America the (mostly) Beautiful: chronicling my great Amtrak adventure

America the (mostly) Beautiful: chronicling my great Amtrak adventure
photo by JA

Back on July 1st I announced my intent to share a photo essay a day for the month of July to chronicle my great Amtrak adventure of 2017: a round-trip journey with my 8 year old son aboard the magestic Texas Eagle from Chicago to Austin…and back!

But on July 2nd I lost access to the internet for reasons that will become clear by the end of this post**, so let’s get you caught up on thayngs, mmkay?


Getting on the train felt like being in a movie! And yes, they still say “All Aboard!” (photo by JA)


The fancy-pants sleeper car wasn’t an option for my paygrade: coughing up an extra $350 per person for what I suspected was an Army barrack-type mattress didn’t seem worth it when we could ride in the rif-raff section for the low, low price of $370. Round trip. For two people. Total. I mean…

What a lovely surprise to learn that I didn’t have to pay to take clothes with me on a vacation! I could check two big bags for FREE!…?…! And on top of that, I could take an additional four carry-ons kuhwhahhh? And then load up my son with another four? (Do people know about this train thing?)

Wait, what….are you KIDDING ME with what happened next?


Pulling into the station in St Louis (photo by JA)


Once we got to the beautiful Union Station on Canal St in Chicago I pulled out my phone with my e-ticket, and grabbed my ID from my wallet. But all of that was unnecessary because my son and I simply WALKED ON TO THE TRAIN.

No one asked to see my ID. I didn’t have to take off my shoes. My computer stayed in my bag. No one scanned me for bombs.

I still can’t quite wrap my head around this. Surely there had to be a (several?) board meetings after 9-11 during which the topic of security was discussed. Oh to be a fly on the wall for the discussion in which it was decided that – for now – travelers would still be free to “All Aboard!” without extreme vetting.

I’m not complaining, no way man. It felt like a breath of fresh air – a bittersweet reminder of an age long gone in this country.


I know this shot looks like a cheesy stock photo, but this, too, is by JA, as well


For your consideration: Three Rookie Mistakes to Avoid on a Cross-Country Amtrak Adventure.

1. Not bringing your own snacks: I’m not a fool – I knew that the food from the snack bar/dining car would be expensive, but I thought buying food on board would be a more magical experience than eating pop-tarts out of a handbag. But after purchasing several rounds of snacks, a breakfast, a lunch, and an outrageous but not entirely horrible dinner in the dining car, all that money I had saved by NOT checking bags STILL ended up in Amtrak’s profit column. Needless to say, I had pop-tarts in my handbag on the trip home.

2. Not having movies/games downloaded ahead of time: While many of the Amtrak trains do have wi-fi, the majestic Texas Eagle is not one of them. And while, publicly, I hemmed and hawed about enjoying the freedom I felt from being entirely “unplugged” from the Wicked World Web, in private I was pouring hard-earned money into extra data for my iPad then doing made-up magic spells and witchcraft rituals in a desperate attempt to get a consistent, clean wi-fi signal.** Despite my frantic internet junkie machinations, I rented Ferrell’s Land of the Lost – and when it had downloaded a quarter of the way, my 24 hour rental period ended.

3. Not bringing a blanket: Listen to me, everyone. When I say it was cold in my car at night, I don’t mean it was put-a-sweatshirt-on-as-you-bond-with-the people sitting-behind you-by-commenting-about-how-chilly-it-is-ha-ha.


I mean bears would have commenced their winter hibernation after being in there for five minutes. And I mean experienced bears…not the young and inexperienced ones right out of bear college.

I hadn’t packed anything with long sleeves for a visit to Texas – the toaster oven of the South – so I put on a cotton dress over my clothes and unintentionally humiliated my son by layering him up in a pair of cute Lu La Roe tights.

You’re welcome. (to be continued…)

If you’d like to stick around to see how this journey plays out *spoiler alert: things get a little cray* I invite you to subscribe to these posts by clicking on the button by that same name at the top of this web page. You can leave any time you like – I’m not clingy, I promise. But I’d love to have you along for the ride…



That’s my piece, and that’s my peace. Thanks so much for taking the time to read my silly words. It truly means the world to me. Carry on…


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