The live local show is going on the road! It has been a good four years since I left the city limits for more than six hours. Last year I got several weeks off from work when I reinjured an Achilles tendon. Jock pointed out I didn’t have to visit an orthopedist to get vacation time—that other people were capable of doing this without personal injury. As usual he had a point.
However, he and I function as a couple because we both have work-a-holic tendencies. So, though I am headed out of town, it is still work-related: I am off to a conference in Eugene, Oregon, as part of my efforts to build some new relationships for the bookstore and expand our circles. Who knows? Maybe as a result, we might have some national programming to offer at the store in the next year or two. This seemed like an excellent opportunity to really explore and re-think what cross-country travel looks like right now.
Initially, I considered flying round-trip because it would allow me to be gone from the bookstore and my father for the shortest amount of time. But dealing with TSA and the general unpleasantness that air travel has become didn’t really make me leap at that possibility.
I reasoned: Maybe driving cross-country might allow time to clear my head? I could stay at small family-owned accommodations and see first-hand what the buy-local scene looked like throughout our great nation. When I floated that idea past Jock (with the attendant suggestion that he might come with me on the trip), he began the mental calculation for which his engineer’s mind is geared.
“You know, you only drive your car for about 10 minutes a day on average,” he mused. “Sometimes more, but not much more. At this rate, it should last you for years.”
He took a sip of beer.
“But a cross-country trip and back is going to put much more stress on it than is necessary,” he continued, “and you will be headed toward a transmission issue, if not on the trip, then after you get back.”
He shook his head. “Have you factored that into your estimated costs?”
“Are you sure?” I asked, crestfallen and mildly terrified at the idea of transmission trouble.
He gave me that unhappy look that clearly says, “I love you, and I am only saying this because I care and want to spare you greater grief later.”
He took another swig of beer to steady himself. In his low, steady voice, he said, “I have driven with you in the mountains. I know what you do to both your brakes and your transmission. The trip you are proposing will require you to drive through both the Appalachians and the Rockies.”
He took another gulp from the can an added: “Twice.”
Then I began thinking about my awesome friendly and enthusiastic puppy. “What about a rental car round-trip? Then I could take Hilda, even if you don’t want to come.”
A quick call over to Triangle Car Rental came up with $1200 as a round number for the cost of renting a compact car to drive to Oregon and back, assuming two weeks of total car time. That, of course, did not include gas, lodging, or food. The most direct route appears to be 3,025 miles. If I took my ’98 Ford Taurus, Jock and I worked out the fuel cost for one way to be approximately $800. About another $1,000 should cover food and lodgings in locally owned establishments and provide a small cushion for unexpected necessities.
Once there, I would have the conference expenses, housing, food, etc. Then I still have to get back. Not to mention, all of this exposes a lot of fossil fuel. My carbon footprint would obliterate a small city.
This was looking pretty expensive both short-term and long-term. I began moaning that maybe a trip to South of the Border might be a better idea.
While searching through the conference website, I noticed the facility stated very clearly they were located a block from the Amtrak Station in Eugene, Oregon.Shea, encore’s editor lady, and I have been talking for a couple of years about doing a train story. Wilmington is supposed to be getting passenger-rail back, and as an interim now has the Greyhound Amtrak Connector Thruway Service from Fordham Station. Maybe this would be the opportunity to look into passenger rail?
Now something readers should understand in order to process the next part of the story: I have a natural inclination to say, “Well, if we’re going to do this, then why not [finll-in-the-blank], too?”
So, I spent the next two weeks playing around with the Amtrak fares site, and realized that not only could I report on how the Thruway service works, but I could arrange this trip to do something I really have wanted for a long time.
From what I could tell, Chicago is a major train hub, and pretty much any ticket I booked would take me through the windy city to head west. If I planned it carefully, I could stop off and see my cousin, Austin, who moved there two years ago (and I could visit a couple of bookstores) before my connecting train departed.
Everyone seems to have a train-trip story they like to talk about. The one that captured my imagination as a child happened almost 30 years before I was born. My grandparents relocated from Chicago to Arizona when my mother was 5 years old. Mommy and her older sister (Aunt Carol) stayed with relatives in Chicago for the summer while my grandparents took the baby to Arizona, and bought a house and furnished it. At the end of the summer, my mother and her sister (ages 5 and 7) were put on a train trip by themselves from Chicago to Arizona. It was far and away the most exciting week of my mother’s childhood, and she talked to me endlessly about it.
I wondered if I could ride that same train.
Amtrak was formed in the ‘70s and consolidated many of the privately owned routes. But, with a little research, it seemed I could actually ride the same train in 2014 that Mom and Aunt Carol took. It would add an extra day to the trip (and the cost), but it seemed like an opportunity out of a modern fairy tale—I decided it was worth it.
Among the many surprising parts of booking a train ticket came with the knowledge that when booking a sleeper-car room, folks not only pay for lodging, but three meals a day are included in the cost. The ticket I finally booked from Wilmington to Washington, DC, to Chicago, to LA, to Eugene, Oregon (six days total travel time) is just over $1200—meals and lodging included.
“Mmmm…we need to sit down and think about calculating the fuel cost of a diesel locomotive…” Jock mused.
“Well, it’s moving lots of people, a restaurant, and a hotel,” I pointed out.
In my several attempts to get him to come with me, I mentioned that, unlike driving a car, riding a train comes with a Club Car—and a fully stocked bar. But Jock has to get ready for his impending trip to Kenya which requires him to bring multiple mini-factories with his inventions as luggage. And, someone has to amuse the dogs.
But I am off! Next week I will report back about Amtrak and the trip thus far.
Gwenyfar Rohler is the author or ‘Promise of Peanuts,’ which can be bought at Old Books on Front Street, with all monies donated to local nonprofit Full Belly Project.