Saturday, September 13, 2008

My Train Trip

We usually go to visit my mother once a year. It is a long trip, over 600 miles by car, and the kids don't handle it well. My wife doesn't like it much, either. We often convince my mother-in-law to come with us, too. She helps keep everyone happy and keeps the kids occupied but sometimes even she can't help when we're stuck in miles of traffic waiting for construction work to clear. So, this year, we decided that I would go visit "The One Grandma" by myself. An aside: My son gave her that name (he was very young then) when he realized that she had no one living with her (my father died the year before Cindy and I were married) and she was alone.

I thought about driving or flying but with the price of gas so high and the airlines raising prices and charging for everything from check-on luggage to pillows, I decided to try something different. The bus is less expensive but is cramped. So, I thought about taking my first long train trip since I was eleven. The price was amazing. The round-trip fare from Providence, Rhode Island to Pittsburgh was only $120 (with a small discount because we belong to AAA). The amount of time I would be on the train would be a little longer than if I drove - but I wouldn't be driving. I'd be sitting back, looking at the scenery, walking around, eating food from the train's snack bar and reading. Could it really be this good?

There used to be many more trains stopping at Pittsburgh. Now, there are only three - one to Chicago, one to Washington DC and one to New York City. But the timing was good for the New York City train. I would have to leave Providence at 7:30 AM and would get to Pittsburgh around 8 PM. We had to leave our house at 6 AM to get to Providence in time and I'd still have to take a bus from Pittsburgh to my old home town about 45 minutes south of Pittsburgh but, as I remembered from 33 years ago when I still lived near Pittsburgh, the bus station was right across the street from the train station. This was going to be so much more convenient than the airplane! The picture on the left shows the roomy seat I had from New York to Pittsburgh. There was room to stretch out. The meals I bought in the snack bar were not expensive and I had a seat to myself most of the trip. If you have the time, I highly recommend taking the train. The conductors and the the folks working in the snack car were very friendly. The announcements of stations were clear and timely. And when we got to interesting sights along the way, for instance, this picture shows Horse Shoe Bend near Altoona, PA, the conductor even gave a little talk about its history and significance. Did you know that it was considered significant enough in the transportation of troops and goods during World War 2 that the Germans sent saboteurs to destroy it?

This is the first of at least two articles about my trip. The next one will be about what happens when things change in a place you thought you knew.