Traveling by train (enthusiasts call it "training") is mostly fun and always illuminating.
It's the nation and people slowed down--things it has in common with bicycling, canoeing, kayaking, walking, and other activities that encourage observation and contemplation.
"Trainers" see parts of the country and meet people airline passengers and motorists miss, and they do it it in a leisurely, carefree, congenial, comfortable way, training from town to town, city to city, state to state, region to region.
At seven miles, things look pretty much the same out a plane window.
But out a train window, where the closest objects are only feet away, details are clear and differences easy to discern.
Not for those on a tight schedule
However, don't "train" if you're in a hurry.
A jet flies from Chicago to LA in just over four hours.
The Southwest Chief takes almost three days to transport passengers the same distance if it's on schedule and that's asking a lot given Amtrak's second-fiddle chair when it comes to right of way on the tracks.
(Congresspeople and freight company employees should hide their faces in shame at this ridiculous reality. Coal moves ahead of living, breathing human beings?)
Like Marshall McLuhan's almost-never-heard-today 60s pronouncement, "the medium is the message," when it comes to excursions like the one we were on, transportation is the trip, it is the vacation.
There is something extremely satisfying about riding, talking, eating, imbibing, sleeping, meeting people, and taking in passing local color through a train's big windows.
Overnights with friends and relatives in places like San Diego, Portland, and Coeur d'Alene are happy sojourns in a highly enjoyable, rolling narrative.
Amtrak's low-class status and embarrassing, hat-in-hand relationship with congress is due to America's addiction to automobiles.
I like cars but too much depends on them in the US. Granted, they are convenient in ways mass transit will never be.
But, the price is steep.
They are loud, polluting, dangerous, and astonishingly wasteful. They have taken away more than they've given.
Like a lot of things, cars are an illusion.
The situation reminds me of the Lennon line: "And you think you're so clever and classless and free."
We think we've gained a lot through the car, but that's just thought, not reality. Mass transit is safer and in every way more sensible, pleasurable, and economical.
I'm not comfortable with Amtrak subsidies, but they would be unnecessary if energy prices forced us to reduce our dependency on automobiles and more people took trains, buses, etc.
I think it would be great if some sort of mass transit conveyance stopped every few blocks everywhere in the country. Walking to bus or train stops would be good for everyone, and people would get to know one another instead of just staring through windshields at taillights or at others who are staring through windshields.
Get a feel for how things might be!
Take a train excursion! Relax. Have a great meal, meet new friends, fall asleep in your undulating berth.
Tomorrow you'll be well down the track, in a new place, in the midst of a whole new experience, with an entirely different frame of mind. At least, that's what happened to me.