by Keith Kimmel
I travel a lot — both for business and pleasure. I'm a fan of horse racing so I often travel to various racetracks for the big events. I am self employed with clients across the country. Travel — for one reason or another — is a part of my life.
Like most people, I used to fight the traffic to the airport, wait in line and deal with the headaches of air travel. Those headaches include outrageous ticket prices, delays and overbooked flights. After one particularly annoying incident where the airline sold my seat despite the fact that I was one of the first there to confirm my flight and then refused to give me a hotel room while I waited 21 hours for the next flight out, I threw in the towel on air travel once and for all.
I got smart and started taking Amtrak. Sure, it does take longer and yes, trains are often late. But the tickets are far cheaper on Amtrak and the value is there. Unlike the airlines — which tell me that no, I may not have the entire can of soda after I just paid a grand for a ticket — Amtrak provides real service for the price charged. Unlike a bus, Amtrak is more than transportation, its an event. Getting there is like a vacation in and of itself.
There is more leg room in Coach on Amtrak than in First Class on any airline. And a Dining Car beats a bag of peanuts and half a can of Coke any day. I never have to wait in long lines to get tickets or check baggage. The staff is both friendly and helpful. Unlike an airplane, when you put your seat back you don't assault the knees of the person behind you with your seat, so you're free to recline and relax.
But the best part about Amtrak is the people you meet while onboard and the things you see along the way. I have often had chats with complete strangers in neighboring seats or over a meal who share interesting perspectives on life and work. I have met engineers, railroad employees, mechanics, sales people and retired folks, all with an interesting story to tell. Meeting people who have completely different perspectives on life can help you see your own life from a new position. Compare this to an airplane, where no one says anything to each other more than absolutely necessary, its easy to see which is the more pleasurable experience.
And when there is no one interesting to talk to close by, there is always something interesting to take a gander at. Natural scenery is abundant as is man-made scenery like skylines and roadside attractions. My favorite is when — as I read a book — I glance out and notice the Amtrak rail follows an interstate highway and I look out at all the people stuck in traffic as we whiz by. There is nothing quite like the feeling of passing right by those who haven't figured out the Amtrak secret yet.
Put simply, Amtrak is just a better way to travel. Period.