After I signed off last evening the train arrived in Pittsburgh right on schedule, a few minutes before 8PM EDT.
Pittsburgh train station has no amenities at all and resembles the old NJ Department of Motor Vehicles office in Morristown from back in the early 1980s. They have a couple of vending machines that are probably worth something at the Antiques Roadshow, and their contents are worthy subjects for an anthropological essay on ancient foodstuffs.
I’ve had a salad in the train from Trenton and needed a hot meal, so I went out to explore.
The streets were empty – emptier than Wall Street in NYC on a Sunday morning. Another guy from the train was walking ahead of me probably also looking for a place to eat. I walked to the Westin Convention Center and went inside since the only person out on the street who didn’t just get off the train looked like a male street hustler.
The restaurant at the Westin, The Original Fishmarket Restaurant, was open and lots of the hotel guests were eating there (they probably noticed the guy at the corner across the street, too). I considered whether to order some merlot but decided against it – I had to stay away until at least midnight, way past my usual bedtime.
I ordered grilled tilapia and green beans with almonds, both of which were very good. On second thought – since it was getting dark outdoors and the neighborhood didn’t look very pleasant – I asked the waitress that she box it.
I returned to the station, finished my dinner and waited for the train while the TV played Law and Order Criminal Intent. Donofrio wasn’t in it, so I worked on my outlines for the BlogHer panels.
The train to Chicago left late and, like the train from Trenton, appeared to be booked to near-capacity. It was a double-decker train with tiny sleep compartments.
The sleep compartment was so small (how small was it?) that the (hard) cot was approx. 6′ long and the width of a first-class airline seat. I was glad to be traveling alone. If a thought had entered my mind I would have had to leave the compartment. Several elderly couples were also in the same car, and one of them must have had a heck of time clambering up to the upper berth.
(“Come on, Madge, let me give you a hand up!”
“Hand up my a** Burt, YOU take the upper one”)
Cary Grant would have never been able to hide in one.
The train bumped, ground, throttled, jumped, and honked its way at full speed over hundreds of track switches while us passengers lying on the tough cots held on for dear life as the jumps ground our bones into their sockets. It was
Had breakfast at the dining room where I was seated with a retired math teacher from Chicago who was back from vacationing in Washington, DC. She told me that she thought “all bloggers were narcissists who think so much of their own opinions that they believe the whole world wants to hear about them.” I heartily agreed with her and handed her my business (blog) card. She was a very nice lady and of course she’s right.
After breakfast the train slowed to a crawl since many freight trains had priority and I had a chance to nap. We were 1:15 minutes late in arriving in Chicago.
This stretch of the trip illustrates why it’d be so difficult to have an American rail system comparable to Europe’s:
The distances in the US are vastly larger than Europe’s. In Europe you ride a train for 9 hours and have traveled through three countries. In the US, you’re barely making it across Pennsylvania and Oregon.
The passenger trains share the tracks with the freight trains. In Europe, fast-speed passenger trains have exclusive use of their tracks. Fast-speed train tracks have to be meticulously inspected before and after each train, and must be impeccably maintained.
The US is much more sparsely populated than Europe. Higher population density brings about the higher volume necessary to sustain a train line.
Whoever tells you that long-distance rail travel will be practical for travel across the USA better come up with a solution to all these issues at the same time. Until they do, air and car travel are they way to go.
I am now enjoying some peace and quiet at the Amtrak Lounge in Chicago, praying that there is much less bounce to tonight’s journey. The lounge is comfortable, well lit, air conditioned and has electrical sockets for laptops.
The train station is the locale for The Untouchables’s baby carriage scene (which Brian de Palma borrowed from Battleship Potenkim). You can see part of it in this trailer: