Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Took My Chances on an Amtrak Train, Never Let Them Tell You That They're All the Same

The biggest surprise of the trip had to be California.  I figured it would be pretty, but pictures do it no justice.  It’s prettier than a picture, I tell you.  Prettier…than…a…picture.  Despite is natural beauty ;), I don’t think I could ever be a Californian.  I’m not a traffic fan, and Brad would go crazy with the no gun law, but it’s an excellent state to visit.  So excellent in fact, I’m planning a Spring Break trip there with one of my girlfriends from JMU.

When I was talking to Monongahela, Dr. Smedley, and Australia in the Dining Car, I wanted to know if I would wake up to anything pretty.  So, I asked about California.  From what I could tell, they didn’t seem too excited about the scenery, but maybe it’s because they have seen it before.  I know this entire blog is full of clichés (especially this post in particular), but my sunrise over the California desert was priceless.  Getting pictures of the colored sky was kind of difficult, though.  It took standing on multiple sightseer lounge chairs to capture the moment.  I don’t know if the lady who I leaned over in order to take the pictures appreciated my touristey-ness, but c’est la vie.

My favorite thing about California—the contrast.  Watching the “industry” spread across the countryside was pretty neat.  Seeing palm trees in front of snow-capped mountains was neat, too.  I also loved the orange trees peppered across yards with candy cane ornaments and fancy holiday lights.  Overall, everything about Cali caught me by surprise.  I couldn’t help but smile when I saw the multi-height skyscrapers, or as I stopped in the middle of busy LA sidewalks to snap pictures of palm trees 5 days before Christmas while I was wearing a t-shirt. 

My only complaint...California cows don’t look any happier than any other cows that I’ve seen.  In fact, they look pretty damn depressed.  That commercial is a friggin' joke.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Highlights from 12/20

Sighting: The Jesus body in the Snow White coffin in the Catholic church on Olvera Street.  Thanks again, Los Angeles, for taking pics inside the church when I felt uncomfortable doing so.

Topic: Eavesdropping on the woman talking "Hollywood" on the FlyAway bus to LAX.  It wasn't very difficult to eavesdrop.  She was pretty freakin' loud. 

Quote: "How do you spell 'mumbling'?" -Man sitting on bench in front of Los Angeles's Union Station

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Railroad French Toast on Amtrak's Southwest Chief

When I first heard about Railroad French Toast, I was reading an article that compared the Super Chief that ran on the old Santa Fe Railroad to Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.  Apparently, the recipe is a bit of a legend to those who once dined on the Super Chief.  They bragged of fluffy, golden brown toast dusted with confectioner’s sugar and topped with sliced strawberries. 

I consider myself a bit of a French Toast connoisseur.  As a kid, my Dad made it every Christmas.  Even after munching on Santa’s leftover cookies, I could always make room for a slice or two (or four).  Now that I am an adult, I have started making my own French Toast with my own secret ingredients. In all honesty, though, it all comes down to the bread.

My favorite bread to use is the homemade cinnamon sourdough bread from the Dayton Farmer’s Market in Dayton, Virginia.  The swirls of gooey cinnamon rival the inside of the most epic Cinnabon, and that bread dipped in a pile of Log Cabin Light is divine.  Though I have also used cinnamon raisin bread, pumpkin spice bread, regular old white bread, and honey wheat bread, nothing tastes as good as French Toast made with Dayton Farmer's Market cinnamon sourdough bread. 

Because of my success with homemade French Toast, I rarely order it when dining out.  I have made an exception on two ocassions—1) at Little Grill Collective in Harrisonburg, Virginia and 2) the Dining Car on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.  On the Chief, when I took fork and knife to those fluffy pieces of golden brown toast, which was dusted with confectioner’s sugar and topped with sliced strawberries, I felt like I was cutting into a piece of history.  When I took my first bite, I would have sworn that I bit into a legend. 

There was something about my Railroad French Toast that was just, well, special.  I don't know if it was because of the fellow adventurers I was sitting with.  If it was because I was on my very first cross-country train trip, or if the French Toast was just that good.  Maybe it was all of the above.  Whatever it was, eating Railroad French Toast while experiencing California's landscape for the very first time will be a memory I carry forever. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Community Seating - Part Two

Shall we continue with this community seating theme?  Okay, you twisted my arm. 

Since I had such a great Dining Car experience Monday night, I decided to dine in the Dining Car again the next morning.  I woke up just before sunrise, rubbed my eyes, threw my pack over my shoulder, and went downstairs to shower in the sink.  After all, I had to be clean for community seating, needed to make a good impression for Team Coach. 

I was essentially an expert after three days of showering in sinks.  I had an excellent method I followed on Days 2 and 3, too, but for modesty’s sake, decided not to post it here.  Typed it out using pretty bullets and all but deleted it.  Sad face.  If you find yourself having to shower in sinks, though, let me know.  I’ll let you in on all of my trade secrets.  After getting Amtrak clean (different from house clean or hotel clean), I made my way to the lounge car.  I watched the sunrise over the California desert, and when it finished rising, I walked approximately twenty feet to the Dining Car. 

At breakfast, I sat with a couple who used to own their own travel agency.  I also sat with a fellow coach passenger, a woman from Mexico City living in New York City who was traveling to Los Angeles.  For me the highlight of our breakfast conversation was exotic animals.  We discussed Christian the Lion (Youtube it: http://bit.ly/uFK03E), a boxing kangaroo, and elephants.  I absolutely loooove elephants.

Also, Mr. Travel Agency sounded a lot like Johnny Cash which made his stories that much more fascinating.  He told me that it was good breakfast wasn’t any longer because he said that he had plenty of adventures to share.  One of those adventures was hopping on a boxcar and eating hobo stew, and that was interesting, but the stories I loved the most were his stories about the elephants in Africa. 

When Mr. Travel Agency was in Kenya, he and some travelers were on a safari.  Maybe Mrs. Travel Agency was there, too.  I don’t know.  Anyways, Mr. Travel Agency had seen plenty of elephants and decided it was time to put the video camera away.  As soon as he put it away, though, an elephant calf stampeded toward their group.  The elephant calf was stomping his feet and flaring his ears, and Mr. Travel Agency said, “He was just so darn cute!”  Now imagine Johnny Cash saying that…pretty friggin’ awesome, right?

Now onto the other story.  Mr. Travel Agency was in a hot air balloon in Kenya.  They landed in an elephant wallow, and all of the passengers had to climb out over the highest end of the basket.  The passengers from the hot air balloon then dined on a full breakfast spread including mimosas in the grasslands of Kenya.  There were even more elephants this time.  Really makes me wish my summer trip to Africa comes to fruition.  Time to start saving…

Stay tuned for a preview of tomorrow’s blog: Railroad French Toast, a History

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Two Thumbs Up for Community Seating

The Dining Car is expensive, and it was a bit of a legend in coach.  Many of the people I traveled with didn’t want to spend that kind of money on food, and I don’t blame them.  I was even one of those people.  I tried to spend $10 or less on each meal during my trip.  That left me with a variety of options—Chef Boyardee ravioli out of the can, McDonald’s cheeseburgers, TCBY parfaits, and lint from my belly button.  You can’t live off that kind of stuff for forever, though, not even three days.  Not me, at least.  I wanted vegetables.  I wanted salad.  I wanted something substantial. 

So, when I couldn’t find anything good to eat in the Albuquerque Union Station, I decided to take the plunge.  I ran up to the Dining Car and asked if they could squeeze me in for a reservation at 7:45PM.  Jackie, the Dining Car attendant on the Southwest Chief, gladly obliged and sat me down next to a gentleman I didn’t know. 

A gentleman I now call Denton Smedley.  Unfortunately, I didn’t come up with that myself.  He did.  Not that day, but some time before that.  It was the name he suggested for himself in a book that his friend wrote that included a character based on him, Smedley.  Dr. Smedley is a professor at Colgate University in Syracuse, New York.  He’s from LA but got his degrees on the east coast.  On breaks, he used to hitchhike home.  Only one way, though, he never hitchhiked both ways.  I wish I could do that—hitchhike.  Don’t throw a fit...I won’t.  Promise.

Speaking of hitchhiking, though, I actually met a guy in Union Station who hitchhiked across the U.S. when he was twenty.  He looked to be about in his 30s when I met him.

I’m going to stick to the alias thing and call Australia “Australia” despite him introducing himself with his real name.  After all, aliases up the excitement level about 50%.  Australia was in the states for Holiday.  He had just spent a week in Telluride, Colorado, skiing.  Thanks to Oprah Winfrey, I do know one thing about Telluride—Tom Cruise has a house there.  As you may have guessed, I couldn’t really contribute much to Telluride as a topic, but there was one conversation I could surprisingly contribute to—a conversation about Einstein.  Thanks, Dr. P!  Hopefully, you’re reading this.  According to Smedley, I have to read Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile, and I will…eventually. 

In the Dining Car, Monongahela took care of us, and Monongahela told us some fascinating stories.  Like Tony, she listed a bunch of celebrities she had met.  I didn’t recognize a lot of the names, but my eyes lit up when she said she had met Lucille Ball and Bob Hope.  Monongahela had even held a real Oscar, and this past year, her float in the town parade was awarded “Most Humorous Float.”  She said her and a bunch of other “little old ladies” dressed as elves; I wish I could have seen that.  I also wish I could have spent more time with Monongahela.  She seemed so full of stories.  The saddest one she told me, though, was that her mother almost died from the Yellow Smog in Pittsburgh? In 1949. 

You may be asking yourself why I call Monongahela, Monongahela.  I’m pretty sure she said you used to live there as a kid.  She also liked saying the word, “Monongahela” and was able to clock in five Monongahelas before the end of our conversation. 

I will end this post with a couple of thank yous.  Thank you, Dr. Smedley for ordering a cream puff and giving it to me so I didn’t have to pay, and thank you, Monongahela for the excellent service and the free chocolate peanut butter ice cream.

Besides, who needs Roast Beast when you have salad, bread, spinach lasagna, a cream puff, ice cream, tea, and coffee for less than $20 including tip?  Not me, that’s for sure.  Glad I took the plunge.  The Southwest Chief Dining Car was quite the train travel experience.  Community seating is such a great idea........

Highlights from 12/19

Sighting: The creepy tree in the above picture.

Topic: Ted Turner's buffalo.  According to Topeka, Ted Turner owns 60% of the buffalo in the United States.

Quote: "You're like that person in the 50's with the little pen, the little hat, and the notepad.  [Pointing at laptop] That's the upgraded version." -Los Angeles
^This might have been  said on 12/18...but I can't remember.  For the purpose of this post, though, it was 12/19.  Definitely 12/19.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I Heart the Holidays

If I would have traveled in the spring, I’m sure the rushing waters and the green grass and the blooming flowers would have been pretty.  There was something special, though, about traveling around the holidays.  I’m not afraid to admit it.  I do not consider myself a religious person.  Whenever someone asks, I always say the same thing, “I would call myself more spiritual than religious.”  Religion, however, is everywhere this time of year, and it seems to me that most people think that you can either be religious and festive or not religious and not festive.  I want to put it out there that I’m spiritual and festive.  I appreciate and respect the magic of it all.  This time of year really is magical, but what I consider magical is different from what you may consider magical.  And that’s fine by me.  My magic is a soldier surprising his family for the holidays, a child opening a present from “Santa,” and tacky Christmas lights, among other things. 

I love tacky Christmas lights, and I saw plenty on my trip across the country.  Tomorrow (Thursday, 12/22) I will be putting a string of blue icicle lights on my deck.  They’re tasteful, unfortunately.  Someday, however, Brad and I will have a house of our very own, and whether he agrees with me or not, I will be the most obnoxious person in our neighborhood when it comes to decorations.  The houses I saw on this trip gave me plenty of ideas for the future.  Colored, blinking lights, blow-up Santa Clauses, candy cane yard ornaments, you name it…….I probably saw it, but my favorite decoration of all was the blow-up Santa in a helicopter.  This Santa in a helicopter was on top of a motel on the side of the road in Colorado.  The Travel Inn looked pretty sketchy, but I probably would have stayed there anyways because of the owner’s excellent taste.  

Honestly, there were decorations everywhere I went.  The Great Hall in Chicago’s Union Station was very festive.  From the snow shadows to the life-size ornaments, there was no way I could have forgotten it was the holidays.  The Art Institute of Chicago was decorated, too.  For example, there were two statues of massive lions outside the doors of the museum, and around the lions’ necks was a beautiful green wreath with a perfect red bow.  Some of the exhibits in the museum even had a holiday theme.  In the Miniature Exhibit, there were rooms decorated for both Christmas and Hanukkah.  Many of the towns I passed by had wreaths on the light posts.  Other towns had subdivisions with massive participation in the holiday lights department.  Olvera Street in Los Angeles (which I will blog about in a few days) was decorated for the holidays, as well.  The pavilion in the middle of the square housed a large nativity scene with golden statues.  They probably weren't real gold, but they were beautiful nonetheless.  LAX even joined in on the festivities.  At my gate, there were nutcrackers over 10 feet tall!  And though I didn’t see it myself, I heard the TSA agents at LAX even sang holiday songs for the travelers.    

Over these past few days, I could not help but be in the holiday spirit.  The Christmas lights at night were probably my favorite kind of decoration.  I can only think of one thing that would have topped those lights.  A passenger dressed as Santa Claus who.....there's a stipulation here-didn't break character.  One guy did have a Santa hat hanging over his seat.  It’s too bad that I forgot to take a picture. 

Happy Hanukkah 
Happy Kwanzaa
Merry Christmas
And to all you atheists out there, have a great Sunday.  

P.S. I'll post again tomorrow.  The plan is to publish a post a day until I'm all out of stories from this trip...may take me a while.  Hope you're ready to keep reading. 

Southwest Chief Lounge Car-Colorado to New Mexico (written in New Mexico)

I thought I was spoiled the first time I rode the Capitol Limited.  I didn’t think I ever would have an experience like that again.  I knew I would ride trains, but I figured the people I would meet wouldn’t share their stories like the people on the Capitol Limited shared theirs.  Boy was I wrong.  Gina and I met a ton of people in the lounge car today. 

Here are some brief bios…

We met a woman who previously lived in Sweden.  The woman played in the World Table Tennis Championship games in Tokyo, Japan, and I don’t know where else.  She’s been to South Korea and “all over Europe,” too.  Now most of the woman’s family has relocated to San Diego.  She misses Sweden, though.  She said it was a great place to raise kids.  The nature reserve by her house in Sweden sounded beautiful.  I think she said it was called, “God’s Green Pasture,” but I’m not sure who named it that.  Her children spent a lot of time there using “their imaginations.”  I bet if Brad and I live off the grid some where our kids can have that type of experience, too.  I know it’s cliché, but there’s nothing like the great outdoors. 

The woman who previously lived in Sweden was sitting next to a young man from Oklahoma.  He was a world traveler, too.  He mentioned that he had been to Kenya before.  I forget where else he said he had been and where he was traveling to.  I don’t forget, though, how much he said he loves to snowboard.  He said I should try it sometime, and I definitely will because it’s on my #bucketlist. 

Gina and I also met a woman from Tokyo.  The woman from Tokyo and I sat together while listening to the history lesson the conductor provided us about Wooten Ranch and Raton Pass.  Tokyo is studying at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York.  I don’t know what she’s studying, but she was reading what looked like a school paper before we started talking.  Somehow, my trip to Africa came up, and the woman from Tokyo mentioned that she traveled to Botswana in 2008.

Toward the end of our time in the lounge car, Gina and I spent a lot of time talking to Topeka.  He got on in Topeka, Kansas and was getting off in Albuquerque, NM.  I never asked where he was from.  I know he is in the Army and has lived all over the place.  His last deployment was his third, and oddly enough he was in Afghanistan at the same time as Brad was.  Same general area, too.  The reason I call Topeka “Topeka” is because that’s where he boarded the train.  I mentioned to him that I live in Harrisonburg, VA.  He then pulled out a wooden lighter that he bought from Shenandoah National Park.  While chatting, Topeka informed me that he was the “Stony Man Trail champ,” and he received that honor after his friends and him raced to the top of the mountain.  Topeka also informed me that he would love to hike the Appalachian Train.  Just like Brad and myself, he wants to go southbound (i.e. Maine to Georgia). 

I remember the first time I told Uncle Jack, I wanted to hike the AT.  I think he thought I was crazy.  He told me to make sure I hiked Maine to Georgia so I was hiking downhill the whole way. =) Thinking about that makes me smile.  Hence, the smiley face.  I saw a pretty neat rainbow mural on the side of a building in Albuquerque, NM.  That made me smile, too.  As many of you have, I’ve seen a ton of rainbows since Uncle Jack’s passing. 

Back to the lounge car, I don’t know much about the little boy who made a snowball from the snow that blew into the connecting car, or the man who previously traveled the Southwest Chief in the spring.  But they were sightseeing with Gina and me, too. 

Snow in the Desert? WTH (written in New Mexico)

In Kansas City, MO, I made a new friend.  Her name is Gina, and she is taking the train to surprise her family in Flagstaff, Arizona.  She’s twenty, and this is her first train ride.  Once we started moving, she wondered if the clanking was normal.  She wondered if the shaking of the car in front of us was normal, and if the lack of security was normal, too.  I assured her that everything would be just fine, and we became fast friends.  I love the way she says, “Gotcha” and also the way she says, “Ya Know.”  Gina’s from Minnesota, and her accent reminds me of Bobby’s World.  Gina said I have an accent, too, which is something I rarely ever hear.  Except, of course, when Brad makes fun of the way I say, “Pancakes…..and coffee.”  Accents seem to be a bit of a theme today.  The White woman behind me was laughing at the way her Spanish-speaking seatmate said, "Sugar."  Had a few choice words at that moment.  Kept them to myself, though.  Maybe I shouldn't have. 

Gina and I commandeered a couple of seats in the sightseeing lounge early in the morning, and that’s where we spent most of our day.  It’s been snowing off and on since we woke up.  We have even traveled through a couple of blizzards.  Maybe it’s just one big one.  I don’t know. 

The Colorado prairies were stunning.  We went through Lamar, La Junta, and Trinidad.  I especially loved this leg of the trip.  The homes on the side of the road had a lot of character, and as many of you know, I love run down houses. Some of houses had old truck and car parts in their yards.  Others had pastures full of cattle, and on the cattle’s fur was a layer of new fallen snow.  I’ll make sure to post pictures after I get home. 

In Colorado, we also rode passed the Wooten Ranch.  Once I get internet access, I need to strengthen the history sections of these blog posts, but for now, it is what it is.  I like being unplugged, but for the purpose of accuracy, I do wish I had access to Google.  About Wooten--he was an outlaw, and he was shot dead by someone.  Before he died, he charged people money to use the Sante Fe Trail which ran on his property, and if it wasn’t for the snow we would have been able to see his gravesite.  It’s only 100 yards from the track. 

After passing Wooten Ranch, we climbed to the top of Raton Pass (7,000 feet).  When we entered the tunnel, we were still in Colorado.  When we exited, we were in New Mexico.  New Mexico is not what I expected.  In my mind, I thought tumbleweeds.  In actuality, I should have thought snow and lots of it. 

Because of the snow, we are running about three hours behind schedule.  Apparently, the police have shut down some interstates, and many of the travelers on the train are worried about their loved ones driving to the stations.  For once, I have nothing to worry about because I’m a drifter.  I was born to walk alone.  The Southwest Chief is the only train I’ve ever known.  That’s a lie, I know the Capitol Limited, too.  Hopefully, you all get that reference.  I know a few people that should.  Otherwise, I'm gonna just feel like a dork.

Seeing snow in the desert is pretty ironic.  The last time my dad traveled cross-country, there was snow in New Mexico.  So, maybe it’s a Brasseur thing?  I don’t know.  A lot of people are upset about the delays, but like Steinbeck said, “A journey is like a marriage.  The only way you can go wrong is to think you can control it.”  Traveling with that attitude, you can’t go wrong.  I doubt I’ll get to see the Pacific this trip.  Maybe I will, but I doubt it.  Good thing is, I met a friend from Los Angeles, and Los Angeles has helped me to figure out some back-up plans.  Hollywood Walk of Fame, Universal Studios, and a train ride to LAX.

Another history lesson.  Felicia, please help me out in the comments section.  In New Mexico, we traveled by Glorietta Canyon.  The battle held there is known as the Gettysburg of the West, and the fields we passed are often referred to as the killing fields.  An American flag near a pavilion marks the spot of the battle’s memorial.  I couldn’t get a good picture, though, because it was dark and snowy.  It was a dark and snow night.......there's another one!  Get it?  Anyways, hopefully, I can find something online once I get home.

More Posts Coming Soon (I'm home)

Got a little behind on blog posts.  Too much adventure and not enough writing.  I'm back in H-burg, but I still have a ton to catch everyone up on, a ton (i.e. tour of Los Angeles from Los Angeles, a special guest post, etc.) Once I get some sleep, I'll post.  Really, I will.  Promise.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Highlights from 12/18 (written in Kansas...I think)

Sighting: The Chicago skyscrapers, especially Sears/Willis Tower.  Looking up made me feel so small.  I felt like I was being mesmerized by a different kind of a mountain range, an industrial one.  Very similar, but different, feeling to hiking. 

Topic: Karma as a deity, a conversation with Los Angeles

Quote: “You is kind.  You is smart.  You is important.”  -Abileen in The Help

Some Wifi Connections Names (written in Kansas City, MO)

Granted, I can’t connect to any of these.  I figured I’d share.  Hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

-Butter chickens
-Jack Stack Guest
-The Internet

Want some Amtrak Cheese with that Woodbridge Wine? $11.25, Please. (written in Iowa, maybe)

I watched the sunset over farmland in Indiana before my nap.  It was just as gorgeous as the sunrise in Illinois, if not more so.  And for me, it brought the train transfer full circle. 

Bye-bye Capitol Limited, hello Southwest Chief (SWC) 

Traveling into Iowa, the SWC conductor came over the loudspeaker to say that we were crossing over “Mark Twain’s mighty Mississippi.”  I’m glad he appreciates Twain, and I’m glad he said something because I was sound asleep in my seat.  It was a much-needed nap, and it was great to sprawl out on two whole seats while nestled snuggly inside my cozy sleeping bag liner.  By the way, for anyone who decides to take this type of trip, I have a bit of advice.  A jacket is a much better pillow than a purse filled with a digital camera, a journal, a phone, and chargers.  I mean, just in case you were wondering. 

The conductor said something else while making his train allusion.  He said that passengers could finally purchase alcohol.  A glass of wine sounded tempting.  So, I bought one.  Did you know that it’s standard to tip 10% on a takeout bill?  Well, now you do.  So my cheese, crackers, and cab sauv actually cost me $13.25 not $11.25.  It was worth every freakin’ penny, too, and I’ll probably get it again tomorrow.  Actually, I know I will. 

Question for you all.  Why wasn’t I allowed to drink until we got into Iowa?  Any ideas? 

Relying on the Kindness of Strangers (written in Chicago, IL)

Maybe all that good karma I have built up is paying off.  Relying on the kindness of strangers has been a breeze this trip. 

Delaware (a.k.a. Patrick) offered to let me use his Droid as a wi-fi hotspot.  He wanted me to be able to publish the posts I had for all of you.  Finding out his name was pretty epic.  It was like something you’d see in a travel movie.  I’m sitting on the floor in the Great Hall at Union Station.  His wi-fi wouldn’t work, but I was able to get access from a deli close by.  He decided that he would go catch his Metra train home, and he said, “By the way, I don’t know if I ever introduced myself.  My name is Patrick.”  I told him my name was Aimee, and we parted ways.  Last night he and I discussed how neat it is to meet people while on the road.  We were talking about how for the most part the people you meet on the road, you don’t Facebook them.  You don’t e-mail them.  You really don’t keep up with them at all after the fact because that moment, the moment that you’re traveling together is all that really matters.  Delaware asked for my blog site.  So, maybe he and I will stay in touch.  I’m pretty jealous of his upcoming travels—heading to Ireland to see some family for the holidays.  Then, he’s going to Switzerland to study for a month.

I also relied on the kindness of strangers to take my picture.  I was scoping out people in the Great Hall (reminds me of Harry Potter), and I decided to ask this couple if they would be willing to take my picture.  The wife gladly volunteered.  They were on an anniversary trip in Chicago.  I don’t know what number anniversary, but they stayed at the Palmer House, went to the Art Institute, and saw the Million Dollar Quartet.  I asked if the Million Dollar Quarter was worth a million dollars, and they said yes.  So, apparently they must have been pretty good.  The woman who took my picture was a “perfectionist.”  She wanted to make sure she got a great shot.  She took a few pics because of that, and it made me smile.  The way her husband called her a perfectionist, it wasn’t mean-hearted.  He said it out of love.  He said it in a way that made me feel like that he was proud of that quality in her because it meant that she cared.  After the picture (which she had me make sure I approved of), we wished each other safe travels and parted ways.

A father with an Eastern European accent took my picture in front of a body of armor at the Art Institute.  A man visiting the museum with his partner took my picture in front of the American Gothic.  I smiled, and when I took their picture, they posed like the farmer couple on the painting.  Have to say, that was pretty righteous.  If Brad was there, I would have embarrassed him until he complied to pose the same way.  And a woman walking in downtown Chicago delightfully agreed to take my picture in front of the “Beginning of Route 66” sign.  She was walking with a man who I assume was her significant other. 

Someday it might be interesting to write a novel about all of these people I have met.  Just fill in the blanks.  Maybe someday I will.  Until then, I’ll just blog.

Why Did Tigger Look in the Toilet? (written in Missouri)

Because he was looking for Pooh.  Hahahahahhahahaha.  A Black man selling magazines told that joke to a family walking in front of me.  We were all preparing to cross the street in front of the Art Institute.  The profits from the magazines the man was selling would go to the homeless.  He said that anyone who wouldn’t buy a magazine from him should oblige his wish to skip across the street.  I skipped across the street because I wasn’t going to buy a magazine, but I couldn’t resist.  After I finished skipping, I pulled out my wallet and handed the man a $2 donation. 

In return, he gave me stories.  He told me that I had just “got my kicks on Route 66.”  I was very confused.  It wasn’t until that moment that I realized that I had passed a sign that marked the beginning of the iconic road.  Route 66… American like McDonald’s, Starbucks, and soldiers traveling in ACU’s.  If it hadn’t have been for that man, I doubt I would have noticed the sign.

The man also asked me if I liked the Ninja Turtles.  I didn’t tell him that my mom used to babysit when I was a kid, and how the one day when she was babysitting she took Joey Kolar and me to Burger King.  We got Michaelangelos that stuck their tongue out as our prize.  Michaelangelo is the orange one, right?  Anyways, the man shared with me that the producers of the Ninja Turtles were eating at Benningan’s, a restaurant across the street from the Art Institute.  They were arguing about what to name the turtles and looked up at the writing on the building of the institute.  It listed Rapheal, Donatello, Michaelangelo, Davinci and several other artists.  Apparently, the producers finally settled their argument by choosing from that list.  I don’t know if that story is true or not.  It doesn’t matter to me none because it was a good story either way. 

When I finished at the museum, I walked back across the street.  The man was still there selling his magazines.  I wasn’t going to, but last minute I decided to take his picture.  I didn’t think he knew I was taking it, but sure enough, he posed.  And it’s a classic.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sleep, Snow, and Sunrises (written in Chicago, IL)

Best investment of the trip was a $57 sleeping bag liner from Wilderness Voyagers.  I slept in the lounge car, the one with all the windows.  And when it came time for bed, I took off my shoes, put on my jacket and gloves, climbed into my liner cocoon and drifted off to sleep using my purse as a pillow.  I didn't sleep much, though, because I was too afraid I'd miss something.  In Alliance, OH, I woke up to snow.  Then, in Cleveland, I woke up to more snow and the Cleveland Browns stadium and a windmill.  

When I woke up for the day, I went downstairs and got a muffin and some milk from Tony.  I then sat down to watch the sunrise over Indiana farmland.  Coming up over the fields, the sun had a mesmerizing pinkish-orange hue.  It was truly beautiful.  After the sun finished rising, I asked Tony when we would be getting into Chicago.  I thought it was going to be a half hour, but it was actually an hour and a half because of the time change.

Breakfast was interesting.  Delaware came down to the cafe car, and the three of us (Tony, Delware, and myself) chatted for a while. There was also another women there.  She looked bit older and spent a fair amount of time talking about her mission trip to Russia in the early 90's.  It was her grandson's 15th birthday.  She had been in PA celebrating, and now she was coming home to Indiana.  

Speaking of birthdays, when I woke up in Cleveland, I spoke to an older gentleman for a while.  He was going to Colorado to celebrate his mother's 90th birthday.  How awesome is that?  And I found out earlier that today (12/18) would have been my Great Grandma Clopton's 109th birthday, and apparently, she loved the rails, too.  Guess being a rail fan runs in the blood.

Gonna wrap this up now.  Hoping to find someone to take my picture in front of one of the X-mas trees in the Great Hall.  Can't wait to see what I find while exploring the downtown Chicago area.  I think I might hit up Millenium Park, Grant Park, the lakeshore, and a burger joint called Billy Goat Tavern, but who knows...................not me, and that's the point.

P.S. Delaware's name is Patrick.

Highlights from 12/17 (written in Pennsylvania)

Sighting: A full-size horse-drawn pumpkin carriage decorated with Christmas lights.  Have a picture, but it’s blurry.

Topic: The significance of the Snickerdoodles we ate.

Quote: “Who wants a dinner reservation?  Raise your hand, and we’ll talk turkey.  By the way, we don’t sell turkey.” –Mike, the Dining Car attendant

Showering in Sinks (written in Pennsylvania)

*Picture is of sink on the Southwest Chief.  The sink in the Capitol Limited lounge car was much cleaner.  I actually did not wash my hair in this sink, but it's the only sink picture I have.  So, I posted it.

Brad told me to make sure I remembered my flip-flops.  He said they’ll come in handy, and I trusted him because of his experience with limited shower access.  I’m glad he reminded me.  I didn’t remember flip-flops and promptly put a pair in my bag.  My big black bag.  Is it Mary Poppins that just keeps pulling shit out of her purse?  Maybe I saw something like that in Harry Potter, or maybe I’m just thinking about my Mom.  I don’t know.  Whatever it was (even if it was all three), that’s what I felt like when I was unpacking for my “shower,” if you can even call it that.  

As you all know, thanks to Brad I remembered my flip-flops.  He wasn’t here, however, to remind me to remember them when I went off to take my shower in the sink.  So, when I was standing in the Lounge Car bathroom stark naked except for black polka dot white socks and my pink and white Pumas I figured I’d just roll with it.

Showering in the sink was, well, an experience.  I decided to not think too long about whose hands were in that sink.  I also decided to not think too long about the limited amount of surfaces I had to place my chemical bag.  Roll with it I tell you.  Roll with it.  Side note--I had Tony read this post to get a feel for my writing style.  He sprays down the bathroom with cleaning chemicals.  Go Tony.

I will take a few thoughts away from my first Amtrak faux shower.  Thank God for Hillary Wings-Richard and her husband, Clint (Vito’s regulars), who provided me with a hygiene care package and also chocolate bars.  And thank God for wipes……..love me some wipes. 

In conclusion, I do feel much better and surprisingly slightly cleaner.  So, we’ll call it a win.

Who Needs Milk When You’ve "Got Conversation?" (written in Pennsylvania)

I rode the Capitol Limited for the first time in March of 2011.  That’s when I met Tony, my Amtrak friend.  Tony is the Lounge Car attendant for the Capitol Limited, and he’s awesome at carrying on a conversation.  So awesome in fact, I have spent the last eight hours talking to him.  Part of that time, though, we were also talking to a college student from the University of Delaware.  I call him Delaware.  Delaware is originally from the Chicago area, and he provided me with a very helpful hand-drawn map of downtown Chicago.  It should come in handy tomorrow when I explore. 

My friends have gone to bed now.  And me?  I’m sitting here on a travel high in the dining car typing up an update for all of you.  I’m getting a bit distracted while typing.  I have a beautiful view of the river on my left.  Maybe it’s the Monongahela or the Ohio or the third one that I can’t remember the name of right now.  Since I’m on my way to Ohio, I’m going to assume it’s the Ohio River.  But you know what happens when you assume.  Ass-u me.

Today has far exceeded my expectations.  I got on the train and met my seatmate who is traveling to Ohio.  He’s from Vietnam, but he’s going to college in Lynchburg.  I haven’t seen much of him, though, because I have spent all evening in the Lounge Car talking to Tony and Delaware.  With both or one of them, we talked organized religion.  We talked punctuation.  We talked corporate America, and we also talked celebrities Tony has met while on the job. 

Here’s a list:
Please forgive me for misspellings.  I don’t have enough time to Google all these names before I publish.  Bill Cosby, Jessica Alba, LL Cool J, Whoopi Goldberg, Lou Gates/Yates? (analyst on CNN), Steven Gergen, Jimmy Smitts from Star Wars, some of the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Mets, and Washington Redskins, Cecila Tyson, Joe Biden and his family, an actress from General Hospital, the Indian guy from Harold and Kumar, Tyrese Gibson, and Danny DeVito.   I’ll end with apparently LL Cool J lives up to his name…

Here’s another list for you:
Other topics of conversation included Pixar, feminism and fairytales, Snickerdoodle cookies which we discussed (and also ate), the confusion of the English very “love” vs. the Spanish verbs “tequiro” (sp?) and “amo” (sp?), Snoop Dogg’s favorite restaurant, Ireland, Switzerland, recipes (i.e. for beer, wine, cider, brownies, Peurto Rican food, and recipes as a technical communication document), Into the Wild the book and the film, and more.   

Saturday, December 17, 2011

There's Nothing More American than McDonald's and Starbucks (written in Washington, D.C.)

I'm sitting on the ground in the middle of Union Station eating a McDonald's cheeseburger and drinking a White Peppermint Mocha from Starbucks.  I suppose some may argue that the soldiers sitting in ACUs about 50 feet away from me are more American than these two fast food staples, but I digress.

The car ride to DC was an adventure in itself.  Brad decided to use his GPS instead of my On-Star turn-by-turn.......why?  I do not know.  Once we got into DC, I felt like I was in the Allstate Mayhem commercial.  Recalculating.  Recalculating.  Recalculating.  It was actually kind of amusing but that's probably because I wasn't driving.  Poor Brad.  So glad he volunteered to take me.

Saw a lady on a bicycle wearing a cape and a Santa hat.  I thought it was pretty cool.  Brad--not so much.  Maybe it was because the DC stop lights got him again.  I swear.  He runs one everytime we're here.  Once I had my sights on Union Station I insisted that he drop me off on the side of the road, but what a gentleman.  He found a place to park, took my picture, wished me well, and kissed me goodbye...twice.  The goodbye was kind of weird.  He's always leaving me.  I'm never leaving him. 

Now I'm talking to a very friendly older lady heading out to Kansas to see her family for the holidays.  People think she's crazy because she doesn't like to fly.  But not me.  I love trains, too.  I think it must be the conversation.  Oh, the things you can learn "if you just open your mouth."  That's what she said.  She already talked to the soldiers, a couple from Australia on a seven week vacation in the states, and me the traveling blogger who wants to teach writing.

Will post again when I get the chance.  Should be boarding the train soon.  Cross your fingers that I get a window seat and that my seat mate appreciates hygeine.