So … About Our Chicago Trip … Part One

We didn’t really have a reason to go to Chicago – in fact, I hadn’t really aspired to go to Chicago in my lifetime. The biggest reason I chose Chicago was because it was simply a destination on the Amtrak route and I thought, “what the heck. Why not.” And since the whole purpose behind the trip was to experience the Amtrak train … we went to Chicago.

And I chose Amtrak mainly because when I started thinking about our last big family “hurrah”, (not implying that the boys will never go on vacation with us again, but let’s be real – they’re [nearly] 20 [!] and 17, and we’re reaching a point where they don’t really WANT to hang out with mom or dad anymore … which is normal. I get it), I wanted to do something that everyone would enjoy. And by everyone, I mean Dude.

Dude HATES to fly. He used to be deathly afraid of it. And though it still scares him a bit, we’ve been on so many flights now that he at least doesn’t feel like he wants to vomit whenever we fly anywhere anymore.

Both boys used to be crazy about trains. Especially Dude. When Dude was about three, he was absolutely OBSESSED with trains. Whenever he was around trains, he would actually tremble with excitement. And when we set up the train tracks, he would sit for hours and simply watch them go around and around.

It was almost spooky how obsessive he was. (I wish he would get obsessive about his future, but that’s another post).

Jazz was also crazy about trains. Though not AS crazy as Dude. He was really into the Thomas Trains and in fact, we have a huge plastic tub of Thomas trains/tracks that I have INSISTED on keeping so our grandkids could play with them someday. (Though from the sounds of it, I might only get grandkids from Jazz because Dude is pretty adamant about NOT wanting kids. This attitude sort of crushes me [did I sour my son on kids because of the mistakes I’ve made with him? I worry about this], but I’m hoping he outgrows it. Because after all, I felt the same way when I was his age. Kids were okay, as long as they were someone else’s).

I remember my mom telling me how much she and my dad enjoyed riding the train down around the Branson area and I thought, “Amtrak! That would be a different sort of experience.” And that’s when I started looking into Amtrak routes, etc.

Since there isn’t an Amtrak station in Springfield, I started looking at St. Louis and voila! Chicago was a nearby destination.

That was the thought process behind going to Chicago. No offense to Chicagoians, but I hadn’t really thought of making a trip up there until that moment.

Let me preface this trip account by saying, we enjoyed the train ride. Yes. It was LONG. (Five and a half hours to get from St. Louis to Chicago). But it wasn’t AS long on the way back and I think it was mainly because I kept myself busy. I had a little trouble reading on the train at first, it sways and is sort of bumpy, and I had a little trouble focusing on the words, but once I got the hang of it, it wasn’t that bad. Even though I get motion sickness being a passenger in a car going across town, I never once felt nauseous on the train. And I think it was mainly because we could get up and move around and the area was so big and comfy that I didn’t feel cramped or closed in.

Riding the train is cheap. I don’t mind telling you that it cost $200 dollars for all four of us round trip. That’s about a 1/8 of what it would cost to fly. So, if you can endure the time factor, and just prepare yourself to keep yourself busy the entire trip, it’s quite worth it and we will definitely ride Amtrak again in the future.

I was a little worried about the type of people who would ride the train; it is public transportation, after all. And I’m sorry if that makes me sound like a snob, but I’m just keeping it real here – you know there are always those “odd” people who seem to gravitate toward public transportation, but quite honestly, it was simply regular janes and joes and everyone was quite respectful of everyone else’s space. In fact, I was surprised by how quiet everyone was (though there were the two college-aged girls that sat directly behind me and Kevin and who would NOT SHUT UP the ENTIRE TRIP back to St. Louis. And I must have counted A MINIMUM of 500 “ums” and “likes” in their conversation. Really girls? How about helping to dispel the whole valley-girl college image by using adult language. Thanks).

We rode the Texas Eagle train up to Chicago. It was a double decker sort of thing and though it was cooler than the Lincoln Service train we rode back, it was more cramped. The Texas Eagle had a scenery car and a dining car and Kevin and I sat in the scenery car on the way up to Chicago, though there wasn’t that much to admire since the weather was overcast and rainy on the trip up there.

There weren’t that many little kids on the train, but the few that were on there really seemed to love it. I think the parents loved it, too, because the kids could run around and they didn’t have to stress about losing them – where were they going to go? It was a relatively safe place for them to stretch their legs.

We didn’t take advantage of the dining car. The meals were extra and though we still had to pay extra for the snacks on the snack car, the prices weren’t that bad, really. They also gave away small bottles of water so overall, I was pretty happy with the food choices.

You had to go downstairs to use the restroom (on the Texas Eagle – the Lincoln Service was just a one-level train), and the restrooms are like airplane restrooms. Unfortunately, I was in the restroom quite a bit on the way up there as Mother Nature seemed determined to mess with me at that specific point in time, but that’s TMI and moving on …

No Wi-Fi on the train. That sort of sucked. In fact, it would have been pretty AWESOME to have Wi-Fi but oh well. You can’t have everything. The boys spent most of their time fooling with their 3DS’s, listening to music or sleeping.

In fact, it was sort of hard NOT to sleep on the train. With the constant rocking back and forth, it was hypnotic and whenever you walked through the cars to get to the scenery/snack cars, there were a lot of people stretched out and fast asleep. (The train had quite a few people, but there was still enough seats where you could claim two seats to yourself and since there were no armrests between the seats, you could actually lay down and go to sleep).

I had meant to take some pictures on the train, but I just never got around to doing it. (I was pretty distracted fighting off Mother Nature on the way up there and on the way back … well … I don’t really know why I didn’t on the way back – lazy I guess). I felt a little weird taking pictures, I guess, because there were so many people and the few pictures that Kevin took with his phone sort of made the people around us uncomfortable and in fact, one guy moved away from us.

So boo – I dropped the photographer ball on that one.

So that’s my overall impression/thoughts on the train ride. I would recommend it to anyone who is willing to spend the time to get somewhere. It’s like driving somewhere, but WAY more relaxing and comfortable. The prices are reasonable and as long as you take plenty to occupy yourself, it’s not that bad at all.

Next, I’ll tell you about the crazy man in the St. Louis train station who would not stop doing chair exercises and about the guy who asked Jazz if he had any weed on him.

And the weather? Was not that nice to us.

More later …