Note: You can click any of the pictures to see larger versions.
Last year, March 2009, I took Amtrak from Springfield, MA to Los Angeles, CA, spent a week in Southern California, and then took the train back with Alanna. The trip consisted of taking the 449 Lakeshore Limited out of Springfield, MA to Chicago. After a layover in Chicago I took the 3 Southwest Chief to Los Angeles, CA. Along the way we had a lot of stops, and I got to see a lot of the country. The Amtrak Viewliner cars on the Southwest Chief were awesome too, and offered a great way to see everything along the way.
It’s about time I put together a post, and shared my experience. I actually wrote down some of my experiences as they happened, so I will use that as a guide for this post. It might be a longer post, but I will keep you entertained!
My route – East Coast to West Coast
As I said, I left from the Amtrak Station in Springfield, MA (SPG) and arrived in Los Angeles, CA (LAX). I had stops across the country, and my longest layover (About 6 hours on the way there, and 8 on the way back) in Chicago.
I left Springfield on a rainy, misty morning, and sunny California seemed quite distant. I saw one last Risk 9 handstyle, dragged my luggage up to the platform, and waited for the The Lakeshore Limited, train 449, to roll in.
I had my backpack and suitcase stuffed with:
- Clothes for my trip
- My Laptop – For movies, writing, and anything else I could use it for along the way. I was disappointed to find out that Amtrak does not yet have WiFi on all their trains.
- A Blanket – Amtrak does give you some small pillows, but I was glad I brought the blanket for the colder nights.
- Water, Snacks, and a bottle of booze – You can buy all of this stuff on board as well, but it was nice to have it already. Plus, at $5 a beer, I think the bar would have had me broke by the end of the trip..
- Sketchpad – I figured I would have had a lot of time to draw, but I was too intrigued by everything around me, so I didn’t actually draw a whole lot.
- Small Point and Shoot camera – I would have loved to have my DSLR with me, but due to the fact that I would have to carry my whole life in bags for the next few days, it just didn’t make sense to lug it along and risk getting it lost or stolen.
I got on board around 2:45pm, grabbed a seat and got comfortable. We went through Massachusetts and upstate New York, which was pretty cool.Although it wasn’t a new area to me, the perspective was new. Rolling under graffiti covered bridges (Some of which I have visited a time or two), cutting through small towns, and even rolling through what seemed like endless woods was really awesome. I have probably walked every inch of train tracks in Springfield at some point in time, but seeing them from the train offered a whole new perspective. We crossed a trestle that, at one point in time, I had gotten caught halfway across on foot when a train came (Mom, if you are reading this, just pretend you didn’t see that last part)
I got settled into my seat and just enjoyed the view. We had a few short stops, but soon enough we arrived in Albany, New York . I had an hour to kill here, so I explored the station a bit. Most of the stations, as I would find out, were what you would expect. Magazine Racks, Souvenir Stores, all types of people, screens with arriving and departing trains. Although they all had these common characteristics, they all also had a uniqueness about them. As I was walking down the platform in Albany, for example, I came across an old Baggage Claim. Most people probably just walk right by it, but for some reason it intrigued me. Little things like this really added to the trip.
I had taken a trip to Albany on the train when I was younger with my family, but seeing everything through the eyes of a child must have been a bit different. Also, I still had hundreds and hundreds of miles left before reaching my destination.
Here’s a quote from the journal I was keeping, after leaving Albany.
We departed Albany at 7:05, and that leaves me here at 8:30, traveling West through the dark. I don’t have wifi on here, and I need to download a plugin to watch movies.. what the hell.. this is a super rad trip so far tho. I am expected to arrive in Chicago around 9:45 tomorrow morning.
In retrospect, I’m glad I couldn’t watch movies. I got to experience a lot more, and I can watch movies any time! I ended up finding my way to the Lounge Car, grabbed a beer, and ended up meeting some interesting people. Everyone on the train is in the same situation – they need to kill time while they get closer and closer to their destination.
Another quote from the Journal
I’m not sure what time I fell asleep, but I couldn’t have gotten more than a couple hours of sleep. I spent most of last night in the lounge car. I met some interesting people. The first group I started hanging out with was a mix and match. When I first walked in, there was a drunk 35 year old man arguing with a 16 year old Jewish kid. The 35 year old ended up lending us playing cards, only to take them back halfway through our first game. It’s easy to meet people on the train, I wouldn’t have just sat down with these people elsewhere. I ended up learning one was in a hardcore punk band called “Cougar’s Den” and him and his friend were destined for Milwaukee. There was an older (maybe 30’s) , self proclaimed “”outdoorsy type” too. There was also a kid who was from Texas. I am pretty sure they all travel by train frequently. I taught them all how to play a card game. Two hardcore kids, a redheaded dude that travels all over doing outdoorsy stuff, a 16 year old Jewish kid, a Texan and myself. What a group.
Every stop you see the same faces huffin down smokes, In Albany I had a conversation with a guy from Holyoke with a tear drop tattoo. We talked a bit and every stop after that he would start talking to me. He was on his way to meet a girl he had been talking to on the internet. You meet all types.
Although I am pretty tired, and it’s still dark outside, the sky is starting to turn to a light grayish/blue. I can’t tell where we are. We went through Cleveland at some point during the night, and that’s all I know. I’m starting to see more than just streetlights and headlights off in the distance. Silhouettes are emerging, although there is still a very yellow/orange moon. The land seems very flat outside. We just passed some giant silos, I don’t think I’ve ever seen those in person before. The landscape is kind of weird. Lots of farmland, and roads with sparsely placed trees.
We kept rolling, through places that were now very foreign to me. One constant theme throughout the trip, was “This is somebody’s hometown.” Things that seem so foreign to me are known as everyday life to those who live there. It’s really amazing to see the diversity of culture and life, in our own country alone.
Pretty soon I would be in Chicago, and the first leg of my trip would be over. I would be about one third of the way to California! Please subscribe and check back soon if you would like to continue reading the next parts! Have a question or comment? I would love to hear! Leave one below, anyone can! I mean c’mon, at least let me know you read this far!
Head on over to read Taking the Train Across the Country – Part Two and stay tuned for part Three!
Interested in hearing another first hand account of Amtrak travel? Head on over to Traveling by Amtrak for the First Time.