by Jason BlackwaterN.B – Wifi and computer time are hard to come by in Chicago so I’m going to attempt to catch you up on as much of the last 2 and a half weeks as I can. starting with…
Tasty’s, Astoria, New York
It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t return to Tasty’s to sample their Lumberjack breakfast. Sure, I had no idea that’s what I was going to have when I went back but why should that matter? The Lumberjack is eggs (how you like ’em), bacon (how you don’t), a choice of pancakes or french toast (the latter of which I’d never had before), ham (it was ham this time and not Canadian bacon. I have no idea why, or indeed if, there’s a difference) and a sausage (small). A fine way to start the day, just not every day if you want to keep your cholesterol in triple figures.
I had made a start on me 26 hour trek spanning 10 states (New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, D.C, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois) but first, Time Square.
Not that they call it that.
In England, stations get renamed based on what’s around that’s significant. Aresenal and Westminster are prime examples. This is so that foreigners (like I am here), who panic easily when things go wrong (like I do) know what’s going on. New York, in its infinite wisdom, deemed that Time Square, a place outsiders (like me) want and, as it’s a major transport interchange, NEED to visit, should be called 42nd Street. 42nd Street is a LONG street. I admit that I might be a tad bitter as I overshot it by 2 stops last night because I assumed it would be called Time Square on the platform as well as on my maop but the fact remains. It’s stupid. Sort it out. Seriously.
It was at 42nd Street station this morning that I saw a man get chased down by a police alsation. “get that dog away from me, man…” “Bark…bark bark bark” (repeat until man, Policeman and dog are out of sight)
Penn Station, New York
It is common in large transport hubs for travel info to be anywhere but where the seats are. It’s true of heathrow and it’s true for Penn Station. At Heathrow the info is replaced by adverts for jewelerry you will never own and holiday destinations you can’t afford because the trip you’re on is already threatening you with bankruptcy. At Penn you are greeted instead by a friendly video informing you that attempted terrorism (tourism in American) is effectively guaranteed on your journey but “don’t worry, here’s a documentary about how we train our sniffer dogs” (not an actual quote).
Train: NY to DC
Despite my rapid irritation increase on any UK train, ever, I had been really looking forward to this journey. I’ve been telling people with a sense of smug satisfaction that tried to convey the sentiment “I’m going on a big adventure where, from my window, I shall see mountains and mighty rivers and herds of bison and the like”. I usually landed on the sentiment of “I’m smug” but at least I could hold onto the idea that I believed in those things.
New York to washington isn’t exactly the Grand Canyon/Niagra Falls/Mississippi River terrain I had been expecting. I got to see the New York Red Bulls stadium, though. The rest is pretty much storage and factories and power stations. It’s like people who built next to the railroad were more concerned about their towns’ economy than my aesthetic entertainment. Shame on them! It’s still exciting. Everything is so vast and sprawling you can’t fail to be impressed. And I got to say “Hi…I’m in Delaware” from Wayne’s World, in Delaware. It doesn’t seem all that dull actually. It’s quite a nice bridge.
I had initially planned with my one hour and forty minutes in the nation’s capital to leave my bags in a locker at union station, get a cab to The White House, Take a photo, grab a cake or something somewhere, get another cab to the station, get on my next train and go. Luckily, I know someone who lives in Maryland and she met me in D.C when my train arrived, 35 minutes late.
Continuing on my theme of seeing a lot of stuff from very far away I was given a quickfire driving tour of all of the main sights that fell within a reasonable distance from the station.
I saw, from distance:
War Memorial (The New One)
It wasn’t until I saw it in marble on the side of a museum that I realised the use of a ‘z’ in place of an ‘s’ that has a ‘z’ sound upsets me so much. I know it makes sense, as does the american spelling of “color”, but it looks like a spelling mistake and irreversably carved in stone in five foot letters compounds that percieved mistake until it hurts my eyes in the same way speaker feedback hurts my ears or cherry tomatoes upset my taste buds. America, I beg you, keep color and aluminum but for the sake of the ‘special relationship’ reconsider this callous (callos?) misuse of the ‘z’
Washington, as far as I can tell, and I’m no historian, bought a job-lot of columns from Doric-Mart© and didn’t agree a sale or return deal. Every monument, every museum, every house, every kennel and bird feeder seemed to have them. One building appeared to be made from them. It could have been the federal museum of columns. I don’t know. It was a long way away.
Train: D.C to Chicago, Illinois
I cut it as little fine yesterday afternoon. At least I would have done if the train wasn’t late as predicted. Lugging a 26kg suitcase, wheels or not, is pretty tough so rushing into the extremely grand Union Station in ninety degree heat and then waiting for forty minutes can be frustrating. But what did I care? Forty minutes is nothing compared to the 18 hours that awaited me travelling the remaining 6 states in my journey (D.C to Illinois)
I didn’t think I had but I’d gotten used to the business class level of leg #1 and despite the very comfortable coach seats on the upper deck of the train (upper deck of A TRAIN!!!) I missed having a table. I’d been sat nexct to a young female traveller too engrossed in her brightly coloured iPhone to be likely to want to chat to a dishevelled, sweaty stranger so after 2 hours or so, the cabin fever set in. I got fidgety and was finding it hard to concentrate on my kindle edition of Tina Fey’s Bossypants.
I inspected my gift from the friend I met up with in washington, a selection of American junk food. The bag included:
Slim Jims x2
Milky Way (not the same. Like a Mars Bar, made by Mars, but called Milky Way which in the UK is also made by Mars)
Buffalo Blue Cheese Chips
Cinnamon Pop Tarts
It was then that I realised that I had spotted an observation window on the upper deck (upper deck of A TRAIN!!!) of the car behind the car I was travelling in. I headed back and there were tour guides. Brilliant! I bloody love a guided tour. I’ll get to learn loads of stuff. And I did but now I’ve got to buy a book on the Civil War to contexualise it all. I’d have found the 2 or so hours of “during the civil war, the confederates…” and “this was a major Union strongho
ld…” info a lot more satisfying a learnign experience if I knew which was which or what it was all about. I did learn a little about a canal we never passed, though.
The scenery was was definitely more of what I was expecting. Sweeping farms, giant rivers, walls of blasted slate and trees as far as the eye can see. Which, at ground level, is one tree but you get the picture.
I had myself a second microwaved angus cheeseburger of the trip (I fully intended to vary my food over the course of the journey but the cafe bar had run out of pizza), and I tried to sleep. I tried to sleep in my seat but I find it difficult enough to sleep next to a new girlfriend without trying to sleep next to a teenage stranger, who I’d never even spoken to, in a train car, surrounded by starngers. I tried to sleep in the cafe car. leaning on a table often results in sleep in a UK train so why not here? Nope. I tried to sleep in the observation car. Long seats, you see. This worked in hour-long bursts but, with the air conditioning set to polar I was too cold. I’m never too cold. ever. That’s how cold it was.
I had pieced together enough fragments of sleep by daybreak to function so I went for breakfast. Over my scrambled eggs, grits (don’t do it! It’s like the worst bits of tapioca and rice pudding mixed with those little plastic balls you get in a sachet to keep a new bag fresh) and bacon, I met a couple of fascinating elderly people, both whom on vastly more epic journeys than mine (one of whom was going to be on trains for a further 2 days after we arrived in Chicago). The elder of the two, an engineer from Spokane, told me of his 10 years unemployed, during which he set up his own company, and how he’s teaching a 4th of 6 grandchildren how to drive.. The other, a school teacher, told me of her life in communications until she got laid off and decided to persue her dream of teaching disadvantaged kids. I said my farewells, paid my check, and settled in for the final leg of my journey.
Bus: Union Station to Very North Chicago
Union Station in Chicago is no fun. It’s enormous and the’ve chosen to fill barely any of it with any kind of useful information and for the love of whichever deity you hold dear, have the exact change for the buses. Learn from my mistakes. $5 dollars is too much for a bus journey. It’s cheaper than Brighton but that doesn’t make it cheap!
The accomodation I’m in is very nice. Sure, we can’t use the dining room at dinner time because there’s silent meditation happening directly underneath us.And we can’t figure out the air conditioning. But it’s still very nice. It’s really far out and not just in a hippy sense but in the sense it’s 25 minutes on the train from iO. I’ve got into the habit of getting up really early so it hasn’t been a problem so far.
The food is taking some getting used to. I bought some bread and cheese for sandwiches and neither is approaching anywhere near special. Cheese in particular is terrible. In a country where cheese seems to come in every form except aerosol gas (I’ve seen it in a kind of foam which doesn’t look appetising but I’ve yet to see it in some kind of fromage vapour. Maybe there’s a gap in the market. I shall call it…Cheese Mist©). It seems amazing to me that a good, strong, firm cheddar has no place in the gargantuan cheese cabinet. not impressed.
Without the pleasure of air conditioning, it’s pretty hot at night and there’s been very little air movement to make it worth opening the windows (windy city my arse!)