Sunday, March 05, 2006

Chicago Postlude

Friday morning I had three Dunkin donuts and a small cardboard container of chocolate milk for breakfast. (Minus the small cardboard container.) That’s the first time in years that I’ve had chocolate milk. Actually, that may be the first time since I learned to talk coherently that I’ve had the stuff. Not that I dislike it at all, it just never occurs to me to get it instead of the ‘real thing.’ (As a note, even this time I wasn’t the one who picked the chocolate variant out for myself.) But, yeah, it does actually taste pretty good for an infrequent break. Not to mention the fact that I’m pretty sure it completely beats up on ‘reduced fat’ melk, the other option in this case.

After my holesome breakfast, I sat in the room reading until lunchtime, at which point I loaded everything up and headed over to Thai Spoon for another one of their fine meals. Once the food was down, I struck out for home. Kinda.
First there would be a significant walk, a wacky bus ride, and a period of train travel.

On the way into Chicago, I had my roll-around bags attached to one another in a “train” of sorts, which proved incredibly problematic in boarding any form of mass transit, not mention climbing the tiny, steep, rectangular flight of stairs with which Amtrack has equipped its “superliner” coach cars.
So, on the way out of Chicago, I rigged my briefcase uncertainly to the larger rolling case and proceeded with one roller dragging from each arm. It actually put a lot more pull on each arm than merely carrying the fifty-pound attaché in one hand, but that’s no problem for a guy like me.
Rather, the difficulty was that roll-around luggage is designed for people with short legs. Shorter legs, anyhow. The brainless things kept creeping up and hitting my feet, legs, etc, forcing me to walk in a strange and very laborious waddle with more or less outstretched arms to keep from upsetting my baggage with every step.

Once through with the walking and the bus, we had arrived at Union Station again.
Inside, Chicago’s Amtrack port has a waiting area similar to what you will find in an airport, and thus very unlike what you will find further south. Trains vary in many ways from Chicago to Austin as, for example, in the north people actually ride on trains.
I might note that, probably due to the above numerical fact, Amtrack workers are much more amiable in colder regions. At the smaller Illinois stops, multiple station agents mill about, jovially laughing with and waving goodbye to travelers. Lower on the map, ticket sellers sit solitarily in empty shacks, boredom slowly infesting their minds. These hermits seldom smile, and generally view the one or two transients who wander through their domain as intruders who only serve to make the monotony less organized.

The train was boarded earlier than originally announced, and I found a seat in the same car of the same train I rode up in. The ride up had lasted twenty-nine hours. This one would last thirty-five.
During that 35hr period I found myself, as before, going to the tiny downstairs bathrooms regularly just to be able to stand up for relatively brief periods of time, favorably within a locked room away from the populace above. I also took in Disney’s “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” and that night watched Cameron Crowe’s “Elizabethtown,” ostensibly about ‘life’ (as it chronicles a cellphone’s power to prevent Orlando Bloom from allowing an exercise bike to repeatedly stab him in the chest), but more realistically an exercise in personifying pointlessness.
Actually, Elizabethtown’s extended cellular conference/holding call gave me nightmares about my own cellphone during that night’s fitful train-board sleep. Truly, the most humorous thing about the picture was that to achieve it’s message of life’s importance it poached Billy Crystal in “Mr. Saturday Night” and Pixar’s “A Bug’s Life.” (I would say that, at least, was appropriate considering that was titled A Bug’s Life.)

The golf film was more enjoyable than the second feature, but I largely found myself contemplating what a couple of 14s (that is, 14-inch diameter speakers) could do for the audio’s clarity over the sound of a moving railcar.
As to “The Greatest Game Ever Played” itself, it has a fascinating historical narrative at its base but combines it with rather annoying graphics and strings of overstated dialogue.
Good (if a bit repetitive) music by Nancy Wilson, a number of outstanding actors, a few satisfying visual montages, and a generally agreeable story make it a good movie that anyone with kids (or who is stuck on a train) should appreciate.

I tried to spend as much time as possible reading and, as I had already finished “Tevye,” I now have the pleasure of being able to say that I began the Railroad Stories while personally traveling by rail. And these are some absolutely brilliant creations.

This trip there was no smoker’s symposium in the lounge car and—though the train was in general more fully filled than before—the ride was generally quieter. In the observation car, I did have a pleasant if brief conversation about education, college football, and climate layers.
This trip also had its smokers, of course, but they were much more considerate than the others. In this case, the most noteworthy passengers may have been the pair of young ladies headed south to meet a couple of guys. Noteworthy, because the lateness of the train caused their dates (one would assume) to become aggravated and disavow their plans to meet with the girls.
You’re getting in how late? Forget that!
One of the two responded to that swell cell conversation by going to the lower level of the next car up and getting smashed on multiple Coronas.
Don’t worry, the other called a different friend residing at their destination who agreed to pick them up in the wee hours of the morning and give them a place to spend the night.

And their destined station was the same as mine; thus we arrived at the same time of night/morning in the darkness of the same city.

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