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Why Taking A Train Is The Best (And Most American) Way To Travel

Amtrak_Superliner_Coach_Car_-_Coast_Starlight

Traveling sucks. There, I said it. I said what we’re ALL thinking. Traveling is just a God awful experience I wish I never had to do. I even hate taking the subway to get to work in the morning, and it’s a 15 minute ride. And the stations are both three blocks from my apartment and three blocks from my office, on either end. If I could stay in my apartment all day working, I’d do it happily for the next 80 years. But travel is inevitable–we all have to do it for work, or school, or vacation, or because our moms guilted us into coming home for Rosh Hashanah. It happens.

Unfortunately, because we haven’t perfected “Star Trek”-like teleporting capabilities, we’re stuck with the cruddy travel options we have now. Driving is great, until you get bored 30 minutes in and get the itch to check your phone but you can’t because if you do you’ll die. Flying is the easiest and fastest way to travel, on paper, until you factor in two-hour security lines, invasive TSA probing, and paying $500 for a coach seat just to sit next to someone with Ebola. And what’s the deal with airline food? (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.) What about taking a bus? Sure, it’s dirt cheap, but they’re cramped, they’re dirty, they smell awful, and last time I went on one, I got my identity stolen. Some fucker tried to buy plane tickets to New Zealand. Never again.

That leaves us with one more mode of transportation, and I’m not talking about the Segway: trains. I don’t mean regional train lines, like the Long Island Railroad, the New Jersey Transit, the T in Boston, or San Francisco’s BART, I mean Amtrak. I took an Amtrak train from New York City to Washington, D.C., a couple weeks ago and it was one of the most pleasant travel experiences I’ve ever had. That Joe Biden dude is on to something. Here’s why taking the train is a fantastic way to travel.

1. It’s Cheap(ish)

Travel is expensive, no matter how you slice it. But at least when you take the train, things are usually cheaper than if you fly. For example, a roundtrip flight from NYC to Washington could end up costing you $300 plus tax; you can do the same trip on Amtrak for $180, and when you factor in security checks, waiting for your bags, and all the other crap that goes with flying, it takes about the same time. So same time, plus a savings of upward of $100? Sign me up.

2. It’s Relaxing

There’s a reason why so many TV shows, movies, and standup comedians have made jokes about air travel: everything about it sucks, and is horribly stressful. Is your bag too big for the overhead? Sorry, you have to check it. That’ll be an extra $70. Ooh, it’s slightly overweight, better make that $100. Also, your flight has been delayed an hour, and you’ll have an unannounced delay where you’ll sit on the tarmac for another three hours for no reason, where we can’t let you go to the bathroom and we certainly won’t give you any snacks, because fuck you, that’s why. On Amtrak, you just wait until your track is announced, get on, sit down, and chill. They’ll check your tickets whenever they feel like it. Just chillax.

3. It’s Comfortable

The seats are plush and relaxing, and usually decently far apart form the person in front of you and behind you, so you won’t have to worry about your knees hitting the back of another person’s seat, or some douchey kid kicking the back of your chair because his parents don’t believe in parenting. If I kicked someone’s chair, my mom would’ve slapped me silly, so fuck you, new age parents. There are also fantastic amenities, like two outlets at every pair of seats, free wi-fi, and bathrooms that don’t resemble broom closets. Plus, it’s easy to join the three-feet high club in those. There’s nothing like sitting in that relaxing chair and watching the world roll by–the view is absolutely to die for, with lakes, rolling fields, and metropolises in the distance. It’s incredibly picturesque.

4. It’s American As Fuck

This great nation of ours was built on railroads, dammit, and somewhere between the Interstate highway system and bailing out the airlines every five years, we lost sight of that. The first railroads we Americans built connected the country in a way that had never been done before, allowing for the transportation of people, supplies, and information further and faster than we’d ever traveled before so we could explore and establish the rest of our great nation. It gave us a major national infrastructure for the first time, and caused our industrial economy to boom. Unfortunately, it also gave way to tons of crimes, ranging from the petty (stagecoach robberies, which are badass) to white collar (major railroad monopolies, which are bad), and eventually, thanks to competition and pressure from automobiles and commercial air travel, locomotive travel took a significant dip in profitability. Eventually, most railroads closed up shop, but then they were replaced by Amtrak.

Unfortunately, this left most Americans without any means of major affordable, public(ish) transportation from city to city. Sure, you can fly from New York to Philadelphia, but it’s not cheap, and it doesn’t facilitate a mass movement of people. Same goes for Northern to Southern California, Washington, D.C., to Boston, and many other areas. A renewed interest in high-speed railroad travel has reinvigorated interest in the locomotive industry, though it remains to be seen if it’ll last.

Any time you step onto an Amtrak train, you can kind of feel history beneath your feet. Trains carried workers from the East Coast out West, in search of better lives and opportunities, and from there, they built the infrastructure of this country. Abraham Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address on a train, gave his Farewell Address on a train…the dude loved trains. You can’t argue with Honest Abe. There’s something just so elegant and old-fashioned about taking a train, and it’s hard not to feel nostalgic for a simpler, bygone era while riding the rails from city to city.

So do yourself a favor and the next time it makes sense, take a train. It’s affordable, historic, American as fuck, and it sure beats sitting in a flying sardine can while the person next to you gives you Whooping Cough.

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