LESLIE CRISS: Recent trek by train surpasses flying friendly skies

By Leslie Criss

“… what thrills me about trains is not their size or their equipment but the fact that they are moving, that they embody a connection between unseen places.”
– Marianne Wiggins

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”
– Lao Tzu

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
– Mark Twain
When I was a toddler, my mama and I used to ride the train from time to time. My dad, an accountant, would sometimes put us on the train in Grenada at the height of tax season. Mom and I would head west to visit my maternal grandparents.
After he’d finished folks’ tax returns, Dad would drive out to Williams, Ariz., spend a little time and the three of us would make the long trek back to Mississippi.
My memories of those long-ago train trips are hazy at best. But I must have loved the click-clack click-clack of the train on the tracks, because I’ve long been a train enthusiast.
When I grew older and my sister came along, we’d still visit the Arizona relatives, but we flew the friendly skies rather than ride the rails. And in my adulthood, I’ve hoped for an occasion to climb aboard once again and take a trip by train.
Well, that wish finally came true a few weeks ago when three good friends and I boarded the Amtrak Crescent in Birmingham and took a 22-hour ride to Penn Station in New York City.
The Crescent runs from the Big Easy to the Big Apple – and back again. And we had a blast both ways.
Our tickets were comparable to air fare, perhaps even a little less expensive.
And, of course, there were no extra fees for every bag. You could check luggage, carry it on or divide your stuff between the two options. No charge.
The seats were infinitely more comfortable than those on airplanes unless, of course, you fly first class – and I do not.
The leg room was abundant, the delays were few and the freedom to use computers, cell phones and other technological devices the entire trip was nice.
Seeing the beauty of the earth outside the train windows was a glorious bit of lagniappe.
If there was a single negative regarding our train time, it would be the dining car. Reservations are required for dinner, but folks who got on in Atlanta were not made aware of that. So, when more passengers showed up for dinner than were supposed to, Amtrak ran out of food.
We got what we ordered, however, but it was much less than luscious. The chicken was tasteless; the pasta pasty; and the service slow.
My brave companions of the road and I decided the rest of our meals would be taken in the cafe car, where microwaved hamburgers, hot-dogs and pizzas were served faster and tasted better.
Just as we’d all decided that travel by rail was the best way to go in the future, we overheard some passengers saying Mitt Romney has said, if elected president, the first things from which he’ll slash federal subsidies are public radio, public television, the arts and Amtrak.
I hope that doesn’t happen. It would make me sad to be unable to ride the rails again.
All aboard.
leslie.criss@journalinc.com