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The next part of my train trip!

So that first night on the train was pretty rough – the people in front of us talked a lot throughout the night, and I was waking up every couple of hours or so.  We got to Toledo around 6am, and since it was a smoke/stretch break stop, I walked outside a little bit.  The Toledo station was nice, but it had sure seen better days. There were 8 tracks and 4 platforms (at least), and it seemed that only the one, or two, closest to the station, tracks were in use. A real look back into the heyday of rail.

Toledo's Train Station has seen better days....
I went to eat breakfast in the dining car, and was seated with an older couple from a small Ohio town who had gotten on in Toledo, and on their way to Minnesota, who had taken the train several times. They were very nice, and talked about the grandchildren who were in college, as well as about themselves. I like how they seat you with other people in the dining car – great time to meet new people. I had a coffee, which was very strong, and a pretty good plate of scrambled eggs and potatoes, with orange juice. Pricewise, it was pretty reasonable! It was pretty interesting to try to eat and drink on a speeding train. For the most part it was fun trying to eat and drink bouncing around in our seats!

Unfortunately for me, it seemed that the gray skies had followed from Ithaca, as the morning was foggy and gray. I thought I was leaving all of that behind! As we went through the Midwest, I was reminded just how darn flat it was! I had forgotten, but you could see the flatness of Ohio farmland.  As we neared Chicago, the train attendant made an announcement over the PA system – “Gooooooood Morning! We are about 35 minutes outside of Chicago….we ask that you please do not stand up until the train has come to a full and final stop…when you get into the station, make a left, then go up a ramp and you will arrive at baggage claim….we apologize for the delay, but there has been a lot of construction, as it’s summertime and summer is construction time on the railway! ….We thank you for choosing Amtrak as your mode of transportation.” Similar to the airplane message, but a bit longer. Then we heard it again. “Goooood Morning! We are about 30 minutes outside of Chicago……” Then a third time. We figured that the attendant thought she was going coach by coach rather than all the cars at once, or that she thought there was a problem in the PA when there wasn’t. By the fourth time (we were down to 25 minutes by then), the whole car could practically recite it! And someone in the car shouted out a “Gooooood Morning” which got a few laughs.

We pulled into the station around 11 something, about an hour and half late, but I had until 3 anyways, so I didn’t mind. I bid my goodbyes to Robert, and headed into the station. There was definitely a lot more security inside than in Syracuse, but as a central transportation hub, that didn’t surprise me too much. I walked around, tried to explore the station after finding the waiting area for my later train. I’m still not sure what the layout is (it took me walking around Grand Central Terminal in New York quite a few times to start getting the layout in my head). So I don’t know the Chicago Union Station layout, but I did visit the Great Hall – which was a pretty Great Hall. Classic railway station architecture, some wood benches too.  (Except the big corporate ad banner felt out of place!) There were some people milling about there, but I thought I’d go outside. I walked out on the Canal Street side of the station, then thought I’d walk over to the Chicago River side. There were a lot of smokers there, but the view was great! I had a great view of Sears (Willis) Tower, as well as the river. I watched several tour boats go by – including the architecture tour, which I probably went on about a decade ago (scary - I can say "decade ago")!

Great Hall
Sears/Willis Tower
Chicago River
I also saw the Chicago Sun Times building – I remember the Sun Times from the old tv show Early Edition – loved that show when we lived in Chicago! I walked around a little bit, in and out of Walgreens, then headed back into the station for lunch in the food court. I ended up getting a BBQ Chicken quarter which was very good!  I had a Jamba Juice later on too, before heading down into the Amtrak waiting area (as opposed to the Metra side of the station, for the local commuter trains).  I had a couple of hours, and it was interesting watching the different people line up for the couple trains that were scheduled to leave before us. When we were lining up, there was a nice Chinese woman who came and talked to me, who was going to Las Vegas, getting off in Kingman, AZ, I believe. We boarded the train, I was sent to the second car, seat 15 by the attendant. A guy from Michigan was seated with me, he was on his way to Arizona to do some conservation work for a couple of weeks, which sounded pretty cool. It was kind of funny during seating, since the attendant in charge of our car seemed to add “okay?” at the end of each sentence - I found it entertaining. The attendant was a really nice guy though – young, I think he was from California. I was a little disappointed not having plugs by each seat like on the single level trains, but there were outlets in the observation car, which would have to do. 

We got on our way, through Chicago suburbs, and passed a couple Metra trains. We passed Princeton (Illinois), out in farmland, but they had fresh fudge at the station. I saw a sign. Wish I could have tried some, but it was not a stretch break stop, so I had to stay on the train.

I made my way to the observation car and sat down for a while, watching the Illinois farmland go by. I met a guy from Kansas who was also sitting there, and on his way moving back home from Michigan.  I passed up dinner reservations in the dining car, and decided to eat in the snack car – I went early, while they still had food! I remembered from an earlier trip many years ago when they  ran out of food in the snack car. I got a hot turkey sub for dinner from the snack car lady, who was really sweet and friendly! Very kind and hospitable – I wish people behind any counter were as nice as her! We passed through Galesburg, home to the 1858 Lincoln Douglas Debate (as per the big mural on the wall opposite the station).  I also listened to the James Horner CBS News theme ( ) watching the fields go by – it really fits going by fields, it has that midwestern sound to it!

We crossed the Mississippi River, you could see it was definitely higher than usual – a lot of trees were halfway up in water. And it seemed to spread further inland than normal, due to the flooding. But night soon fell. I got off at the Kansas City stop to stretch out a bit, and then I went to sleep.

Illinois Farmland
My trip home from Ithaca to Los Angeles for the most part went as planned, and was a fun and exciting experience! I’ll post blog entries over a couple of posts based on my pictures and notes I’ve taken.
I finished packing on Wednesday, and had most of my stuff put into storage.  Had a quick dinner in RPCC, then I went back to Jameson for the last time so I could check out with Melissa.

My last dinner, consisting of green beans, carrots...and a chicken and potato dish that I do not remember the name of
After checking out, I sat for a little while by myself in my dorm – surrounded by suitcases and an empty desk except for my computer, which I packed up last. Soon, I made my way to the RPCC circle to wait for my ride to Syracuse – since a passenger train hasn’t come through Ithaca since the late 60’s, the nearest Amtrak station is in Syracuse.  While I was getting my bags into the van, Zack and Brian came back from their game of golf, and I was able to get in one last round of goodbyes. 

The van ride (via Ithaca Airline Limo) to Syracuse was pretty good. There was the driver and his wife, as well as a sophomore Cornell student from Indiana, also going home by train.  We all talked for a little while on the way north, but somewhere along the way I began to fall asleep to the sound of rain on the van’s roof. Though I’ve been to Cortland and Syracuse enough times now that I’m starting to recognize landmarks on the route – whether it be a graveyard, the Applebee’s, or that small town where you have to make a left turn.  It was raining by the time we got to Syracuse, but luckily there was an overhang at the drop off area!  I got in line at the ticket booth to get my tickets from the station attendant and to check my bags – he was quite friendly as well!  The Syracuse station was also the Syracuse bus station. I went to the waiting area, where there were several interesting groups waiting to get on – a group of older ladies who seemed to travel with each other quite a few times, as well as a large group of high school students.

The Lake Shore Limited approaches the Syracuse Station
It had been quite a while since I had taken a long train trip. The closest to that was a Philadelphia to New York stretch of my college trip last spring. However, when I was younger, I travelled with my parents by train a few times, to LA and to Boston if I recall correctly.  Travelling by train either to or from school was something I had wanted to do for a while, but I felt that I had the time to do it now before summer.  My route would take me from Syracuse on the Lake Shore Limited to Chicago, then to Los Angeles on the Southwest Chief. 

So the train was supposed to arrive at 9:41 pm, but it came a little after 10pm – not too long a wait. I had gone up to the platform a little earlier, but as the train approached, a stream of people made their way up. I’m pretty sure there were more people getting on that night than usual, and I was ushered to the second or third car down, going to Chicago. I later found out that conductors or attendants try to seat passengers by destination – so that people getting off in the middle of the night are in a different car than those getting off in the day.

Standing in line on the crowded platform, someone asked if I went to Cornell, as I was wearing my Cornell tee, and I learned that he was a fellow Cornellian.  As the conductor was letting groups board first, we decided to team up and sit together (and get out of the rain on the platform sooner!) – we sat down, and to my surprise, I found that he was not only from Cornell, but from the same Chicago area suburb that I used to live in many a year ago! What a small world! Interesting how lives cross paths – it’s quite possible that I had walked right past him a decade ago (wow, I can say a decade ago! Well that makes me feel old), and not known it – and there we were sitting together on the train! He had taken the train back and forth quite a few times, and knew the timetable and scenery pretty well by heart! We talked a bit – about things like Danny Cunniff Park, and how terribly hard it could be to get out of Ithaca, or for that matter, anywhere in central New York, whether by plane, train, bus, or car! (Sometimes I almost think Cornell and Ithaca are a trap – drawing you in and never wanting to let you get out!) 

It was nice to have space on the train – no fighting for overhead bag space, and there was even enough space for me to put my backpack up there so that I could use the footrests on the seats – it was wonderful to have legroom for a change! I tried to sleep as we made our way toward the Great Lakes, but it was somewhat hard. The people in front of us talked for most of the night and made it hard to sleep. And I believe they got off at every stop they could for a smoke break – the up and down didn’t help much to let me sleep. However, that at least afforded me to wake up in Cleveland (shoutout to all my Cleveland floormates!) around 4 something in the morning (about an hour behind by now), getting to see the Browns stadium.  I probably woke up every couple of hours or so that night.

I’ll continue later about the rest of the Syracuse-Chicago leg of the trip – you can see my pictures on Facebook in the meanwhile!