Train Travelogue – Part IV

The richest nation in the world can’t do better than rickety old trains?



3:15 PM, Thursday, April 14, Chicago, IL 

On Amtrak, Craig, the eco-engineer I met earlier, and I arrive at Union Station, Chicago. Since we are both traveling to D.C. and have a three hour layover, we decide to walk down Wacker Drive and eat at a restaurant. Craig and I rent a large storage bin in the station for $4 an hour. This evolves into a humorous experience when our first efforts at thumbprint biometric identification fail, justifying Craig’s doubts that we will ever be able to retrieve our luggage on time.

Fortunately, we find an attendant who assures us he will be available if we have any problems. We do not have much confidence in finding an attendant if needed. Nonetheless, we proceed to put Craig’s thumbprint into play while I slide my credit card through the pay slot.

The thought strikes me on the way out that we have just forged a critical life-or-death bond. I comment that if he should die of an accident or cardiac arrest, I would be stuck in Chicago unless I can cut off his right forefinger before the authorities arrive.

“How would you do that?” he asks, whereupon I take out my Swiss Army knife and open its saw tooth blade. We both chuckle over that.


We find a Panera Bread restaurant and chat as he eats a sandwich. I am not hungry but buy a sandwich to eat later on the train.

We walk farther down Jackson Drive, where we see the 7th District Chicago Federal Reserve building and peer into its display windows. Craig gets started on the Fed. “It’s an unusual private institution controlled by a dozen president-appointed Board members, supposedly immune to political influence. It has been inflating the American dollar since December 23, 1913, to 5% of its former purchasing power by printing digital money out of thin air to finance all our wars.”

The Chicago Board of Trade is nearby, so we venture there and take a short tour. From the visitors’ balcony we can see down in circular pits a hundred traders in different colored broker jackets hand-signaling buys or sells in seeming chaos. “Bernanke and the Daboyz at the Fed do their shifty trading here. The markets get manipulated to protect banks while the little guy takes it in the shorts.”

Time is getting late so we hustle back to retrieve our baggage and board the Capitol Limited for D.C. The station is as crowded as a busy airport, and seniors can board first. I hold my breath as Craig places his finger on the scanner. It clicks open, and I breathe again. Grabbing our baggage, we rush to the senior line.


6:45 PM, Union Station

Craig and I board another rickety old train for D.C. The richest nation in the world can’t do better?

The rear end cap for the armrest of the seat in front of me is lying on the floor. I notice it has a stripped screw hole. The conductor takes it from me and promises to put it on a long work order list. He is not enthusiastic. I wonder if it will ever be fixed, judging by the appearance of things.

Craig grabs an available seat elsewhere, so I have a new seatmate. I quip matter-of-factly to Janet, an attractive woman in her early sixties, “So, we’ll be sleeping together tonight?” She chuckles with pretended shock, and, thankfully, I survive the danger of a hasty humor wrongly taken. Nevertheless, we find ourselves having lively conversations on a number of interesting topics that evening.


7:00 AM, Friday, April 15, 2011, near Pittsburgh, PA

After climbing the steep spiral staircase from the lower level, I emerge right at the seat of a sleeping ten-year-old girl, her angelic face upturned and her mouth agape like a fish gasping for breath. For a brief moment, I marvel over God’s masterpiece in her beauty. It is early, and most everyone is still asleep. They all look like limp rag dolls draped askew in various sleeping postures, unconscious until their Puppeteer returns at light of dawn and pulls taut their strings.

I am unsure what town we just passed, but one part of it was neat, clean and orderly, even quaint. Farther down the track, it morphs into a filthy slum, the rich and the poor living within a stone’s throw of one another.


9:00 AM, entering West Virginia

We are passing through a major forest preserve sporting a deep river gorge with occasional rapids running alongside ― a refreshing sight. Three of us sit in the glass-top lounge for a broader view of the scenery.

On this leg of the trip to D.C., Craig, the eco-engineer; Janet, the English-history teacher; and I, the electrical engineer, endeavor to solve the world’s problems. In the short span of 15 hours, without the ponderous, pass-the-buck committees and lofty pin-head academic conferences that promise so much and accomplish so little at huge taxpayer expense, we come up with 95% of the solutions, hinging mostly on the right attitude of all parties concerned.

Janet is an American who spent her earlier years teaching at private schools in Prague and hiking dark forests in Bosnia. She describes their discovering, well off the beaten trail, ancient monastic ruins littered with mystical artifacts. One was an old tree trunk meticulously carved into a nativity scene by medieval monks ―”fools for Christ” who abandoned worldly life to become hermits. They expressed their extreme Christian devotion by a simple carving in an old tree trunk.

Craig, fascinated by ancient archaeology, mentions the Stonehenge visits he made. This spurs Janet to reference an alleged 2006 find of a vegetation-covered pyramid in Bosnia, claimed to be much higher at 722 feet than pyramids at Giza, Egypt. None of us can think of recent 2011 news updates giving credible validation of such an important find.

Craig bemoans that amateur archeologists are finding native sites and mislabeling artifacts they uncover, doubling the work of professionals to correctly interpret and timeline them. On returning home, I will Google this Bosnia pyramid.


We notice three robust loggers in the forested valley below, positioning a recently felled tree to cut it into pieces. It is a scene from our nation’s pioneer past. Janet takes a picture of that.

Craig had earlier sat with a young man that he describes as an unlettered genius who happens to be sitting close by in the lounge. He is on his way to D.C. to give a demo-lecture on robotics to government officials. So we invite Jason to join our conversation.


To be continued in Part V…


Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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