seats of choice. Wait, that’s Southwest Airlines, too!

The conductors and attendants were fantastic. How these folks choose this job, I have no idea. They were terrific, friendly, and responsive. They didn’t shy away from waking up passengers hoarding two seats to make room for a boarding passenger (*yawn* I didn’t like it. Logically, I concede it is the right thing to do). They knew the line, the scene, the route, the areas. They entertained the adults as much as the children. They made their rounds hustling people off at the right stops. They were people’s people.

The trains ranged from two-level coaches and sleepers to single level commuter movers. All of them gave the aura of being older vehicles, but not so old they can carry off the rustic posture. No locomotives on this one.

Train stations varied from the large Penn Stations in big cities to a single waiting platform that could pass as a mere sidewalk if it weren’t for the tracks.

Old train system, run down carpets, free-for-all seating.. regardless of that, there’s a part of my the shivers and giggles with glee each and every time the doors slam shut as the crew step in and yell “All Aboard!” Well, they didn’t yell it, but in my mind I heard it. That excitement got to me, the sense of adventure trilling through me as the train clackety-clacks over the rains towards the left coast. Westward-ho, mates!

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