Monday, July 31, 2017


My early childhood vacations were crazy family productions.  It was all my mom's extended family.  Dad and uncle-by-marriage were the two "outsiders".  I guess it was all my grandmother's idea and I have no idea how the cabins at Clear Pond in East Carver, MA was the place that we schlepped bedding, clothing, pots and pans, etc to.  I don't know that my mom or my aunt considered these weeks much of a vacation because they involved at least one major trip to the grocery store and cooking dinner every night.

Of course my eldest cousin and I thought it was all pretty cool.  We got to go swimming every day, get ice cream from the truck that visited Clear Pond and there were other kids to play with.  When we went to the grocery store, there was walking the town line tiled into the floor.  We'd usually make a day trip to the Edeville Railroad to ride through the cranberry bogs or to Plymouth to see historical things.

But by the time I started school, we stopped making those trips.  In fact, even just with my parents I didn't travel much.  We did day trips to Queens in the summers of 1964 and '65 for the World's Fair.  I would spend one or two weeks at Girl Scout camp.  That was it.

Then we moved.  That move seemed to finally establish my parents and I as the family without all the rest of her family.  The second summer we were in our new home, Dad took a week off from work and we drove to VT.  We stayed in nice little family-run New England motels and saw pretty little towns in the Bennington area.  The three of us enjoyed it so much we did it for 3 more summers.  One year going up the 91 corridor to Springfield and Bellows Falls, another going up to Burlington and Shelburn. Sometimes we stayed at Howard Johnson's and others at those small family businesses.

The summer after I graduated high school we went even farther north.  We took the ferry from Burlington VT and went to Canada.  We stayed in Montreal for 3 days.  It was the first time we stayed in a hi-rise hotel.  We road the Metro all over the city and out to the Montreal Expo grounds.

After working for a year, I began my four year enlistment in the Navy.  I took my first long-distance train ride on the Silver Service to Orlando for boot camp.  Of course that wasn't a vacation.  But once basic training was over, my actual duty stations were vacation destinations - Boston and Bermuda.  I never took multiple days off though to actually explore those places.  I went home instead.

Upon discharge I began my many years of being broke.  Even marriage didn't improve the financial situation.  We did however, make one trip to MI just as a couple and again years later with 2 kids to camp with my ex's sisters.  Then since we had invested in camping gear, we went to a state park for a week two summers.  It was terrible.  Pack up your whole life in a van, have to heat up dish water to do the dishes, cook all the meals, shower with 20 other people and live in a fabric house?  Vacation for some but not for me, especially when the lack of fun continued upon arriving back home and having to unpack, wash, put away, etc everything.

Then I was single again and still broke.  Time off from work was spent on day trips or just hanging out at home.  Sometimes I'd travel to VT to hang out with family and that was fun and relaxing but still not how people define vacation.

Around Christmas of last year, I started considering the little bit of extra money I had from my mother's estate.  Originally I thought about doing a tour package to Scotland and Ireland.  It was an ad that popped up somewhere on the internet that sparked a very old take the train across the country.  At first I looked at package vacations but none of them included more than two cities I really wanted to visit.  So then I thought - could I put together an adventure that took me to places I wanted to go?  I sat down and began pouring over Amtrak's website.

By the time I was done putting The Great Rail Adventure together I had discovered USA Rail Passes and how great the phone reps for Amtrak are.  The final route was the Northeast Regional from Bridgeport to New York Penn, the Lakeshore Ltd to Chicago, the Empire Builder to Portland, Coast Starlight to LA and the Texas Eagle to Austin and then back to Chicago.  With the rail pass and accommodations upgrades, it all came in under $2000.  On to planning lodging.  I found wonderfully quirky and affordable hotels in Portland and LA.  I braved an Airbnb in Austin and finally splurged on a fancy lakefront hotel in Chicago.

The final travel did have some changes.  Those started with being told that the leg on the Coast Starlight was canceled due to a freight train accident in Northern California.  Now I had to make airline reservations from PDX to LAX.  This earned me an extra day in Portland.  Next was an email explaining track repairs in WA that would have me detraining in Pasco WA at 5:30 a.m. to travel to Portland.  Thankfully I now belonged to multiple Amtrak groups on Facebook.  Folks on the Empire Builder group suggested changing to the northern spur of that train to Seattle and taking The Cascades down to Portland.  In the end all of it came together like a perfect puzzle and resulted in my first ever two-week long vacation.

In coming posts I will share each leg of my journey so I hope you will come back so I can help you live a bit vicariously and maybe encourage you to venture out into this big beautiful world.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Is this really what you wanted?

You decided to vote for Trump.  If you did so not just because he wasn't Hillary, please provide me with a level-headed, researched, intelligent response. Because currently I only see comic book super-villains.  In some cases worse than Lex Luthor or The Joker or The Emperor.

Did you truly vote for unequal wages and no guarantee of overtime.  Do you not believe that the minimum wage needs to be revamped to be in line with the current costs of living?  I think that many of you have a problem with the unemployed in the is country but you sweep aside millions who are underemployed also with the claim that "businesses can't make enough to pay a living wage".  Doesn't that say something about the business?

Did you honestly vote to remove legal protections from women? Things such as domestic violence, equal pay and employment opportunities.  Do you seriously believe that a woman's health is a matter for politicians and not licensed medical personnel and the patient?  Ok, maybe it doesn't effect you personally but did you think about your mom, your sisters, your daughters, your aunts, your cousins or your bestest old from high school?  Do you honestly think that terribly of more than half of the human species?

Is the condition of our environment of that little consequence to you?  What about the neighbor's kid with asthma?   Ever think about the poisons in our food supply?  How about the increases in allergies, cancers, gastrointestinal issues?

Ok so maybe you voted for him because of the promise of new jobs.  Did you look at his track record as an employer both hiring and how he treated his employees?  Did you ask the hard questions like what kinds of jobs and how many and where?  Did you consider that even if manufacturing jobs come back they will require technological skills and knowledge?  Did you ask about companies getting on board with job retraining programs??  Do you understand Civics and how the President can't tell Congress what to do and for the past 8 years they chose to do NOTHING about jobs...or anything else for that matter.

From my vantage point most of you just thought about yourselves.  Your own skewed idea of what the U.S. is right now.  You see big cities (that you have never been to) as dens of crime, undocumented residents and welfare scammers.  Funny thing is that it is the big cities of the U.S. who pay more taxes than rural America which funds the government safety nets of those rural states whose recipients of public monies are white and born here.  There are no boogie-man Mexicans taking jobs away from those unemployed and underemployed people who live far away from cities and farther away from the southern border.  These are farmers who got run over by Big-Ag who did not help them upgrade their equipment and procedures.  They just came in with their new gear, paid farmer a small fraction of what their land was worth and took over.  They are coal miners and mechanical factory laborers stuck in parts of the country where old plants were never modernized and the mining industry passed them by with new technology along with the introduction of clean energy.  It's not the fault of the big cities that rural America is is such bad shape.

Now if you are within eye-shot of a big city and you think that "illegals" took your job...Are you willing to work in a 125 degree kitchen for 12 hours and accept $10 an hour?  How about the miriad of other low paying, dirty jobs we see non-caucasian, non-English speaking people doing.  Is that the job you want?  No!  The job you want is one of two things 1) sent overseas so that high-brow CEOs can take home millions a year which does NOT trickle down to a job for you or 2) an antiquated manufacturing job.  I have heard and seen you balk at learning new technology but guess what?  To continue to be gainfully employed even as a nurse, school teacher, mechanic you will need to learn computer associated skills.

As for those around you?  That's a nice pair of blinders you're wearing.  You have family even if you don't have friends.  People who have been marginalized and disenfranchised even before this election.  You know someone who is struggling to keep life and limb together who could end up out on the street if this Administration and Congress gets its way.  Or are you really that heartless?

So again, I ask you...why?  Do you really see yourself as a super-villain out to destroy Metropolis or Gotham or Alderaan?  From many things I have heard and read today you do.  You sat home today berating all the people who rallied all over the country and all over the world.  You said that they did not represent you.  Ok, so you've known that these rallies/marches were going to happen for a couple of months.  Why haven't you planned one of your own to voice your wants and needs?  You have just as much right to assemble peacefully and air your grievances.  So stand proud against keeping the environment clean.  Hold your head high when you pronounce that women just don't count except as baby machines...under the proper circumstances.  That those women and their children deserve to be kicked to the streets if they do not meet your particular version of "norm".  Be strong when you shout that it's ok for women to die during pregnancy because it is no longer legal for the doctor to terminate a pregnancy that is killing her and that you will NOT fight for better mental health care that will be needed by women forced to carry a pregnancy to term that is the result of rape.  Smile when you hold up banners encouraging domestic abuse and telling women to "suck it up".  Be a good standing patriot when you look unapologetically upon a kid with asthma caused by polluted air or a kid who can't make it through high school because her brain has been poisoned by lead in the water.  Pat that veteran on the back and say without remorse "Thank you for your service now go die because I don't want to pay for your healthcare".  But please allow me to point out that historically those types of rallies never seem to get the kind of turn out we have seen today and in that past.

Super villains.  Help us Obi Wan.