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On the road again Canada and the US Dec 2011-Feb 2012 - Observations, musings and random thoughts jotted down mostly during loooong train and bus trips.


USA | Wednesday, 21 March 2012 | Views [714]

Lonely Planet USA describes Las Vegas, New Mexico as “one of the loveliest towns in New Mexico”: all I can say is, the “eminently strollable downtown (with its) pretty Old Town Plaza and some 900 historic buildings” was not on the side of town granted to the Southwest Chief. There were plenty of old houses, decrepit and surrounded by yards of assorted rubbish: the sort of abject dwellings where depression must be unavoidable.

“New York giants 20, Green Bay Packers 10 – it’s half-time.”

Amtrak train guards are almost universally chatty, humorous and entertaining, with witticisms galore for every whistle-stop: “We will be stopping at La Plata (or Lamar, or Trinidad) for five minutes only folks, so there will be time for a few quick sucks on your smokes if you have any – I repeat five minutes only, or this will be your last stop”…

”Our next stop folks, will be greater Galesburg, Illinois – greater Galesburg, a fine railroad town – so if this is your last stop, come on down –and for all those youngsters returning to school, remember, you are our future – Galesburg our next stop in approximately five minutes folks.”

“Ok folks, we’re back on track now, no pun intended”…

Our on-board railway staff could do with some Amtrak training: the difference is, here it’s a respectable career – in Australia it’s often seen as a last-resort job.

A couple of people behind me are lamenting the lack of snow this year: “I feel sorry for the folks that need it”…The truth is, everyone has a different story, depending on the part of the country: in New Mexico it’s either the mildest or the coldest winter they can remember; in southern California, it’s unseasonably warm…but everyone notices a change.

Our next stop folks is Princeton, Illinois – that perfect little midwestern town – Princeton, Illinois folks.” Titters roll through the carriages in appreciation of the guard’s droll humour.

Chugging and rolling out of arid New Mexico, leaving behind its attractively-curved  adobe homes, ruined pueblos  and  a whole abandoned town with cars still sitting in driveways next to roofless houses, we dissect  the south-east corner of Colorado and enter Kansas, crossing its vast plains and briefly flirting with the square towns  of Dodge City, Topeka  and Kansas City , passing giant silos and endless car dumps  before finding ourselves in Missouri.

Crossing the mighty, half-frozen Mississippi at Fort Madison with the massive paddleboat ‘Catfish Queen’ iced to the riverbank, we sway from Iowa into Illinois, the air looking immediately colder and the snow seeming more prevalent. Quiet towns of white clapboard houses line the tracks, curls of smoke the only signs of life.

From here we run in a straight line north-east to Chicago, anticipating snowy blasts of air, a slice of deep-dish pizza  and a cup of strong java in a warm bar to leaven the taste of its six-month winter.

©FMPDH 2012

Tags: amtrak staff, santa fe, southwest chief, train travel, usa

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