Basically we went to Chicago so that we could ride a train
Long long ago, as my son watched Thomas the Tank Engine everyday on PBS, a desire burned in his toddler belly to ride on a train, a REAL train, on a real trip; the 20-minute roundtrip ride on a fake Thomas the Tank Engine around Oklahoma City was enjoyable but did not satisfy. Long after Thomas went by the wayside, after G forgot who Annie and Clarabel were, requests to ride a REAL train on a REAL trip continued to come from him every couple of months.
Once the kids came of an age that they could handle being confined in a train for more than 20 minutes, Hubby and I started looking at places to travel to as a family by train, a REAL train.
My initial vote was for Washington, D.C.: I took a family vacation there pre-marriage and pre-9/11 and that place is a-may-zing, you guys. Free museums and the National Zoo, all connected by a really easy, clean Metro system. But the train ride from Kansas to D.C. is something like 183 hours. Or not exactly, but way too long with a toddler (the toddler then being Baby Chickadee; G and Little Missy were plenty old to have handled a long ol’ trip).
So we looked at other cities that Amtrak traveled which also had prolific public transportation; we weren’t going to travel by train and then rent a car once arriving. That left Chicago. And Chicago has never been a place I’ve longed to see. If I’m going to a giant city then I’m going to New York. But a train ride to Chicago took less than a day and has oft-used trains and buses. So Chicago it was.
But then something happened and we put off the Chicago trip for a year, then another year, then Hubby found a Comic-Con with a kids’ day in late April and finally our long-awaited trip to Chicago was realized.
Basically we went to Chicago so that we could ride a train, so that we could sit in the observation car and so that the kids could eat snacks from the cafe car and so that we could have a meal in the dining car. Chicago was just a reason for us to get on the train.
But it turns out Chicago is a really great city. Great people, great food, great public transportation, great museums. And train travel--both intra-city and inter-city--is the way to go, people. You can stretch your legs at will on the long rides, you don’t have to gripe at your spouse when he misses the exit while driving, you don’t have to deal with city drivers, you get to people watch and stare out the windows at the countryside and the city rolling past.
Our past few family vacations I’ve thought, “This is it! This is my favorite!” And so it is again: This is it. Chicago is my favorite. I love the trains, I love the airbnb apartment we rented, I love the museums and the food.
And I love the little boy whose desire has long been to ride a train, who infected his precocious sisters with that desire, who all pushed their parents to be irresponsible and take their kids out of school for an extended train ride. All of it was perfect.
Erin Fox is a busy wife and mother of three. She is a weekly columnist for the Times- Gazette.