Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Chicago 1, Martins 0

If you are not the lucky sort (and look, you’re reading a blog about MS and Bipolar Disorder, so chances are…) you will have someone in your life assign your vacations to you, assuming of course you:

  1. are allowed vacations and
  2. care where you go as long as it isn’t your job.

In our family, we have that person.  Now for a change of pace we’re not back in the 1970s but only three Presidential Administrations (the one you may remember as Peace and Prosperity or as “I did not have sexual relations with that woman…”) back. This is not the first of my extended married family vacations, but it will be considered the worst one, until I write about the second one.

This is Chicago 1, Martins 0.

The planning person indicated that her oldest would be graduating from school in June of that (late 1990s – see above- “I did not etc.) year and wouldn’t it be great if we all went to Chicago for the graduation ceremony.  We’ll take the train and see the country, or at least one thirtysecondth of it (Albany, NY to Chicago, Illinois). It’ll be great.

I had not been diagnosed by any doctor for any condition, except for Irritable Bowel Disorder which I am pleased to now note went away the day my mother died, but that’s a whole other blog and therapy session.  Nevertheless, I was concerned that this trip may be a stomach winder.  On the other hand, we were probably not going to do such a unique thing again, and other delusional thoughts went through our heads and we agreed to go.

We made reservations for a reasonable hotel outside Chicago.  The train would depart Albany on a late Thursday afternoon, moved west and arrive in Chicago Friday morning(ish). We’d have time to look around before the ceremony, and then maybe check out the Windy City before our languorous ride home.

And then there was the real version.  We got on the train, found seats and watched the scenery not move. And not move again.  The Albany Rennsselear train station is built on swampy land that was once part of the Hudson River floodwash. We looked at green weeds that barely moved in the lack of wind.  We heard an announcement over the speaker system that until this day sounded like “Fzzzzle bizzle delay wwep wooop fozzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz not moving chowwwwwwwwweeeeeeeeeeeeeeee Ted.” This was to be our main communication focus as “Ted” or “Fzzzzle” kept us informed on the politics of Amtrak in that if a train that made money (aka no people) had to move stuff down the line, the train that had people on it (aka no money) had to step aside or pullover. We finally exploded up to twenty mph and the evening of railroad enchantment began.

If you have not done a long trip on a train, here are a few tips.  First, there is one toilet in each passenger car.  There are maybe 20 or so passengers in each car.  We are in the train car for 16 straight hours.  You may be able to detect what I’m leading up to here. There is a definite odor.  Second, to get from one car to another, there are the secure doors. These doors open at the touch of a hand, a slight breeze, and any movement by the train. All night long.  Start to fade out, eyes glaze, dozing then, Schlicht Schlicht Whhhommmpp! Open Door - Close Door. People in and out. Or no one at all.  Just the ghost of a long dead passenger looking to find a working toilet before he explodes. Open Door – Close Door.  Schlicht Schlicht Whhhommmpp! Awake, I’m awake. Yep. I looked up at the one TV screen high up. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in a romcom.  Again. They have one movie, and keep showing it, until there’s a break in the electric feed, which happens, and then it starts again.  Third, if you like Tom Hanks or his films, don’t try to watch them on a train, unless you’re in the present decade where you can catch them on your tablet.  Fourth, try as they might, the food on a train was probably better during FDR’s first term, if you had any money to ride the train then.  Paper cups and picnic plates just do not reflect the great days of yore. Neither does the food made from paper cups and picnic plates.

And then of course, there is Notre Dame.  We slowed down at that picturesque town and passengers were offered the chance to walk around for pictures and shots of the gold done, for about 20 minutes, which gave you, considering the walk, about 17 seconds to look at the dome and run back because we were so far behind schedule there was no time to visit.

 I was actually concerned about time as, unknown to various family members; I had arranged an outing to Comiskey Park, home of the Chicago White Sox baseball team.  My nephew’s favorite player at that time was White Sox first baseman Frank Thomas.  I had arrange for seats directly behind first, plus a notice on the big screen in the outfield congratulating my nephew on his graduating and, known to no one but myself, a birthday greeting for my wife on the same screen.  The White Sox people said the announcement would be about the fifth inning. The game would start at 1 PM.  As we cruised past Note Dame, it was 12:25 PM.


As we pulled into Chicago, we had that vaguely odd look of a homeless family or a group of Croatian immigrants who would run to the car rental place and “get car drive to game thing.” In those pre-9/11 days, we were able to grab transportation, and as I pulled up to where the children had been dispatched to grab the luggage while the adults rousted a car. It was now 12:45. Seven people in a sedan, seven unclean people in a sedan, drove on highways I’d never been on and somehow pulled into the Comiskey parking lot a little after one. The trunk was opened as people dragged out game clothes (Sox uniforms, caps, etc) and then a dash to the seats just in time to see Frank Thomas walk away from our row and get ready to play.

Thomas homered, the requested congrats showed on the screen, we had Chicago sausage dogs.  We left the ballpark, stayed at the hotel, found ourselves the next morning in Schaumburg, Illinois, and a minor league basseball team and Caribou coffee.  The graduation was split into a religious ceremony in a room that once held the fires of hell, and then a graduation ceremony that included the names of everyone who had ever graduated from anyplace for any reason and all their family members.  One we got to the later Middle Ages, I excused myself to go outside and stand around with all the people smoking and chewin’ terbaccy.  Some of these guys would have been great to have on the train. “See Meg Ryan? Patooo! Got her where it counts, buddy!” Dinner followed, and we went back to the hotel in the blue funk of “Why are we here, oh, yeah, right, why are we here again?”

[I note here that I did attend a Schaumburg Flyers minor league Sunday morning. By myself.]

 So our nephew graduated and we embarked home on a retro ride, my sister in law’s family, graduate in tow, dropping off at Syracuse.  And then began the long ride through the weeds of the Mohawk and Hudson rivers, with plenty to stops to let the money trains go by and we needed to keep calling our ride again and again that we would not get to Albany until later as defined as we don’t know.  We kept my mother in law filled with yummies and windows to look out of.  “Nothing changes! It’s like we never left!”  Slowly across the Hudson and toward the station. Slower and slower, and there it is and there are our friends to pick us up. They wave and we wave as we on the train continue on past them for another half mile, grateful we stopped at all.  And then we take a 75 year old woman and get her off the train and delicately walk back toward our friends who have volunteered to drive us home when we should have arrived three hours before.

Mom dropped off at her Clifton Park mansion, we go home. The long distance train ride romanticism died when Tom Hanks began looking for Meg Ryan for the sixth time.

We will take the train down to New York, and home, now and then.  Other wise I keep a Lionel train under the Christmas tree. It sits on track. It is attached to some railroad cars. It does not move. It is not plugged in, shows no movies, and makes no promises it will ever move around the tree and hit the nicely wrapped presents, crash into the snowman on the curve, or stop at Notre Dame for anytime ever. No food. No crashing doors.

 And the saddest part of this Chicago trip? This was better than what was coming in three years when we did it again.  More on that soon.






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