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Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Given the choice of trains, planes or automobiles, I will take trains. Somehow I find the name Orient Express is much more appealing than the travel option with the moniker UAL Flight 3414. Or it may be I am just tired of doing the driving myself or learning what to do in the unlikely event of a water landing.
There seems to be a nostalgic element to travel, most evident in music. There are popular car songs like "Hot Rod Lincoln," "Little Deuce Coupe," "Ol' '55" and "Mustang Sally." But these are juvenile compared to such tunes as "City of New Orleans," "Orange Blossom Special," "Downtown Train" and "People Get Ready." There are good airplane songs, too, like "Jet Airliner," but the one that keeps running through my head is "The TSA Strip Search Blues." I have omitted watercraft because I get seasick, and there is nothing nostalgic about that. I do like the song "Wooden Ships," though.
My first train ride was at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, Calif., when I was young and very impressionable. So much so that I started crying when bandits came on board and robbed us. It was part of the ride, but no one told me. I was relieved when the ride came to an end and we disembarked from the same place we started. Fortunately, I was able to avoid any future train rides, as California's freeway system made all forms of public transportation, including trains, inconvenient and passé. It is ironic that I now live in an area that exists in large part because of its railroad legacy, but the only way I could get on a train here is if I were a chunk of coal. As we all know, passenger rail service does not exist in Roanoke.
I have been fortunate during my career to have traveled to many other parts of the world where travel by train is a way of life. If one needs to go from Geneva to Milan, you do it by train, sharing a bottle of wine, cheese and a loaf of bread with your fellow passengers along the way. Very civilized. The rail service in Europe is convenient and mostly on time, except for Italy, where trains scheduled for 9 a.m. will depart sometime between 9 and noon. But it does not matter, because you are in Italy. The only thing the Italians do fast is drive their cars.
In December, I had a business trip to Tokyo and Hong Kong. Japan's bullet trains are legendary, but nothing beats Hong Kong for convenience in a large metropolitan area. The Hong Kong airport is a long distance from metropolitan Hong Kong itself, but it does not seem so. After collecting my luggage and clearing immigration, I walked across the hall to the waiting train. Thirty minutes later, I was at the steps to my hotel. When it was time to depart, I checked my luggage at my hotel and returned to the airport by train. The next time I saw my luggage was about 24 hours later at the Roanoke Regional Airport, where my wife was waiting expectantly, hoping I had not been separated from my luggage.
The Reagan National Airport near my office is approaching a Hong Kong-like experience. The Washington, D.C., Metro system stops near the Transportation Security Administration screening area. I simply exit the train, humming the aforementioned blues song, run the security gauntlet and go board my flight.
I love the convenience of the Metro system. On nice evenings, I take it to the Archives station, where I access the National Mall for a 5 mile brisk circumferential walk from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial and back. Afterward, I make up for any positive aerobic benefits gained from my workout by downing a hamburger and a beer. On one such evening, I saw the National Christmas Tree, which, by the way, had a toy train circling it.
I have also discovered Amtrak and its Acela Express, serving the northeast corridor from Washington, D.C. I do not understand why anyone would fly or drive from D.C. to Philadelphia or New York when this particular option offers comfortable seating, Wi-Fi, refreshments and smooth 100 mph speeds getting you to your destination, start to finish, faster than the other options.
Now if only I could board the Big Lick Express in Roanoke and end up at Alexandria Station several hours later, hopefully without the bandits.
Weather JournalMany very icy despite 'bust' claims