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Andy Anderson Travels American Airlines
Leg One - September 29th: American Airlines to Chicago
andy anderson american airlines jet image
American Airlines flight 4230 gets ready to take off for its short hop to Chicago, and the beginning of my journey

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September 29th 2010 - It's Up, Up, and Away to the Windy City

All journeys begin with the first step... I'm not the first to have said that, and I'm pretty sure that I won't be the last. The first step of this journey does not begin today... it began almost a year ago... on a cold gloomy day in October ( that sounds like the beginning to a cheap dime-store novel).

Planning is the key to any vacation, and with Amtrak the planning should begin early.

One year ago, I was finishing up my October 2009 trip around the country. It began in Chicago, and it ended in Chicago. When I got off the train, I was more than ready to get home to my wife, my house, my dogs, and my own comfy bed. However, at the back of my mind, I was thinking of my next great Amtrak adventure.

That last trip, and you can read about it by clicking here, went around the country and began and ended in Chicago. It was a perfect trip in every respect; however, there was just one little problem (at least a problem for a photojournalist)... it rained almost the entire journey. There were scenes outside my window that I would have just loved to have shot; however, it was too rainy, and too dark. With that in mind, I decided that I would do the trip over again, bump it up a couple of weeks, and see if I can get some good shooting weather. Is that the stereotype of a train buff... or what?

September 29th 2010 - Day 1: Wichita to Chicago

Bonnie and I awake early (around 5:00AM), and begin our day. Bonnie goes into her meditation room, and meditates, while I fire up the computer, and do some work that I need to finish before leaving on my trip. Around 7:00AM Bonnie and I go outside on the porch and do our morning exercises. Bonnie is a certified Anusara Yoga instructor, and she puts both of us through our paces. You can check out her Web site by clicking here...

As we begin our exercise routine, the sky slowly turns from a deep purple to a sun-drenched hard blue, and our breath comes out in small puffs of cool white vapor. I just love this time of the year.

Although it's still a few days before the beginning of October, the morning is crisp (49f) and the sky is clear. This year has been one hot one. We just went though several weeks where the temperature didn't dip below 100f. Then, about three weeks ago, the temperatures began to drop, and the the rain came down...

Two weeks ago the temperatures were struggling to get to 90f. Now, they are struggling to get to 80f. As a matter of fact, the temperatures for the predictable future have the highs estimated mid to low seventies.

Thank goodness for Fall.

This has been a typical start to the Fall season. The days are getting shorter, and the Kansas weather is getting cooler. Some of the Northern States have gotten a bit of snow; however, it's way too early for snow in Wichita. Actually, the temperature this morning is in the fifties. A bit too cold to sit outside by the pond; however, not too cold to do our morning exercises. I predict that it won't be long before we move our exercise routine off the patio, and into the greenhouse.

Actually, the first official day of Fall was only six days ago. We had the traditional last-day-of-the-season BBQ with some of our close friends, and over the last few days, I've taken the sunshades off the greenhouse windows, and covered the tables and chairs that sit outside by the Koi pond. Even the fish seem to understand that cold weather is soon to arrive, and spend most of their time at the bottom of the pond... Smart fish.

After such a great Spring and hot Summer, it seems strange to see all the furniture covered. Even the grill looks lonely and forlorn as it sits over by my work shed. To round out the picture, our nice green lawn is beginning to see a few multi-colored leaves... dropped from our our Locust and Paper Birch trees. Yes, Fall is definitely in the air, and I am a happy camper.

After exercise, I come back in and finish up some stuff on the computer. I'm currently working with a Canadian company, Infinite Skills, on video training. Since I produce most of that work in my studio, it will be on hold until I return. I fire off a few e-mails to my clients that I will be out of touch for the the next eleven days, and move the files that I'll need on the trip to my Macintosh laptop.

Most of my packing was accomplished several days ago, so I just have to pack up my computer stuff, and any last minute bits and bobs before leaving. Actually, I've been teaching on the road for the last two weeks, and when I got home last Friday, Bonnie was away in Oklahoma City doing some yoga classes. She came home yesterday (Tuesday), so at least we get to say good-bye in person.

I have a checklist of items that I'll need for the trip; including additional batteries, various charger units, and all the stuff needed to make this trip a success. For more information on packing for a long-distance trip, click here.

Journey to the Wichita Airport

At this moment, I'm dictating this journal, as my wife drives me to the Wichita Airport... Did I mention that my wife is wonderful?

So far this trip is beginning just like my journey a year ago. Actually, I had thought about taking the Southwest Chef to Chicago, and then taking it back home at the end of the trip. Unfortunately, those two segments would have cost about 1000 bucks, and since the Southwest Chef gets into Newton, Kansas (that's where I would pick up the train), at 3:30 in the morning, most of that money would have been spent sleeping. Instead I opt to take an American Eagle shuttle flight to and from Chicago (just like last time). The trip will be using mileage points for the flight, and hotels, so I'm saving a lot of bucks. However, even if I had opted to do the short hop back and forth in Amtrak coach, it would still have cost more than a round-trip ticket on American Airlines. Besides, since it's paid for with miles, it makes sense. The only difference would have been the arrival point. If I had traveled on Amtrak, I could have decanted the train at Chicago Union Station, and walked to my Marriott hotel. However, since I'm landing at O'Hare airport, I'll have to take the 40-buck taxi to the hotel. Gilda Radner had it right in the title of her book: It's Always Something.

My journey on Amtrak begins on September 30th, and I'm flying out today, the 29th. I do that for three reasons:

  • It makes sure that if anything happens to the flight, I'll have a day to sort it out.
  • I have Marriott points, so I'm staying at the Downtown Marriott for free.
  • It gives me the chance to go into town to purchase a few items for the journey.

The first leg of the trip is the Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited, and I'll be on that particular train for three whole days. As I previously mentioned, getting into Chicago a day early gives me the chance to pick up some snacks and stuff to take on the journey. In addition, instead of taking a taxi from the Marriott to Union Station, I'm planning on hoofing the distance (about 1.7 miles). It depends a lot on the weather; however, the walk though downtown Chicago in the early days of Autumn should be fun. Plus, that's going to save about twenty bucks in cab fare.

The plane to Chicago is a bit over an hour and, assuming that things go correctly, I'll be in Chicago around 11:30p. The Texas Eagle leaves Chicago Union Station the following afternoon at 1:45p, so that leaves me ample time to get everything together for the journey.

Andy's Note: I made a change to my luggage, and I hope it helps. Usually, I have a roller case that holds all of my computer and camera equipment, and then a duffel bag that holds my clothes and stuff. This time my duffel is the type that you can carry like a backpack. I'm hoping that will make it easier to shift my stuff.

It's nice to have some experience with train travel. The last time I did this journey, I found a Trader Joe's around the corner from the Chicago Downtown Marriott. When I get settled into the hotel, I'll stock up on some ice teas, and other snacks to get me though my three-day journey on the Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited.

Andy's Advice: Get some snacks and bring them with you on the journey. Trust me, it's a lot cheaper (by more than half) to get a can of Pringles at the grocery store than to purchase it on the train. In addition, the snack bar onboard can run out of stuff, and just when you get the munchies (at two in the morning), they're closed... I hate it when that happens.

At the Wichita Mid-Continent Airport

Bonnie drops me off at the airport. This time of the day the drive is a piece of cake; and as typical for the Wichita airport, there's not much going on. I snagged an exit row on the American Airlines Canadian Regional jet that's carrying me to Chicago. While that's good news, I'm so jazzed about the train trip; I really don't care if they make me sit in the toilet. I just want to get to Chicago, get to my hotel, and prep for the journey. Besides, the entire trip through the friendly skies lasts about an hour, so who really cares where you sit.

I've been getting a bit paranoid about cutting it close with the airlines. Since my Amtrak trip doesn't get underway until 1:45 in the afternoon, I toyed with the idea of leaving the morning of the trip, and then taking a taxi to Union Station; however, my track record with the airlines is not that great. On several occasions, I've had delays amounting to several hours, and on two occasions, I got stuck overnight. The reasons are varied. It could be weather, or mechanical problems... whatever the case, I don't want to miss this trip because of some stupid reason from the airlines. Since I'm flying out a day early, if push came to shove, I could actually drive to Chicago... that's something I really don't want to think about.

At this point in time, my flight to Chicago is on time... I'll be the judge of that. Anyway, since I'm attempting to upload this journal as it happens, I'll stop now and continue when I get a chance.

In the Air

Our flight was scheduled to leave at 10:05a. At 9:56a American Eagle flight 4230 backed off the gate, and at exactly 10:05a our wheels left the ground. Not only on time; but spot on time. Now, it's 1 hour and 33 minutes until touchdown at Chicago O'Hare International airport.

This is a picture-prefect day for flying. The dome of the sky is a hard blue... so blue you could almost strike a match off it. As I gaze out the window, I see the farms and fields of South-Central Kansas spread out before me in stark detail. It appears that most of the fields are ready for the Fall planting. Perfectly ploughed lines crisscross one field like the ruled lines on a piece of graph paper. Not being a farmer, I often wonder how they get those furrows so dang straight. Maybe they actually do have a huge ruler that they lay on the ground... Yeah right.

As our plane approaches cruising altitude, and the flight attendant begins a drink service, I am once again reminded of why I enjoy travel on the train so much. Here I am on a Canadian Regional Jet with about fifty other people, and I might as well be by myself. Flying is all about the destination; while train travel is all about the journey. For example, my first leg goes from Chicago, down south, and then up to Los Angeles. The entire trip takes three days. Why in heaven's name would you spend three whole days on the train, if you didn't enjoy the journey.

Speaking as a traveler who has logged over two-million air miles, I fully understand the value of traveling the friendly skies. It's to get from point A to point B as quickly and with as little hassle as possible. You're not eight-miles high to make new friends, experience the food, or to gaze at the scenery.

Chicago O'Hare International airport is one of the biggest airports in the United States... That's make sense; it's located in almost the middle of the country, so it gets flights from all four compass points.

Our flight touches down at 11:32a... A few minutes early, and without so much as having a single conversation with anyone on the plan, I get off; pick up my gate-check back, and head to baggage claim to retrieve my main bag. So far, so good.

It's a long walk... I would say it's close to a mile to get from my arrival gate to baggage claim, and since I know it takes a bit of time to get you luggage, I take my time.

When I arrive, I wait patiently with all my fellow passengers for the appearance of my precious luggage. Although I've had the airlines lose my luggage, it typically doesn't happen on a direct flight... I say that while crossing my fingers.

Almost immediately the warning alarm blares, and the belt starts to move. Here's a good sign... my bag is the first one to hit the belt. Now, that doesn't happen very often. I grab the bag off the moving belt and head out to the taxi stands. Now, if I can just get a taxi driver that doesn't feel he needs to fill the air with meaningless conversation, this part of the journey will be perfect.

Today there are a lot of people waiting for taxis, but O'Hare knows how to handle crowds of people, and the line moves fast. In under five minutes, I'm in the well-worn backseat of one of Chicago's finest Yellow Cabs, headed for the Downtown Marriott. Being that this is a Wednesday afternoon, and it's only 11:30AM, there's not much traffic; however, it still takes about twenty minutes to get to the front entrance of my hotel. The taxi ride was a pleasant experience. The driver was nice, but not too talkative. The fare runs thirty-five bucks, and I round it off to forty. While I'm paying the taxi driver, the bell man gets my luggage out of the trunk, puts it on a trolley, and heads to the front desk. I get into the Elite line, and check in.

At the Chicago Downtown Marriott on the Magnificent Mile

Like every Marriott I've been to, the check in is friendly and smooth and, as usual, I get an upgrade to the concierge floor without a problem. I pop on the elevator and head to my room on the 41st floor. Once inside, I check my luggage, and do some repacking.

Andy's Thought: There's something unique about staying at a Marriott property. As a traveler that spends a lot of time on the road, I look for a hotel that gives me a sense of being home. When you walk into the lobby, you're greeted with a friendly smile, and as you're going through the check in process they call you by name. The rooms are always clean, and the service excellent. If you ever find yourself in a strange town, and you're looking for a comforting place to stay... Choose Marriott, and you'll be just that much closer to home.

On this trip, security (TSA) has seen fit to check my bag. I just LOVE how they mess things about. Actually, it really doesn't bother me... I would rather be safe than sorry. However, if they're going to unpack my bag, I wish they would learn how to re-pack my bag... Just a suggestion.

Anyway, I check through my bag, and do some repacking. Then I go down to the lobby, go outside, and head toward Trader Joe's. It's a picture-perfect Autumn afternoon. The temperature is cool, but not cold, and the two-block walk proceeds without incident. I pick up a six-pack of Snapple ice tea, and a few items to munch on; place them in a cloth grocery sack that I brought along (that's called being green), and head back to the hotel. I put the drinks and snacks into my luggage, and make sure they're packed to keep them from breaking. With my major packing accomplished, I kick back and do some work on this travelogue. Around 4:00PM I plan to head to the concierge lounge. However, before I go, I'll download this portion of the journey to the Web site. If the lounge has Internet service, I might do some writing and send more.

See you later...

Dinner on the Cheap

The concierge lounge at this Marriott doesn't just serve drinks; it does real food. Today they have soup and sandwiches with salad. I grab some free grub, settle down with my food, and work a bit more on this travelogue. Although I've been doing these train journeys for many years, I still get excited about what's coming next. The concierge lounge has large windows facing the lobby. I notice that the lobby/bar area is crowded and noisy; however, the atmosphere in the concierge lounge is quiet and inviting; so after stuffing my face, I stick around, nibble on a chocolate brownie, and keep working.

Several people come by and ask me what I'm about, and it gives me an excuse (as if I need an excuse) to talk about train travel.

One of the people I talk to is heading out on Amtrak tomorrow (just like me). I'm going out on the Texas Eagle, and he's departing on the Southwest Chef. Strangely enough, we're both headed to Los Angeles; however, he will be getting there in one day, while for me the journey will take three. I've said this before, and I'll say it again, and again, and again... The Journey is the Reward.

After a bit, I return to my room, and check my luggage one more time. Since I'm planning on walking to Union Station tomorrow, I want to make sure that all my stuff is ready to go. When it comes to organization, I'm a bit like the character Monk on the USA network. I have to have everything in place, or I'm not happy. After I'm convinced that everything is in its proper place, I settle back, watch some TV, and hit the sack about midnight.

Strangely enough USA Network is showing reruns of Monk... Eerie.




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Keep the faith... And keep traveling
Andy Anderson