Sunday, May 14, 2017

Dave Scott, BJ regional issues reporter and deputy Business editor before the April 2014 BJ buyouts exodus, traveled back in time by taking an Amtrak train from Cleveland to Oakland, California.

The Ohio University and Ashtabula Harbor High graduate who lives in Copley with wife Jane Gaab Scott provided this tale of his trip (he’s qualfied since, like me, he's been to the Blarney Stone in Ireland):

Here are some details from my Amtrak trip from Cleveland to Emeryville (Oakland) last month.

The station in Cleveland is sometimes called AmShak and it’s easy to see why. Stuck between the football stadium, science center and Rock Hall and the skyscrapers downtown, it is humble. Add in the dim lights and the half-asleep people waiting for the 3 a.m. arrival and it can be depressing.

However, I found the people there pleasant, helpful and anything but threatening. I realize that Amtrak is favored by some wealthy people, but in Cleveland it is chosen by people looking for bargain travel. Some did not have proper luggage, preferring shopping bags.
I took a lower coach from Cleveland to Chicago and when I showed up there were just three people for eight seats, two were asleep. We all had two seats to sit/sleep on.
It was a smooth, quiet ride and the only reason I didn’t get more than a couple hours of sleep was because I was enjoying the ride so much. I also enjoyed a conversation with a woman from the Washington area who explained that the lower coach was partly for disabled people, so it had room for wheelchairs and an extra large restroom.
The train staff will bring you dinner from the dining car if you ask. The seats were larger than you would get in an airplane, recline and have a nice foot rest and retractable table. If you are lucky like me, you can stretch out over two seats.
I went up to the observation car at dawn and enjoyed rolling through the center of Indiana, including the older, industrial sections of many towns and a lot of farmland. It was a treat to see a big tom turkey on his morning walk.

Chicago's Union Station was a bit confusing and involved a bit of walking but staffers there offered a cart, which I declined, but did give clear directions to the El’s Blue line. My trip to Logan Square was uneventful.
Thanks to John and Kate for being great hosts, including a trip to whatever the White Sox are calling their ballpark these days and a nice walk through Wrigleyville Sunday morning.

Advice: get to Union Station early. I was late but not comfortably early.
I rode a lower coach from Chicago to Denver and started with a nice conversation with two couples from downstate Illinois who were coming back from the Science March in Chicago.
Unlike the airplane which usually includes people who are locked into their own lives and tuned out to much of what is happening around them, the folks on the train seem to be eager to talk and engage and tell their story. These two couples sat next to each other, the only folks who had to do that on my entire time in the coach section.

There were several stops in Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska, but only one seemed to offer enough time to get out and walk trackside. That was Ottumwa, Radar’s old home.

There were plenty of opportunities to get up and move around in the train. Getting to the dining car required walking up some steps and sashaying down the aisles of several cars. Same for the observation car and snack bar. I did this several times just to keep blood flowing in my legs.

There were only a couple times when the train lurched in a way that made me recapture my balance. I consider planes far more wobbly.
In coach, you must pay for your dinner. Expect at least $15 plus whatever you drink. The menu is very limited but the food is of decent quality. You need to make reservations for dinner.
For all meals, you will be seated with strangers unless you are traveling with three companions. I found this a great conversation opportunity.
I met a couple from Ireland, a couple from Manhattan/Miami and others. We took so much time talking, we were “invited” to move on to allow another group to eat.
Union Station at Denver is fabulous – Clean, easy to navigate, complete with a good breakfast restaurant and coffee shop. Uber was available, but I chose to walk through the city because it was a sunny day and not too cold. Snow and hail followed a few days later.
I found a nice bookstore and, of course, the Coors Field box office, which was open at 10 a.m. I was told the cheapest seat was $9 but on the day of the game was reduced to $4. Then I got a senior discount and saw a Major League game for $1!
Yes, I was about 550 feet away and I saw the hits about three seconds before I heard them, but I had fun with the bleacher folks. It’s a nice clean, roomy stadium and hope to go there again.

Uber service was excellent in Denver. The La Quinta was what you could expect for $99.
I had a roomette for the trip from Denver to California. It is about the size of a closet with face-to-face reclining seats.
There is a place to stash your luggage, power outlets and great window views. Any consideration of climbing into the hammock above was done for comedic value. The lower seats were easily turned into a bed.

I had intended to do some reading but that ended after I got into the Rockies. They were so beautiful and different at every turn, I felt I would be cheating myself by putting my attention anywhere else. The PA system offered a few highlights.
The most memorable part was when I put on the headphones and listened to Rachmaninoff and Mozart as the mountains went by.

I slept through Utah and some of Nevada.
One thing that became clear throughout the trip was that the droughts are over. I saw standing water everywhere. The mountain streams were nearly overflowing and I saw lots of rapids.

Lunch in California was a problem. All they had left was the hamburger I had the day before or a hot dog or mac n cheese off the kids’ menu. Meals were free for those of us in sleepers or roomettes.

Sleepers are larger rooms with real beds and bathrooms, but I did not go in one. The showers were roomy enough, but a little wobbly.

I expect to ride Amtrak again and will prefer it over air travel if I have time. I left on a Friday morning and arrived in Emeryville on a Wednesday afternoon. I took whole days in Denver and Chicago. Nonstop, my trip would have been from 3 a.m. Thursday to 4 p.m. Monday. I doubt I will every travel without at least one stop.

Thanks for reading.

Another former Ol’ Blue Walls inhabitant, Webb Shaw, is married to Katie Gaab-Shaw, Jane’s sister. Webb retired in 2014 as Vice President of Editorial Resources at J. J. Keller & Associates in Neenah, Wisconsin.
Dave and Jane and met on a blind date arranged by Webb and Katie Shaw and Rick and Diane Reiff. Rick, another former BJ newsroom inhabitant, and Dave had crossed paths during their Norwalk and Elyria newspaper days.

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