23 July 2007

A personal anniversary

Ten years ago today, I packed my bags and headed for New York's Pennsylvania Station, hopping on a train called Lake Shore Limited, early evening.

Thus started my month-long adventure on the Amtrak system, which allowed me to experience Chicago, San Francisco, and the state of Texas for the first time, as well as visiting Los Angeles, before returning to New York City. The only requirement of my ticket was to visit a maximum of three cities, and return to New York City within 30 days; San Antonio, Los Angeles, and San Francisco became my three cities, and Chicago was a long layover.

I was in no mood to fly that summer, after being double-charged for a ticket change fee by United Airlines the previous Christmas (even though United apologized, and refunded both charges).

This was the only time I crossed North America by land, both ways. I later drove from New York City to Los Angeles after finishing college, but that was one-way. In addition, having driven to Montreal and Quebec City a few weeks earlier, I was covering a lot of ground, requiring me to deal with three languages depending on the location (English, French, Spanish).

There were many picturesque memories from that trip, and I still have the photos somewhere. The various landscapes in different parts of the US were, indeed, awe-inspiring, whether they were the night lighting of St. Louis's Gateway Arch, the series of ten Colorado River canyons (seven of which are accessible only by rail), or the rugged beauty of California coast. Both Chicago and San Francisco captured my heart - leading me to live in the Bay Area for a bit, and to visit Chicago again this past May.

Amtrak's notorious delays, however, mean that I am in no mood to attempt a similar trip, anytime soon. (The Sunset Limited from San Antonio to Los Angeles left 8 hours late, and arrived 12 hours late!) If I get truly in a train trip mood, I would rather use the punctual European trains, and explore a whole other continent that way.