In 1975, on a Sunday morning at 2am, Jay Holzem & I hopped a freight train outside of San Marcos. As usual, our decision-making capacity had been incapacitated by drink & smoke. We rode in an open box car across Texas to the little town of Taylor, and then hitchhiked our way back to San Marcos in time for our Monday morning classes. To this day, I still don’t know exactly where Taylor, Texas is.
Well, riding Amtrak in 2017 is way different than riding that box car, but not nearly as fun. I really like Amtrak, though. If you’re not in a hurry, it’s a great way to see America, and a hobo’s got no reason to hurry.
In accordance with the rules, I road coach class. Even if I had been willing to treat myself to a “sleeper roomette”, Amtrak’s sleeper accommodations are way too expensive. The 2 day/2 night ride from Texas to NYC starts at $950! That same ticket would be about $300 in Europe, and around $150 in India & Africa. So, I made myself satisfied to fold up into the semi-comfortable recliner seats in coach, and with the assistance of a couple of whiskeys from the lounge car, I slept well enough.
You see all types of Americans on an Amtrak train, hippies in dreadlocks, Amish folks in straw hats & bonnets, grandparents with their grandkids, and dumb-asses trying to go around the world. I met a retired army veteran who was born in East L.A., but had moved as a younger man to rural Wisconsin. I asked how in the world he could have made such a move, since compared to Los Angeles there is nothing going on in Wisconsin. He said “Precisely, no guns, no gangs, no crime. That’s what I like about Wisconsin- nothing going on”.
We rolled through St. Louis at around 8 in the morning, passing directly by the St. Louis Arch, and Busch Stadium, where the Cardinals play. Also on display were the blighted areas around St. Louis, which were as depressing as you would imagine, reminding me that Ferguson, Missouri was a suburb of St. Louis.
Blighted in a different way were the miles upon miles of farm lands flooded due to the torrential rains in the last week of April. One farm house out in the middle of a large flat field was surrounded on all sides by flood waters. Seeing the Mississippi River at flood stage is an awesome sight to behold.
As we passed though the south side of Chicago, my mind latched onto the lyrics of Bad, Bad Leroy Brown- Baddest man in the whole damn town. I remembered Bob Lynch asking me the week before if there were any places on my trip around the world where I would be concerned about my safety. I said that if I can make it out of the United States I thought I would be safe enough for the rest of the trip. Bob Palmore held forth that Chicago would likely be the most dangerous place I would pass through on the whole trip.
During the 6-hour layover in Chicago, I banged my head badly on a sign in the train station. Fortunately, I didn’t get any of the blood on my best cowboy hat, but I’m afraid my cursing shocked the hell out of the Amish family sitting nearby. Palmore may have been right about Chicago, but I hadn’t counted on the danger being due to my own clumsiness.
We headed east through the 2nd night and into the next day, passing the Great Lakes & Erie Canal, and crossing between the absolutely gorgeous Adirondack & Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. For the last couple of hundred miles the train tracked right along the edge of the Hudson River, which was much wider and much less developed than I expected. At last the train dove into what I thought was an endless tunnel, until I realized that we had entered the Manhattan subway system. I was in New York City!