Midnight train to Denver

Have you ever seen an Amtrak passenger train cruising by and thought, “Gee, that looks like a really swell way to travel?”

Well, chalk one up for you. Truth be told (or more accurately, my opinion be told), riding the train is still a hoot; an affordable, comfortable, pleasurable, low-stress way to get where you’re going, if if if … If you’re not in any big damn hurry.

I just took the Amtrak to Denver and back for New Year’s, ridin’ on the legendary California Zephyr (well, legendary if you’re 92 years old).

The Zephyr has, for years, connected San Francisco (actually Emeryville) to Chicago, with stops in Reno, Elko, Salt Lake, etc., etc. And yessir, I can now report with experiential authority that the Zephyr is to zippiness what Dennis Rodman is to the Kiwanis Club.

Now since I’m generally a lethargic, ambivalent ne’er-do-well, I can readily deal with a mode of travel that shows up at the Reno station three hours late and then takes 26 hours to get to Denver. That’s not a typo—26.

I figured I could drive to Denver in 24 hours, and it would cost about the same in terms of gas and vittles (my round-trip fare was $240 for coach, no sleeper car). And I could have flown, I suppose, but I just didn’t feel like getting crammed into a plane and having my arm hairs brush against the arm hairs of some horrid wretch in the middle seat, the two of us quietly battling it out for space on our skinny shared arm rest.

But by taking the train, I got to read a book, doze off, go to the lounge car for beer and chips, head to the observatory car and gaze out the window looking for elk and bald eagles, doze off, read more, eat dinner in the dining car, head back to my chair, trip the loud bratty kid who was running down the aisle, read, stretch out (there’s more leg room on the train than in any first-class airline seating on Earth), and finally get involved with some serious dozing, all the while accompanied by the soothing white noise of the train as it choogles through the great American night.

It was refreshing in an old-fashioned way, like jumping on board a ghost from 1952—a ghost that still wears a fedora and digs Sinatra. Roger Miller, too.

The train is casual, man, casual with a capital C, and way too mellow to get caught up in all the current terrorist jive. Are there metal detectors as you get on board? Nope. Shoe inspection? Yeah, right. Bag x-ray? Please. Really, if you’re an evil terrorist looking to do some evil, what exactly are you gonna do with a train? Smash it into the Men’s Club?

So, yeah, the train still has a place, even here in the hysterically zippy 21st century.

But if you’re Mr./Ms. Itchy Fidgety with an inner child that still squeals “are we there yet?” trust me, the train will mess you up.