February 2, 2012

Family Train Trip (I think I can I think I can I think I can...)

Train rides are FUN!
Last weekend, my little family found itself in a bit of a pickle.  How to get from Chicago to the Twin Cities and back as quickly as possible for M's grandpa's funeral.

What is normally an eight hour drive would undoubtedly last MUCH longer with the inclusion of one pregnant lady and two potty training toddlers, and taking an airplane would have been SOOOOOOOOO expensive!  Add to that our travel curse, and you get one family that is very reluctant to jump in the car and drive for a whole day without much warning.  Whilst complaining about this lack of options to Poppa, he threw out a suggestion that simply had not occurred to me.

My vision for our entire trip.
"Why don't you take the train?"

...I thought it over.

I used to take the train a LOT.  There is a train that goes pretty much straight from Chicago to my old hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and each time I returned from college for some event or other, that was my method.  I learned that the train can be very... unreliable.  Either it goes perfectly, or it does NOT.  I had days that I would pull into the station before my parents had even left their house to collect me, but then there were other days...  Like when my grandfather was dying, and 20 minutes outside of Ann Arbor we hit a person.  Yes, a person.  Our train was immediately labeled "crime scene," and nobody was allowed off.  For six hours.  It was unbearable.

Sadly, M's only experience with the train had been with me, taking it to Passover with my family in upstate New York.  That is *supposed* to be about 13 hours on the train.  Sadly, it took us more like 19 or 20.  Our return trip from that event wasn't a whole lot better.

Never underestimate the soporific power of "Milo and Otis"
He was skeptical, naturally, about taking such an unreliable mode of transportation to such an important event.  That was when Poppa's quick and able research paid off- for a little more than the cost for one person to fly the round trip, our whole family could get a private four bunk room on the train- including meals- both ways.

We were sold.

We threw together our suitcases, and in a mad rush we boarded a train.

There are some complications when a family with two toddlers attempts to travel without a car.  First of all, car seats.  While they aren't a requirement ON the train, in order to GET to the train, or to get around once disembarking the train, you sort of need them with you.

That, and the train ride was supposed to last about eight and a half hours.  About the same as driving.  Only without the children strapped to their seats.  We grabbed an entire suitcase worth of distractions.  We also naively brought both of our backpacks in order to do homework (HA!), two diaper bags that turn into booster seats, a suitcase full of grown-up clothes, a suitcase full of toddler clothes, a bag of food and drink for the train (Who knew what options would be available for my CRAZY limited gall-bladder diet?  And would the children cooperate and eat it?), our winter coats, and some bedding- in case it was possible to actually put our children to sleep on the train.
It's easier to forgive somebody when you have champagne.

So picture, if you will, my husband lugging three suitcases, a gigantic red canvas bag, two diaper bags, a backpack, and two car seats as I trudge along behind, with a second backpack and two toddlers in tow (each wearing their own backpacks) the mere half a block from our car to Union Station.

I think, in that moment, M may have actually considered divorcing me for having dared to suggest a train ride in the first place.

His bad mood naturally lasted until we had checked two suitcases and the car seats, and was almost completely soothed by a peaceful wait in the special sleeping car waiting area while our girls colored with crayons and I collected him chocolate pastries.
They carried those train schedules with them all day!

The train was, in a word, amazing.  Really.  When things go well on the train, they go really well.  Our trip began, unexpectedly, with complementary champagne.  It was kind of fun the way that every single nook and cranny of the tiny compartment were usable.  It wasn't easy to get us settled into the space, but once we were in?  It was great.  And dinner was surprisingly really good- and totally edible in my current dietary state.  There was also virtually unlimited coffee for M and juice for me and the girls.  That was nice.

The girls loved the train- they kept exclaiming in joy that it was MOVING!  They loved watching the scenery go by out the window.  They even slept for a few hours!  When not sleeping, we read books, watched cartoons on the laptop, and M performed his Yo Gabba Gabba Dancey Dance act (he called it "The Chicken") with the girls' Christmas presents.  Something that certainly can't be accomplished on car trips!

We even took a break in the lounge car, to try to watch "Finding Nemo" where we could plug the laptop in to recharge.  Oddly, none of the outlets in the lounge car worked, but it turned out the outlet labeled "Razors Only!" in our compartment did the trick just fine.  While we were there, another family sent their daughter over to watch with our kids.  It was a little odd- the parents never so much as said "Hello," to us, but they sent their kid to our table and just went about their business.  I think I would have at least... you know... acknowledged the lone mom sitting with two toddlers and a laptop and obviously pregnant before adding another kid into the mix (M was off getting beverages- it took him probably half an hour).  But, as they were probably utterly exhausted as well AND had an infant in tow, I figured I'd just ignore them right back and make small talk with the little girl.

DD, Grandpa, and SI
That little girl?  SI decided she was her new BEST FRIEND.  She inched up to her, practically wrapped her arms around the bigger girl's shoulders (it looked like a, "How YOU doin'?" moment for sure!), and proceeded to show her the train schedule over and over again, pointing at the picture on the front and exclaiming, "We on this train RIGHT NOW!"  It was pretty darn cute.  Although the little girl DEFINITELY didn't appreciate having her name abbreviated to "Ape."

We arrived only forty five minutes late, and Grandpa was there to collect us.  An added perk- it is SO much easier to get to the train station (almost anywhere) than to the airport.  So it was a very quick trip- with car seats!- from the station to Grandma and Grandpa's house.

When I say M's family is huge, I'm not kidding.
We had a chaotic day in the Twin Cities, filled with family and love and much happiness, despite the sad occasion.  It would have made DeLloyd very happy to see all his family together, laughing, eating, and talking over every subject under the sun.

At the crack of dawn, we awoke, and began rushing through breakfast in order to have a repeat of our very peaceful ride from Chicago to St. Paul.  Unfortunately, our train home was a slightly different story than the original.

Before arriving in St. Paul to pick us up, our train got trapped behind a disabled freight train.  So despite our mad rush to get out of the house in order to catch our 7:50am train, we didn't actually board the thing until after 11am.

Playing with Grandma in the *fancy* waiting room
I have to say, waiting around OUTSIDE the train while it goes through a miserable delay is MUCH better than being actually ON the train during the delay.  No comparison.

Our return was in many ways much worse, and in some MUCH better.  On the worse side, the compartment was MUCH OLDER!  Almost everything was *slightly* broken, from the tray table we set the laptop on for movies, to the closet holding our coats, to the bed the girls could sleep/sit on while looking out the window.  We found solutions for just about everything, but it really drove home how important little things are on a trip like that.  Our car attendant on our return trip obviously didn't give a crap about what kind of job he was doing- he tried to get out of bringing us our meal!  I actually had to have a fight with the dining car manager in order to get our food- and a good thing I did!  He was forcing our attendant to bring us our meal, but he had refused to take our order!  He was going to bring me, a vegetarian Jew, a bacon cheeeseburger, and he was going to bring my vegetarian toddlers chicken fingers.  I was pretty freakin' livid.

M's sleeping feet, the sleeping girls, and the
place in which I was to shortly pass out.
He also tried to kick us out of our compartment an hour outside of Chicago so he wouldn't have to stay on after we disembarked to clean it up.  (Yes, he told us that.)  M was much more polite than I was ready to be. He just lied and told him we didn't use any of the bedding, and he could forget about having to change things.

As far as things that were better, the scenery was GORGEOUS, and as it was daytime we could actually enjoy it.  The girls just lay down and slept for almost the entire first half of the journey.  M and I ALSO got to sleep for a few hours!  It was WONDERFUL.  The food was, quite possibly, better- as it turned out my veggie burger and the girls' grilled cheese were just fine, and M thoroughly enjoyed that bacon cheeseburger I wouldn't have had any interest in.  Lastly, it seems that older train cars have more spacious bathrooms.  Believe me, when one of you is pregnant, one of you is a giant, and the other two require assistance... that matters.

Best of all?  The train conductor was trying to make up for lost time from before they picked us up, so we actually spent about an hour less on the train that we otherwise would have.

Me and my girls on the train
Or... maybe.. the REAL best thing was the Red Cap guy back at Union Station who piled us into a cargo carrier, drove us almost all the way to the parking garage, and then waited with me and the girls while M got the car, installed the car seats, and then came to pick us up.

Things will change, of course, once Baby X is in the picture.  But for the time being, I am totally converted.  The train is the only way I want to travel to the Twin Cities and back again.

Even if it means M lugging our entire lives for half a block.

1 comment:

  1. I swear you have the craziest stories lol! I could not imagine being stuck on a train that hit someone! However, this post has just inspired my fiance and I to consider backpacking via train for our honey moon. We don't have a lot of money or one particular destination in mind so perhaps from Nebraska to Cali and back we may go.



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