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Sunday, December 26, 2004

Grand Junction!

After spending much of the last two days on trains, I have arrived in Grand Junction, Colorado. The last eight hours of the ride, from Denver to Grand Junction, was spectacular. Up mountains, through tunnels, along the walls of canyons--Colorado by train is amazing. I've taken a lot of photos; I'll try to organize and present them soon.

Traveling yesterday, first from Ann Arbor to Chicago, and then from Chicago westward, was more prosaic. Here are some notes that I made as I rode:
Rail Rants
First and most important lesson of train travel: Don’t try to play Minesweeper on a laptop with a touchpad on a train. One little bump, and you’ve clicked on a mine!

Depressing observation: Downtowns in Jackson, Battle Creek and Kalamazoo look bleakly similar—far too much open space, mostly parking lots. No wonder they’re so dead.

10:47 am Saturday

I left my house this morning about 7:25. Weather.com said it was -3 F; fortunately there was no wind, and most of the sidewalks had been cleared. So my 1.5 mile walk to the train station wasn’t particularly painful. The train seems to be about half full, which is cool. I’ve got two seats to myself, so I can set my backpack next to me and cycle amusements—book, computer, chocolate. Right now we’re probably 20 miles west of Kalamazoo, due to arrive in Chicago in about two hours.

12:10 est
Hammond, Indiana. After going past one gigantic rusty steel mill or power plant after another, I see a parking lot that’s about 2/3 full—on Christmas. Who’s working that hard? Then I see TWO shuttle buses cruising the lot, and they say “Horseshoe” on the side. Then, a big, tacky modern building which says “Horseshoe” at the top. It’s right on Lake Michigan, and there are yachts docked nearby. Then I get it. It’s a casino, and it’s doing pretty good business at 11 am local time on Christmas. Indiana’s a red state, BTW.

12 noon cst
At Union Station, Chicago. Chinese restaurant has two vegetarian offerings: vegetable fried rice and spring roll. I have vegetable fried rice and spring roll. It’s freezing in the dining area. A guy at an adjacent table is talking on the cell phone. He’s apparently a Chicago bus driver—he’s telling the guy on the phone about all the various ways that passengers try to steal rides. Great way to spend the holiday—talking shop in a freezing train station!

1 pm: I go into the grand hall of Union Station; a big open ornate space. Three people sit down near me; they traveled from Johnstown PA the night before—two are going on to Texas, one on to LA. The one guy talking to me tells me about movies that were filmed in that room—The Untouchables and Trading Places, apparently. He pointed at the grand staircase, saying that’s where Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) shot Al Capone, and then ran in slow motion to save the baby in the carriage before it goes crashing down the stairs.

2:20 cst: Pacific Zephyr train leaves on time. Train is quite posh compared to the first one—lots of room! Nobody in the seat next to me, so far (5 pm). Several people got on in Princeton and Galesburg, but still two seats to myself. Camera and laptop both fully recharged!

5 pm: It’s dark outside! Mississippi river coming up in 30 minutes or so.