17 Hours in the Real America
On Friday, October 12 my wife, Peggy, and I took the overnight train out of Washington’s Union Station bound for Chicago and the Direct Marketing Association conference and exhibition.
The following Wednesday, we flew home: Up at 5:30 a.m.; traffic jam during the taxi ride to O’Hare; hefting our bags to check-in at US Airways; being treated like terrorists by screeners; calorie-laden breakfast at Chili’s with plastic eating utensils; two hours in the crowded waiting room amidst loud cell phone yappers; middle seats in a sealed aluminum tube and hurled at 500 mph across the country for two hours; exit madness with apprehension over the possibility of lost luggage; and taxi home.
Six hours of hellish travel, and I should be grateful; everything was on time and our luggage made it.
Every time I glanced out the window during the flight and saw Mother Earth 35,000 feet below, I thought, “So much is happening down there, and I’m missing it all.”
A Love Affair with Trains
When I was a kid in the early 1940s, once a year we would travel by train from New York to visit my grandmother in Los Angeles, where she was a voice teacher—overnight to Chicago and two days on the Santa Fe Chief to L.A. To Peggy’s irritation and my delight, our everyday dinnerware is reproduction Santa Fe Railroad dining car china.
In 1949 I spent six weeks in Las Vegas with my father who needed to establish residence so he could divorce my mother. We stayed at the adobe Boulderado Dude Ranch (currently the oldest standing structure in Las Vegas), and every evening at sunset we would watch the Union Pacific train to Chicago pass by in the distance like a tiny HO model with the windows lighted. As his six weeks was drawing to a close, I asked my father if we could take that train back and he agreed. Instead of going to the Las Vegas train station, we drove down to the railroad tracks and flagged down the train. As the noisy monster slowed to a halt, a door in one of the passenger cars opened and a conductor appeared with a little metal stool. He took our grips and we boarded right there in the middle of the desert.