My wife and I like trains. Part of it is that my wife doesn't like to fly. Part of it is that I'd rather gnaw my own leg off than spend eight hours driving on the freeway. But when we need to take a trip our first thought is, "can we take the train?"
The answer is not as easy as it should be, because often it is "no." And therein lies a tale.
But first, let me tell you how it should be. Because it happened to us a few days ago.
We're in Chicago on business for my wife: a gigantic interior-design convention. I'm along because I'm a design groupie, and having remodeled three houses, I have more than a passing interest in sinks and ovens and other home furnishings. Plus, it's close to our anniversary, and this was a chance to spend three nights in a four-star hotel without any rugrats underfoot.
Step One was to dump the munchkins with my parents, who live near Madison, Wis. So bright and early on Wednesday morning, we bundled everyone into the car and made the five-hour pilgrimage to Grandma's house.
The kids were well-behaved, traffic was light, the weather was good. So we arrived five hours later hungry, tired, and stiff, and the kids fairly exploded out of the car and began finding randomly destructive ways of working off their pent-up energy.
We spent the night, and the next morning said goodbye to parents and offspring. Then my wife and I drove about 30 miles to Columbus, Wis., to catch the train to Chicago.
We got there about noon. The train was running about half an hour late, and wouldn't be there until 1 p.m. We sat on the platform and ate lunch. It wasn't particularly busy, so about 10 minutes later the stationmaster joined us, and we spent the next half an hour watching freight trains barrel through (hauling coal and what looked like Ford Ranger pickups from the soon-to-be-closed St. Paul plant), amiably discussing trains, the weather, and local politics (Columbus' City Council tried to fire the mayor, it turns out, and in response the citizens voted out half of the Council. The legal and political fallout is still expanding. All this in a town of 4,400).
When the train arrived, we got on board and found a pair of empty seats. And what seats! Comfortable, able to lean way, way back, and gobs of leg room. Truly unbelievable amounts of leg room, in fact. I'm tall and used to being folded up like a pretzel on airplane flights and even bus trips. Here there was so much space that I didn't have to use the foot rests on the seat in front of me. My wife, who is shorter, couldn't even reach her foot rest unless she slumped way down and stretched her legs all the way out. Did I mention the mind-blowing amounts of leg room?