Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Things that should scare the crap out of you: Tuesday Edition

I had no idea that the Southeastern US was in the midst of one the worst droughts in 100 years—apparently the situation is so dire that several communities are in danger of completely depleting their water supply reservoirs within the next few months. One of those locations would be the charming hamlet of Atlanta, a city of merely 4 million people. Imagine, turning on the tap and nothing coming out. Many believe that future wars will be fought over potable water (you know, if other stuff doesn't wipe us out first) and this event hopefully will be the canary in the coal mine that wakes people up to serious water conservation.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Zen and the Art of Amtrak: Part 3

When Amtrak is doing what it should, it’s a wonderful experience. I mean it! Turns out the westward trip from Chicago to Los Angeles wasn’t just on time, but we ended up being 45 minutes early arriving into Union Station. Perfect way to end my trip.

I find myself just staring out at the landscape most of the time on the trip. After about an hour, I catch myself and think, shouldn’t I be doing something productive? But there is definitely something peaceful about watching the country roll by at a leisurely pace. Even the…let’s call them, ‘less fortunate areas’ (only because, who wants train tracks 6 feet from their back porch?)…were peaceful to watch. It was also interesting to watch the progression of each environment come and go. The wide open deserts of south eastern California, the painted desert of Arizona, the red clays of Albuquerque, the greens and yellows of the low lands of Colorado, the farms and prairies of Kansas, Iowa and Illinois, the steel paradise of Chicago, the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. Each is so unique that now I could probably tell you where I was just by looking at a picture. How am I supposed to get any work done with that rolling by right outside my window?

Zen and the Art of Amtrak: Part 2

When taking the rails, the first rule of Zen and the Art of Amtrak is foremost: “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” If you’re brave enough to attempt the cross country rail trek, you must be willing to throw your schedule out the window. Do not schedule anything for 24 hours after your arrival in either direction. Trust me. If you give yourself that 24 hour buffer zone, your trip will be that much more relaxed, so that the odd derailment, mechanical failure, 2 hours waiting for goddamn freight trains to pass you in the middle of the night (more on those later) will seem like nothing but small trifle on the great adventure that is your Amtrak journey. Okay, so that’s overstating it just a tad. Even the Dalai Lama would probably be swearing like a longshoreman some of these bumps in the road. It’s just important to know that no one should ever take the train to rely on the schedule that Amtrak has set. They are so notorious off time that I can’t believe they haven’t built in at least one secret hour onto all scheduled routes. So far all of my trips this “adventure” have been at least a half hour late, and the lateness goes up exponentially, the longer the trip. Just for laughs, I thought I would play the home game with the handy time schedule provided in my Superliner Roomlette (quite nice for myself, I think that if I had to share this with another person, even one of my nearest and dearest, it might not be so Zen). The time schedule is nice because not only does it give you the time you’re supposed to arrive at the next station, but it gives you the miles between stations so when the train is moving at a speed that you could walk faster than, you can weep extra hard at thinking how much further you have to go.
Our kickass conductor Bree (I can call her that now, since boarding she’s already threatened to throw 2 people off the train, one for smoking the other for opening a door while we were stopped) is determined to get this bucket of bolts back on schedule which makes playing the home game that much more entertaining.Here's a view from the front, bug guts and all. And an early morning glimpse of La Junta, CO site of the train clearing detour from the west to east version of my trip back in September.

Zen and the Art of Amtrak: Part 1

(Here's a series of dispatches written while criss-crossing the country via rail but unfortunately not posted until now, because well, Amtrak is still working on that wifi situation.)

Zen and the Art of Amtrak: Part 1

I’m a little like a battered wife with my relationship with Amtrak: I tend to forget all the bad things they’ve put me through and come running back for more of the same. At least I’m not surprised anymore by it. But I’m still prone to defend them to anyone who questions my sanity for being a repeat train cross country traveler. Case in point: after a derailment (or “putting the train on the ground” in railroad lingo) interrupted my trip from west to east, causing a 4 hour wait for a bus to show up and drive us around it, resulting in a nine hour late arrival to Chicago, which caused everyone to miss their connecting trains and thus forced us all to spend an extra 22 hours in the Windy City…even after all that, did I say, “Hmm maybe we should switch back to planes?” Nope. And this morning, after arriving in Chicago another hour and 45 minutes late did I say, “hmmm, really is it just my train travel that’s cursed, that would be pretty odd…” Nope. Back on the train for another dose of sado-masochism. This evening’s adventure came in the form of some sort of “mechanical difficulty” less than 150 miles out of Chicago (that’s 2050 miles AWAY from our final destination for those keeping score at home) where apparently something started sparking (I could hear it from where I sit, sounded just like when someone doesn’t close the between train car doors and it bang bang bangs until someone gets fed up enough to close it tight) and then apparently flames shot out to the side of the train. Damn, I miss all the good stuff. God love this crew (at least so far… at 150 miles, even the fact that they’re just giving us information about what’s going on is still leaps and bounds ahead of any other crew I’ve dealt with so far on this “adventure”) So we sat, on the tracks, in the middle of an Illinois corn field while the crew stood outside and assessed the sitch. My vantage point is approximately 3-4 cars back from the engine so I could hear them talking about the problem but didn’t want to listen too closely because I didn’t want to hear those dreaded words about turning back to Chicago. Or riding to Kansas City without power. But once again, god love this crew, they had us up and running in probably just a half hour. I may have to hold my breath the rest of the trip so I don’t jinx it.
I think this is the offending cable that caused the stoppage. It will furthermore be housed in an unused roomette near the bathrooms.