All aboard! Boston to Chicago by train

No sooner had Boston cleared away some of the snow from Blizzard #1 did predictions for another heavy snowfall show up on the weather reports.  My train was supposed to be leaving shortly before noon on Monday, after the snow had started.

I realized just how quickly the snow was accumulating when I left Jane’s house:

This sidewalk was so clear the day before!

This sidewalk was so clear the day before!

I had no trouble getting downtown because the T was running normally.  The snow was plummeting from the sky and gusts of wind blew everything about, but because I was in the middle of a busy financial district with plenty of pedestrians, the sidewalks were mostly salted and clear.

I'd hate to be driving in this!

I’d hate to be driving in this!

Post Office Square, Boston

Post Office Square, Boston

CYA signs all over downtown

CYA signs all over downtown

Surprisingly, the problems came when it was time to cross the street. The roads were nearly devoid of cars, but the plows couldn’t keep up with the onslaught of snow. It felt like I was walking in quicksand while my wheeled suitcase gathered heaps of snow behind me. It was so slow going that I began laughing hysterically:  I had to stop and take a photo of the craziness of it all.


My bag in the middle of the street. CRAZY!

I was able to make it to South Station with plenty of time to spare.  My friend Lynnette works nearby and was sweet enough to brave the snow in order to see me off.  I was so relieved that I had not brought a car to Boston;  otherwise, it would have been buried under several feet of snow by the time I came back!

Once aboard the train, I settled into my seat.  It looked like there were quite a few people who were taking the train because their flights had been cancelled or they didn’t think it would be safe to drive.  The fact that our vehicle was on a track was mighty reassuring in the storm :).  The jovial conductor made his way down the aisle scanning tickets.  “Ooooh!  Rebecca… Za-KEL-juh!” he proclaimed when he read my ticket.  “That’s an unusual name!  Where’s that from?”  “Slovenia,” I answered.  “Yeeahhhh, ” he joked.  “I been there.  Hung out with some VAMPIRES!”  I laughed.  Probably 75% of people I meet don’t know a thing about Slovenia, so I am used to questions and misconceptions, but being confused with Transylvania was a first.  That said, this was a much more interesting and funny comment than the typical, “Oh!  I have a good friend from Czechoslovakia!”

It felt good to be warm and cozy on the train as it chugged through the snow and left Boston.  In western Massachusetts, I gained my first and only seatmate for the entire ride: a young woman with dyed blue hair and awesome green cowboy boots.  She would only be riding as far as Rochester, New York and immediately pulled out a small piece of colored lace that she was tatting.  I then spent the next hour trying to figure out why I had the line, “And when she has got them lined up on the mat-ting/ She teaches them music, crocheting, and tat-ting” stuck in my head.  (Note:  it’s a line from “The Old Gumbie Cat” from Cats.  I have not listened to Cats in approximately 20 years.  This is how deeply this stuff gets embedded in my brain.  Sad but true).

Later in the evening, we were stalled for quite some time.  The power went off temporarily, and the cafe car had to be closed until we started again.  Hungry passengers were starting to get impatient and cranky, especially since it we weren’t getting many updates as to what was happening.  At long last, the train lurched forward again, and the cafe car attendant (a very nice lady, by the way) announced that it was happy hour.  Anyone loitering in the aisle soon moved or risked being flattenend by the stampede of people who made a beeline to the cafe car.  It was quite the line.

Discounts on wine, you say?

Discounts on wine, you say?

I prepared myself for my first overnighter on the train.  Although sleeper compartments and smaller roomettes are both available on the Lake Shore Limited, neither was in my budget for this trip, so I figured I’d suck it up and sleep in my seat overnight.  The seats are spacious and recline 40 degrees, so between that, a footrest, and a panel that swings up from beneath the seat, it feels like being in a living room recliner.  I could do alot worse.

I noticed two things fairly soon: 1) it was very cold, so even though I had brought a blanket and sleep sack, my feet were freezing.  I think I ended up taking off my boots, putting on a second pair of socks, then wrapping my lower legs in my winter coat.  This was better.  2) The recliner can provide adequate rest if and only if you do not have a seatmate.  I squirmed in my seat for hours trying to find a comfortable position without slugging my blue-haired neighbor.  When we reached Rochester in the middle of the night and she disembarked, I said a silent prayer of thanks and stretched out between the two seats.  Then tried to lie down on my right side.  Then woke up with a cramp and tried to curl up on my left.  Then stretched out diagonally.

This must have worked, because when I next awoke, I felt well-rested and the bright morning sun flooded over the lakeshore.  Yay!  We had made it all the way to- wait, what?  We’re only in Sandusky?  The train goblins had made their mischief overnight, and we were now four hours behind.  At least the weather was beautiful.image

Cedar Point from across the lake.  High five, optical zoom!

Cedar Point from across the lake. High five, optical zoom!

Thin ice

Thin ice


As I packed away my blankets, I saw a familiar face walking down the aisle.  It was Jacob, the Amtrak conductor I had met on my previous ride to Boston, though I couldn’t quite remember his name in my morning fog.  “Hi!” I called out as I waved to him.  His face brightened in recognition.  “Hey!  You’re the traveling dentist!” he remarked.  “And you’re the elephant man!  Oh. Wait. That came out wrong,” I stuttered.  (Please refer to my Blizzard Bound post where it was established that Jacob hails from the Ohio town where the circus used to unload the animals -in particular the elephants- for a parade down the streets.  Now hopefully interpret my comment to him not as a sign of clinical insanity but of signal transmission gone haywire in a brain which direly needed caffeine).  He laughed, thank God.  🙂

In the cafe car, I enjoyed another one of my oatmeal cup breakfasts while Jacob did some work.  I had been treated to a coffee by Tom, a retiree from California whom I met while waiting in line.  Soon after, I was joined at my table by Judy, a homemaker and nature volunteer from Missouri. We talked for a good hour.  I love the variety of people that you find on trains.  It never gets boring.

Before too long, the sights of Chicago came into view.  It’s probably a little strange that I, a Midwesterner, have visited something like 40 foreign countries but have never been to Chicago!  Our train finally pulled into Union Station, and Tom gave me big hug goodbye as we went inside.

I was really looking forward to the next three days!

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Categories: amtrak, blizzard, boston, chicago | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “All aboard! Boston to Chicago by train

  1. The rubbish trains in the UK would definitely be cancelled in all that snow!

    • Lol. Don’t get me wrong, I know that Amtrak eventually did have to shut down several routes during the recent snowstorms. The weather was so bad further south that day that the train originating in New York City was really late in merging with our train in Albany. I guess I am just very lucky that I stayed safe and relatively on schedule (give or take four hours!)

  2. Mary Petelin

    Love reading your blog! I hope you enjoyed Chicago! One of my favorite cities. So much to see and do!

    • I looooved Chicago. I think I may have moved to the wrong big city after dental school ;). Looking forward to returning when temperatures aren’t so bitterly cold so that I can explore on foot a bit more.

  3. Two words on your choices of transportation for this trip: Divine Providence.

    • Bonus points for mention of a Deer Tick album on my blog!!!Actually, it’s Amtrak’s Northeast Regional and not the Lake Shore Limited that serves Providence ;).

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