Hipstercrite Life, Travel

Why the Mother-F’ing Train is the Best Form of Travel

picture from the train

train selfie

Last week was not a stellar week in the commercial aviation world.

I’m sure you read about the Asiana plane crash in San Francisco where two people died and scores of others injured. It’s a miracle that more people didn’t die, but this scenario and highly grotesque others are what I think about every time I get on a god damn plane.

The last time I flew, I pulled several muscles in my lower back due to anxiety. I talked the ear off of a nice, young Jewish man (we’re friends on Facebook now). I also drank $30 worth of booze, which sounds like a lot, but airport booze is the equivalent of spiking a child’s juice box.

Lately, even thinking about getting on a plane sends me into a Rainman-esque dance of slapping my forehead while rocking in a ball on the bed, so that is why, when Geoff asked me to travel to Tucson with him recently, I said yes, but only if I could take the mother-f’ing train.

So, that’s what I did. I took the absolute slowest form of travel you can take anywhere. It took me 24 hours to get from Tucson to Austin; bus trips range between 19- 24 hours, a car trip takes 13 hours and a flight is just under 2 hours.

Now you’re probably thinking, well, last week wasn’t a stellar week in the train industry either, Lauren, and you’re right. But the tragic train accident in Quebec did not involve a commercial train (she keeps reminding herself).

I know the long travel time can be a deterrent for many of you, but here are reasons why you should most definitely take the train:

1.) I rolled out of my hotel bed and walked across the street to the train depot and straight onto the train. This had to have been the most stress-free form of travel I’ve ever taken. Granted you might not always be staying right across the street from the train depot, but I highly recommend it. Hotels near train depots are usually old. I felt very old-timey leaving Hotel Congress and walking straight onto the train. You can’t put a value on feeling old-timey.

2.) I didn’t have to show my ID once, so if you’re a criminal on the lam or an illegal immigrant, this is good news.

3.) Each seat has an electrical plug! AN ELECTRICAL PLUG! F you, planes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

4.) The coach seats are large, comfy and stretch-out almost completely horizontally.

5.) You meet really interesting people on the train. I sat next to a couple who volunteer and live in different state parks every couple of years and an elderly African-American man who was going back to his home state of Louisiana for the second time since fleeing during the Civil Rights era, where he was both shot at and had a hanging effigy outside his school.

6.) Since you’re stuck on this thing for hours on end, there is a sense of family that develops between the folks on your train car. The sense of family is strong enough that when someone’s kid is running through the aisle, you feel comfortable enough to slap them.

7.) A coach seat on the train is comparable to the price of a plane ticket.

8.) You see stuff outside your window you won’t see elsewhere. The American Southwest is particularly fascinating since it’s lightly inhabited already. We saw areas of desert that haven’t been touched in decades. We saw snakes, homeless camps, a canyon of dumped vintage cars, cacti, historical markers that you can’t walk to, mirages, dust devils, a dust devil that looked like a tornado, forgotten towns and gorgeous, colorful mountains.

8.) Our train ran alongside the border of Mexico and we got to see small Mexican children waving at us.

train town deserted

old-timey train town

Now, that’s not to say that the train doesn’t have its drawbacks:

1.) Since the train is no longer the most popular form of transportation, there is definitely a “I don’t give a flying f” attitude from the staff. Not that they’re mean, they’re just… missing.

2.) I was told that train food is lackluster AND expensive, but I found it only to be expensive. Of course, I could eat a seasoned piece of leather even when I’m not hungry.

3.) On this specific leg, the conductor told us absolutely nothing as to what was going on and even when he did, he talked in a whisper. This led to a very disorienting moment when we all woke up at 4:30AM to notice that we were no longer attached to the train. As we stared down the train car and noticed no train at the other end, fear, then panic set in. What is going on? Why did they leave out in the middle of nowhere? Will our car become a runaway? Will a train hit us? Will we die out in the middle of the desert? WHY DIDN’T THEY TELL US ANYTHING?! We couldn’t leave the car and no attendants were visible. An hour went by before another train hooked us up. As we slowly began moving, we learned that we were under the San Antonio Tower of Americas the entire time.

4.) Sleeper cars are stupid expensive and though spending a night sleeping in a coach chair is bearable, it’s not awesome either.

5.) Our train ran alongside the border of Mexico and we got to see small Mexican children waving to us. They lived in collapsing shacks that no human being should ever have to live in.

mexico from the train


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  • Reply grace b July 12, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    I took a train from Santa Barbara, CA to Berkeley and ho-ly shit it was the longest 7 hours of my life. My boyfriend and I had a major fight on the observation deck.

    Also did a train trip from Berkeley, CA to Sacramento, CA and that was awesome. Almost had train sex–ALMOST. Also lost our favorite case of cds. Miss those suckers every day.

    In college I used to take the train from Philadelphia home to Baltimore. Not hateful. And I’ve taken commuter trains between Baltimore and DC. Not too bad. I imagine doing an epic train trip one day…maybe. Car trips are just too much fun.

    • Reply hipstercrite July 12, 2013 at 2:20 pm

      Grace, did you know you can get a 15, 30 or 45-day pass for the train? It’s super inexpensive! Maybe you can realize that epic train trip! P.S. Train sex in the chair or bathroom? The chairs are pretty big.

  • Reply grace b July 13, 2013 at 9:36 am

    Bathroom. It would have been epic but I wasn’t feeling so great…lol. We’ll get another shot!

    Ooh train passes sound promising! Thanks for the heads up. A friend of mine, her dad works for Amtrak, so she gets free train trips ANYWHERE. So cool.

  • Reply Jazz One July 13, 2013 at 11:35 am

    The way I see it whenever you travel, your travel day is shot to hell. I like traveling by train. Interesting people and conversation. Without road signs telling you how far away from a destination is weird. I started looking for water towers to figure out the towns. Sometimes the other side of the tracks is literally the other side of the tracks. I always try to find someone to wrestle with me on top of the train like that ‘one’ movie with a train. By that I mean every movie with a train.

  • Reply B. July 15, 2013 at 10:14 pm

    Great post! Love your breakdown of the pros and cons and I’d agree with most. Great pic of “train town” ^_^

    I’m a big fan of Amtrak. It’s definitely a more common form of travel up and down the East Coast than I imagine it is out here in Dallas (I used to live in DC).

    With how absolutely terrible the flying experience is nowadays, I do prefer the train over a flight. I would say that the train food is exceptionally bad and not worth the price and it can be obnoxious to not be told where you are or what all the stops are. But you can bring your own food (drinks too! Can’t do that on a plane) and there is such a peace of mind about riding the train that makes the pros outweigh the cons. Definitely the outlets and free WIFI.

    Oh! And service, food and experience is even nicer on the Acela…if you ever find yourself in the Northeast, it’s amazing and FASTTTT!

  • Reply rick September 3, 2013 at 11:33 am

    Ms.hipstercrite,yes,bloggers favorite train selfie and mine.This has to be the “Defacto”
    article on taking a train trip,nevermind all the cursing and swearing in the article.
    I mean everything that you would want or
    need to know before taking a train trip is right here,written by the one and only ms.
    hipstercrite,aka train selfie this time,so
    cute on that train too.Ametrak should hire
    ms.hcrite to be in charge of advertising and
    marketing ,id hire her in a second,okay in a minute maybe.Just think about this,every Amtrak train with a two big thumbs up pic of ms.hpcrite on every train,passengers per train would double in no time,right!I was
    hoping for a smiley face,two big thumbs up,
    short,shorts pic of the selfie on the train,
    but you cant have everthing right!Just a
    clothing suggestion next time,wear them white grocery shopping short shorts,or the black bicycle shorts and eveybody wins right,haha,so cute.

  • Reply rick September 3, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    Ms.hpcrite,sorry,so out of line,right.
    Anyway rickwin,the win part of em stood for
    Winn Dixie stores stock symbol.WD had
    stores in texas,you probably shopped
    there right.in 1980 i bought 300 share,by
    1998 i had 3,900sh after three stock spilts.
    Worth over 200 thousand at one time,untill
    wmt built supercenters that sold grocerys,
    can you say,otho,otho hundred times,
    should have sold,lost 100k.WD stores,opened
    for business in 1925,win meaning win the
    south and that they did for over 75 years.
    wd at one time had over 1200 stores in 13
    states.wd had ny stock exchange record for
    increasing dividends,50 yrs straight,Davis
    family owned 40 million sh,worth about 3 billion dollars,wd paid monthly dividends
    and the davis family were paid several million every month.So,get your facts right about win,haha.

  • Reply rick September 4, 2013 at 11:01 am

    postcript,wd was bought by bilo stores and they kept the name winn dixie.i beleive that was a condition for sale.wd still has
    500 stores in fla mainly.Davis family lost
    stock in bankruptcy,but never fear they
    built a self contained community in jacksonville fla,condos,housing,shopping
    center and i beleive hospital.Davis family
    started this project in the eighties and i
    dont know if it finished.plus they sold american heritage life insurance to all state for 900 million,almost a billion dollars.Me,myself and i had profit sharing,
    worth almost 50k and i was vested,plus my
    uncle left me a nice chunk of cash.i bought
    a mutual fund in the low twenties and it is now over 40.great fund and it is well diversified,so no one stock can hurt you.
    i bought a internet holding co that had stock in fb and it doubled.so i made that
    100k back and then some.man,every thing in
    life is timing,right

  • Reply daryn March 6, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    ahhh I’m so glad I stumbled upon this blog! YOU’RE SO RIGHT! going by train is far and away the best way to travel, and I tell everyone this, but I swear nobody listens. I traveled down the west coast last year, SOLELY via train, from Seattle to Portland to Eugene to San Francisco to San Jose to Salinas/Monterey to Santa Barbara to Los Angeles to Anaheim to San Diego–8 separate trips all together. I saw some of the most beautiful countryside, had absolutely zero stress, and relaxed in a way that’s impossible with any other method of transportation. the trip from Eugene to SF through the mountains is particularly breathtaking, as well as part of the Southern Cali route that literally hugs the Pacific Ocean.

    don’t forget about Amtrak Rewards (which I hope you earned on your trip!) and perhaps the greatest perk which is the ability to carry your own cooler of booze on the train. (they do frown upon you drinking your own alcohol, but it’s simple enough to hide it. 🙂 definitely bring your own food & drinks. and the sleeper cars are unnecessarily a fortune, but the coach seats are roomy and depending on the route you can usually sprawl out on the seat next to you as well. I really wish they would bring commuter train travel back to Columbus, Ohio (where I live). it’s amazing that so many people don’t even consider riding the train! granted, it does take longer, but if you have the time it’s so worth it.

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