At 6:00 p.m., Monday, May 27th, I boarded the Amtrak train called The Southwest Chief, to begin my trek across the USA. The trip was scheduled to take 72 hours and cover 1743.29 miles. I say this a lot, and I will say it again; if time is an important factor for your travel, then the train is not the correct mode of transportation. Traveling by train requires a mindset, where the journey is as equally, if not more important than the destination. Train travel is about travel. I prefer traveling by train because anything and everything is possible. I get to see buildings spiraling to the sky in major cities, lone country churches in patches of dry grass prairie land, covered bridges and architectural marvels; I get to meet card sharks and grandmothers; hear a strangers monologue presented like a Shakespearean sonnet or urban rap poetry; I get to have a good meal and maybe a decent sleep. I get to see life.
Once the conductor has called ‘All Aboard’ and the doors clang closed behind us, we are off. I immediately feel transported and feel the hustle and bustle of the modern world, melt from me. I am content.
The first part of our journey is to Kansas City, which will arrive in about 36 hours. We pass through deserts and red rocks to lush green foliage and mountain streams. We pass through Hopi, Zuni and Navajo reservations. We stop at little towns along the way; sometimes getting off the train, sometimes not. LA, Anaheim, Riverside, San Bernardino, Victorville, Barstow, Needles, Kingman, Williams, Flagstaff, Winslow, Gallup, Albuquerque, Raton, Trinidad, La Junta, LaMar, Garden City, Dodge City, and Kansas City.
Union Station in Kansas City is beautiful. It is the second-largest working train station in the USA, has been fully restored to its 1914 grandeur, with high ceilings arching overhead adorned with mosaic tiles and glistening granite underfoot. If one had time to spare, you could enjoy the Planetarium, Extreme Screen Theatre or one of the many attractions on tour.
I have just enough time to take a quick walk around, as the drug-sniffing dogs, explore our train; and the Marshalls, (who I thought were merely myth), remove people from the cars.
From Kansas City, we traveled in an almost straight line to Chicago and this is where it got rough, due to the severe storms and flooding in the Midwest. Our train slowly plodded through hours of flash flooding, devastation and remnants of the storm that was crushing the Midwest. Children’s playgrounds submerged in water, downed trees, collapsed roofs, torn buildings, and unidentified debris littering the ground and fields, slowly passed by the train window, as if watching a movie. As I looked out the window at the brown water rushing by, I was reminded that global warming is real, it is here and it is now. We traversed through La Plata, Fort Madison, Galesburg, Kewanee, Naperville and about ten hours later, arrived in Chicago.
Chicago Union Station is AMAZING. It is beautiful, ornate, glistening, stylish and urbane; once here, you know you have arrived in the lap of luxury. Once again, if you have a valid train ticket, you can check your bag for $10.00 and go explore the city, which I did. Check out a couple of things I did in Chicago. HERE
I was scheduled for an overnight bus to Nashville; midnight to noon. I arrived at the Greyhound bus stop, and true to Greyhound standard, it was a ghetto bus. Amtrak owns Greyhound, so, when you buy a ticket and the train doesn’t cover the entire trip, you will spend part of it on a Greyhound. A better option and one that I am using for a future trip are to use the train for train stops/towns and use MegaBus or Flick Bus for the ‘in-between’. This lesson came crashing back as I boarded the ‘ghetto bus’. I had hoped to get some sleep; not a lot of sleep, not even good sleep, but some sleep; however, those hopes were soon dashed, as the bus came equipped with uber small plastic seats, akin to stadium seats, that did not recline or move. The seats were so small that one of my bootie cheeks overlapped the seat next to me, and every seat was claimed. After we were on our way, I was able to doze. At 4:25 a.m., we pulled into Indianapolis, and were advised that we were going to have an hour and a half break; followed by another extended break in Louisville. This was by far, the least enjoyable part of the trip.
I arrived at the Nashville Greyhound Station, and again, true to Greyhound standards, it was located, in what I can only assume is one of the worst parts of town. It was such a sad area, that I immediately called a LYFT and left—never to return there…(I hope).
I was dropped off at the Downtown Nashville Hostel on the corner of 1st Avenue and Church Street; the heart of tourist central. One block away is Broadway; which is the Fisherman’s Wharf of Nashville. Some would say ‘no’ to tourist destinations; but, I am not that person. I come to Nashville for country music, cheap beer, and good BBQ, and it is all located right here in the heart of tourist central. This hostel could not be more perfectly located.
Check-in time is 4:00 p.m., which I didn’t realize. I arrived at noon, in dire need of a shower and a rest. Lindsay, who was ‘womaning’ the front desk, immediately, greeted me with the southern hospitality that I have come to love and expect in the South. She told me where I could store my luggage, gave me a towel and a bathroom key, told me there was shampoo and invited me to shower, use the internet and make myself at home, which I did. After one of the most amazing showers of my life, I was renewed and refreshed and decided to hit Broadway.
Nashville is a city that I love. No matter where you go, what time of day—you can find live country music spilling onto the sidewalks; from classic to vintage, modern to southern rock, if you appreciate live music, this is the place for you…and for me.
I go a little crazy in Nashville, especially after the high cost living in San Francisco.
“$5.00 burger? I’ll take two. $2.00 beers? I’ll take six.” Hence, I eat and drink a lot in Nashville.
As I wander the streets, dodging bachelorettes—on and off the bike bar, I notice the vibe has changed quite a bit, since last year. There are tons of bands butchering G&R and Def Leppard, which I can see and hear plenty of in my own city. I am longing for country music, the old, twangy stuff. I grab a seat in one bar, and when the band asks for requests, I say “Classic Country”, to which the singer responds, “Oh, Tim McGraw? Alan Jackson?” “No,” I say. “George Jones, Merle Haggard?” “Oh,” he nods agreeably, “you mean ‘vintage’ country.” I nod and at that moment, I fear that I might have grown too old for Nashville. His southern hospitality indulged me and he played one ‘vintage’ country tune, before heading back to his catalog of what I have learned is referred to as ‘Bro-Country’. I pay my tab and head back out.
A great thing about Nashville is that every restaurant, bar and street corner is hosting some form of live music. A little off-Broadway, at a place called Loser’s, is where I find the ‘vintage’ country I sought. I hopped on a stool, grabbed my $5.00 burger and the local brew, Yazoo; and wiled the hours away until time to check into the hostel.
At 4 p.m., I go check in to the hostel. This is a fantastic place; clean and organized with everything you could possibly need. The check-in area is equipped with cushy couches and big screen TV.’s; tables, chairs, board games, and the internet. The kitchen is stocked with all sorts of dishes, cutlery, stainless steel sinks, appliances, NSF Refrigerators, industrial oven, and stove. Every surface is gleaming clean and nothing is worn down or worn out.
My room is in an 8-bed all-female dorm. When I arrive, I am surprised and delighted that there are a bathroom and shower, in the room, as well as another huge one, located two doors down the hall. The beds are clean and comfy. As I was a late arrival, I am on a top bunk. There are plugs everywhere, even in the top bunk, so you can charge your phone or Kindle.
This place was so great; I can’t wait to stay again. If you are reading this: Birthday Destination 2020.
Thank you for taking the journey with me and until next time…