Riding the Rails 1

I’m halfway through a round trip to Chicago via Amtrak. (If that seems far afield from Nana’s odyssey, bear with me.) Since friends have inquired about train travel in 21st Century America, I want to share my impressions of the experience.
First, a little nostalgic background. Amtrak’s “Southwest Chief” is lineal descendant of the iconic A.T.&S.F. Super Chief, which ran between Chicago and L.A. from 1937 until 1971. The railroad painted the Super Chief’s diesels in a bold red and gold design, marketed it with eye-catching ads (wildly inappropriate by today’s standards), and promoted it as the glamorous “train of the stars.” In the years before air travel became both more comfortable and safer, the Super Chief whisked Hollywood’s elite from the coast to Chi-town in the lap of luxury, dining on gourmet meals and relaxing in spacious Pullman sleeping cars, sometimes reaching speeds of 100 m.p.h. as they made the 2,227 mile run in just under 40 hours.
But tempus fugit, as Virgil says. Don’t expect to meet Cary Grant and Doris Day, or even Paris Hilton, on today’s Amtrak. The food is decent, but no epicure’s delight, and the accommodations cramped. I’m 5’9”, still reasonably limber for my age, and no more than 10 (OK, maybe 15) lbs overweight, but I found our sleeping compartment a tight fit.
Worst drawback of the trip is the state of the track through NM, CO and KS. The swaying, bouncing and unpredictable lurching make navigating the narrow corridors an adventure. Passengers en route to the dining car find themselves reeling and staggering like drunken sailors on a choppy sea. The ride doesn’t smooth out until east of the Missouri.
But even with that, I have to say I enjoyed the experience. What’s it to do with the search for Nana? See Riding the Rails 2.

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