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Andy Anderson Travels American Airlines
Leg One - Oct 19th 2009: American Airlines to Chicago
andy anderson american airlines jet image
All journeys have to begin somewhere... this one begins on a plane from Wichita to Chicago

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All Journeys Begin with the First Step

October 19th - Onward to Chicago

Although this particular journey on Amtrak begins by picking up the Texas Eagle in Chicago, in reality it starts on a cloudy day in Wichita, Kansas. It's like those cheap dime-store novels you hear about: It was a dark and stormy night... and then the fun begins.

When I rise from my warm bed at 6:00AM, the temperature is hovering in the low forties. And although it's a bit early for snow, just last week some low gray clouds passed over the trees; carrying with them the promise of some pre-season white stuff.

Andy's Note: This has been an interesting Fall season. Northern Kansas has already had its first snows, and the temperatures are about 10 degrees below normal. Being that I absolutely love snow and the holiday season, I'm a happy camper.

At 6:30AM I step out onto our porch and do my morning Qigong (chi kung) with my wife Bonnie. It's a Chinese meditative practice, which uses slow graceful movements and controlled breathing... a bit like Tai Chi.

Bonnie is a Yoga teacher, and speaking as an old dog, she has me doing things with my body, I never thought possible... Okay, I know what you're thinking, but don't go there... please.

Twenty minutes later, cold but relaxed, we step back in and I make some breakfast. One of my talents is as a chef. When I studied cooking in Europe, it was all about heavy dishes, meats, cream, butter, etc. Again, Bonnie has changed me quite a bit, and I find myself eating less meat, and more veggies... and actually liking it.

While I'm currently working on my second cookbook on Fall recipes, my next title after that is going to be a vegetarian cookbook. You have to know me to understand how ironic that really is.

andy anderson chef image
Ready for Breakfast?

The Devil is in the Details

When the initial planning for this trip was underway, I had the choice (you always have choices) of taking the train from Newton to Chicago, or flying. I opted to take an American Airlines flight to O'Hare the day before the trip. That way, if anything happens (weather, delayed flight, erupting volcanoes, invasion of the body snatchers, etc), it will be easier for me to fix things. Plus, if I take the train to Chicago, I'll have to head to Newton, Kansas around 2:00AM, catch the train, and head to Chicago. It's inconvenient, and it costs more money. Since I do a lot of traveling (several million air miles alone), my airplane ticket is being purchased with points, and the hotels that I stay at are also being paid with points. I could have taken a flight out on the morning of the trip; however, too much could go wrong. For example, if the flight was delayed, I might miss my connection to the Texas Eagle... Eight months of planning, down the drain because of a thunderstorm. It makes more sense to leave a day early, and spend the night in Chicago... the town of my youth. Besides, did I mention that it was FREE.

My American Airlines flight is scheduled to leave Wichita at 1:10PM, and is supposed to arrive in Chicago at 3:00PM. Since the Texas Eagle doesn't pull out of Union Station until 1:45PM the following day that leaves me almost twenty-four hours to handle any problems that might arise... at least that's the plan.

Bonnie drives me to the airport, and we glide effortlessly through the meager traffic. Wichita, by definition, is a small town; however, we are growing and infrastructure is keeping up with the growth. Case in point: We have a brand new four-lane highway connecting the east side to the west side of town. I'm on the east side; the airport is on the west. All you do is pop onto Kellogg, and it's a straight shot to Mid-Continent airport... Wichita is planning for future growth.

I arrive at the airport and find that my American Airlines flight to Chicago is on time (good sign). As a traveler with a couple of million miles logged in the air, I'm used to rushing from plane-to-plane in a vain attempt to stay on schedule; so it's nice to know that I have plenty of time (a whole day) to get to Chicago Union Station.

Even though things appear to be going smoothly, I'm reminded of why I enjoy train travel. On a plane the destination is the reward... on a train; the journey is the reward. I don't travel on the train for business; that's for the airlines. My travels on the train are actually mobile vacations. I don't travel on the train just to meet new people, or only to make new friends (I have enough friends). I travel on the train to decompress, to get back to my emotional center, and to recharge my batteries for another year of reality. Well, isn't that what vacations are supposed to be? On the other hand, the people you meet are fascinating, and come from all walks of life, and from all parts of the planet. Travel on a long-distance train is truly a fascinating experience.

Wichita Mid-Continent Airport

There's not much going on at the airport today. After all, it's noon on a Monday, and not many people are flying right now. I get my ticket, check my bag and head to our two metal detectors... you heard me, we only got two.

I travel so much that most of the TSA people know me by name. Unfortunately, they don't call me Andy… they all call me George. You see, nature had a fun time with me, and I look a lot the comedian, George Carlin. You've just got to love it.

Anyway, No problem going through the detector; however, my roller case does… it always does. With all the cameras and recording equipment I bring along it takes a bit of time for them to sort through it.

With the search out of the way, I head to the food court, pick up a bagel and bottle of water, and wait for my plane. Boarding begins on time, and we actually leave the gate six minutes early; but with a half-full plane.

If you can believe it, every morning there are about six flights (different carriers), that leave Wichita for Chicago. I'm assuming that my flight is only half full, because of all the other flights picking up passengers. In addition, American Airlines is probably not the least expensive carrier. Whatever the case, I'm sitting on a half-full airline.

We're supposed to land at 3:00PM CST; however, with the early take off, and the fact that the flight is only one hour, twenty-four minutes, we'll probably be landing early.

I enjoy flying, if I want to get there fast, but taking the train is so much more fun. Here I am at thirty thousand feet, and the only person I'm talking to is myself. Flying is fast, but it's very impersonal. As I look around, people are reading books, locked into their headphones, dozing, or looking just plain bored. On the train, if you sit down in the sightseer car, it won't be five minutes before you will find yourself in a conversation.

And there's one more thing, when you're a couple of miles up in the air, what do you see? Well, besides a bunch of pretty clouds, not a whole lot... at least not a whole lot of detail. On the train you'll see a lot of cool stuff, and it's just outside your window. As a matter of fact, you'll see a whole lot more than if you drive. I don't know about you, but I don't really do a lot of sightseeing when I'm behind the wheel of my car. And one more final thing. Where else can you speed along at seventy miles per hour with a drink in your hand... Just try that in a car sometime soon, and see where it gets you. Actually, I've heard that the graffiti in the drunk tank is quite entertaining.

Okay... back to the trip.

We land in Chicago twenty-five minutes early... way to go! Now the Bad news... Our gate is occupied by another plane, and after fifteen minutes of waiting, we leave our pressurized metal tube... still ten minutes ahead of our scheduled arrival of 3:00PM.

I pick up my checked luggage, and head outside into a cool Chicago afternoon. The Marriott I'm staying at is on, what is called, the Magnificent Mile. It's about twelve miles from O'Hare, and only one mile from Union Station. I pop into a waiting taxi, and I'm at the hotel by 3:45PM. Once in my room, I unpack and repack my stuff. I just love what TSA does when they check through your luggage. It's good to know that when I board my train tomorrow, the searches, checks, and long lines waiting to go through the metal detector will be non-existent. Another good thing is that I managed to find a store (Trader Joes), and I picked up some Snapple Teas, and snacks. I don't have to worry about the limitations on liquids that the airlines have imposed. However, that doesn't mean you can do anything you please.

As a matter of fact, Amtrak security can pull you out of the crowd and give you a good once-over; however, you'd have to be pretty freaky for that to happen. I do have a ponytail, but otherwise I'm a pretty geeky kind of dude.

Here's a spot of good news. Since I'm an Elite member with Marriott I managed to snag a room on the hotel's concierge floor. They have a lounge area with free food and drinks... I forgo the drinks, and fill up on food. Tonight the entree is meatloaf, chicken soup, and salad. YEAH... FREE FOOD!!!

I pig out, and head back to my room. The Texas Eagle leaves at 1:45PM the next day, so there's no need to hit the sack early. I curl up in bed and watch reruns of Monk on USA network until about midnight. Then it's lights out...

My eyes pop open at 5:00AM, so I get up, exercise in the hotel gym, and come back to the room for a shower. The concierge lounge has a free breakfast (more free food), and I have scrambled eggs, toast, and tea. While eating, I'm reminded that this was my mom's remedy for feeling sick. When I was growing up, if you were sick, you got scrambled eggs, tea, and toast. It's was her answer to having a bowl of chicken soup. I smile fondly at past memories, and finish eating.

Back in the room, I do some work on this travelogue, and put the finishing touches on my packing. I putter around until about 11:00AM, then head downstairs, and pick up a taxi for the short trip to Chicago's Union Station.

Next stop... the Texas Eagle, and the beginning of my journey on Amtrak. Read More...

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Keep the faith... And keep traveling
Andy Anderson