Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky. (slithytove) wrote,
Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky.

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Iron horse

THOUGHTS about trains.

I'm traveling from Philadelphia to Chicago in a sleeping coach called a 'Vistaliner'. There are three sorts of rooms: large/handicapped-accessible (1 per car), large with private shower and commode (2 per car), and smaller rooms like mine, with a commode, but no shower (about 12 per car). Two seats face each other, and convert into a bed when needed. Another bed slides down from the ceiling. I took the top bunk. The mattress was thin, and rather futon-like, but that's fine with me. The room is small. My suitcase is huge (it was bought to hold all my backpacking stuff), and it won't fit in the suitcase niche overhead, so it gets the second seat, or sits on the commode lid. If I were sharing the room with someone else, things would be very tight; I advise bringing small bags and checking those you won't need on the train. Maneuvering in my cabin has the flavor of maneuvering inside a small tent while backpacking: no matter what you want to do, the pack/suitcase is in the way. It's not quite that bad (there's plenty of headroom, for example, which there isn't in a backpacking tent), but that's the flavor.

There's a three-prong outlet, which is nice for the laptop. A flip-out table is about the right size for it, but there's no room for the mouse I brought along, so I'm using the laptop's integral mousepad, which just isn't the same thing, ouch.

The windows are huge. 

I can't help comparing the accommodations to those on a plane. What struck me first, oddly, was how heavy and solid everything felt. Most of the equipment in my cabin, for example, is made of steel. The pull-up/swing-down table I'm typing on, for example, is heavy and solid as anything; it just has a very different feel from the insubstantial plastic tray-tables we're used to on airliners. I didn't realize until now how much of an airplane is made of plastic. That's for light weight, of course, which is critical in a plane, but much less so in a train. This sleeper seems to have been designed with durability and length of service in mind.

It's been about 25 years since I traveled overnight on Amtrak. I remember the service being surly and the food bad. So far, all I've had was microwaved breakfast (something from the Egg McMuffin school of breakfast, a pre-packaged danish, juice and coffee), and it was edible, if not great. The service, though, has been wonderful: pleasant, friendly, helpful, without foundering into obsequy. I had been a little worried about the service, because although Amtrak has been in financial difficulties for decades, with constant taxpayer subsidies, there is now serious talk about forcing it to live within its budget, or outright privatization, which would force the closure of many unprofitable routes. Uncertainty of this kind breeds poor employee morale. However, the steward who oriented me to my room, the cleaner and bath attendant, and the cafe chef have all been nice as anything.

And speaking of taxpayer subsidies... I'm not sure whether I'm a good guy or a bad guy for riding Amtrak. I'm generally against welfare, corporate or otherwise, and I think Amtrak ought to be able to pay its own way. Chronic operating deficits are the Invisible Hand's way of telling a business to please get your affairs in order, sir, there's a man with a scythe and an attitude waiting for you at the door. So am I a bad guy for taking advantage of the taxpayers—or am I a good guy for helping out Amtrak by increasing their passenger load (they'd be making money if they had enough passengers)? I dunno.

Using a laptop on a train is not like using one on an airplane. There is constant movement in a train ride, a gentle swaying to and fro, a gentle up and down bounce. It's not unpleasant, but it makes accurate typing difficult. Airplanes hit turbulence now and then, but for the most part, the ride is fairly smooth. Not so a train.

 Arrived in SF late last night. Train was 4+ hours later, which I gather from talking to other passengers is about par. Ick. Too tired, went straight to bed. Conference is good so far, I've been catching up with bunches of people I haven't seen since this time last year, or even longer than that.

BTW, I'm on an expensive long-distance line from the hotel, so answers to email will be brief, or delayed. Amtrak has a lounge for First Class passengers (i.e., sleeping car) in Chicago, and the Ameritech phones there had modem ports, but I couldn't figure out how to make them work; my modem couldn't get a dial tone out of them. Tried the operator, she didn't know either. Ameritech tech support was on voice mail. Sigh.

I've been thinking of other ways of connecting to the net. The guy in the compartment across from me from around Salt Lake City to SF was playing a first person shooter on his laptop while connected to his cell phone. Could it be...? Nope, it wasn't. I talked to him, and he had tried to connect to the net, but no dice. Cell phone coverage is scanty in the wide open spaces between Utah and the California coast. In the eastern part of the country luck might be better.

A final option might be 802.11. Apparently a lot of Starbucks have them set up, and there's a Starbucks across from my hotel. So for my next trip, maybe a 802.11 modem, although it's an expensive solution for a problem that doesn't arise often. And there's always war driving.

meaning: read
dokusha == person who reads
tokuhon == reading-book
Left radical is 'words', right is 'sell', perhaps with implications of 'calling out one's wares'. Henshall suggests remembering this kanji by: 'Sell words to read'.


atara(shii), ara(ta)
meaning: new
shinjin == newcomer
shinbun == newspaper
Left radical is 'needle'/'sharp', right is 'axe'. Henshall suggests remembering this kanji by: 'Stand of trees newly cut down with sharp axe', remembering the top part of the left radical as 'stand'


ki(ku), ki(koeru)
meaning: ask, listen, hear, heed
shinbun == newspaper
kitatoru == catch, hear
Bottom radical is 'ear', surrounding radical is 'gate'. Henshall suggests remembering this kanji by: 'Ear listening at gate hears a lot'


meaning: drink, swallow, take by mouth
nomimono == drinks
nomiya == tavern
Left  radical is 'good', but originally was 'wine jar'. Right radical is 'lack', but originally meant 'gaping mouth'. Henshall suggests remembering this kanji by: 'Lack food, so swallow drink.'
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