Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Grand USA Automobile Expedition

I just got back from the great American road trip - fast food, long drives, short visits, "Are we there yet?"s, and continental breakfasts in cheap hotels. We Americans love our "great" cross-continent excursions. Our family sped through Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Oregon and California, and what I would like to know is this: what happened to the great American train journey? Why on earth did we give up on that?
I would dearly love to bring back that era - mingling with strangers from all over in the passenger car, taking a stroll to the dining car for lunch or a cocktail, sleeping in a punishing foldout bunk, stopping at historical and culturally idiosyncratic train depots on the way.
Something like Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney in White Christmas.
Of course, the engines and railway cars of those days are now best used for slooooow but scenic trips to places like the Grand Canyon. We did that once with my sister's family, visiting from Virginia. It was pleasant and leisurely, and we were entertained by a musician who played some of the great country-western classics and by actors who played outlaws and held us up...for, uh, soda and snacks. But I fantasized about some real going more than 30mph.
Europe and Asia didn't give up on train travel. They just made it faster. Why don't we have bullet trains zipping through our states? The Great American West needs a few outstanding bullet trains, something to rival the almighty automobile and the cocky airlines.
Through many frustrations on our road trip - stops at gas station restrooms, sibling kick fights in crowded hotel beds, a five-year-old's homesickness, and an awful, overpriced meal at a lonely trucker's diner in a tiny town (but with a Starbucks) - I kept saying, "Remember, kids. This is the great American road trip!"
Yes, it was, and it was worth it. Really. We visited cherished relatives we very rarely see. My kids got time with their great-grandparents and discovered new cousins and got a taste of small-town living. And I saw again the landscape that shaped my parents, remembering Dad's tales as we passed familiar landmarks. We saw a dear and dearly missed friend and her family in Oregon, and my Man and I became godparents to her daughter during Mass. And on the long drive back through California to where we started from, with nothing to do but wish we were home already, we stopped in a beautiful park by the Sacramento Zoo to eat a real lunch with cheese, fruit, salad and utensils beneath huge deciduous trees. Afterward, I chased my kids who were racing leaves, squirrels and each other, and we desert rats merrily kicked through the drifts of exotic, brightly-hued leaves until Papa sternly motioned us to the car, telling us he'd been patient enough.
It was the great American road trip, my friends. Yessiree.
But I'd still like a revival of the great American railway journey of yore - only with greater speed.
P.S. That title was just so clever, wasn't it? As you see, I go out of my way not to be redundant. No need to thank me! But I really sweated coming up with that one, I can tell paid off, right?

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