Back in 2008, I left Hawaii and set out on an adventure that took me across the USA by Amtrak train, I called it the Amtrek. This week, for the Vagobond Travel Museum, I bring you the collected articles and videos from that trip. The trip began in Honolulu and then went to Portland, Oregon from where I crossed the country and ended in New York City with a one way flight to Barcelona – the truth is, the trip has never ended since I’ve never gone home.
Along the way, I couch-surfed and asked my hosts the same set of questions, those videos are below and worth watching. Keep in mind, this was before couch-surfing had gone mainstream.
Here are the ten lessons I learned on that trip:
The trains through the Rocky Mountains have the most incredible viewing cars for enjoying the magnificent landscape.
Sacramento is a lot cooler than I thought it would be and the train museum is a must see..
Utah is an incredibly rugged and scenic state filled with some very cool folks in Salt Lake City.
I want to travel by train to Austin, Texas and Detroit, Nashville, and New Orleans. I’ve still never been to those cities.
I love New York and Boston – taking a train to them was the way to go. People in these cities rock.
Philly and Chicago are both incredibly cold in winter, but the people I met in them were pretty great.
It’s better not to hurry, a 14 day rail pass was too short for a true American experience.
Too many museums in too short a time can’t be appreciated – so get a longer rail pass.
Libraries are havens of free wifi and peaceful places to work – trains should always have wifi and should have libraries for passengers.
Making the wrong friend can suck out part of your enjoyment of life and destroy a train trip – the right friends can make a boring stretch very exciting.
In 2008, I took Amtrak across the USA. It put me in Chicago in December. Not the best time to experience the neighborhoods and things that make Chicago a great American city.
The last bit of time in Chicago was okay. The Sears Tower had zero visibility and I was sort of museum weary after The Institute of Art so I just walked through the streets of downtown taking pictures.
Chicago is cool on it’s own, but the downtown area feels a lot like New York, without being New York. My new friends Chad and Emjoy told me that you can’t really appreciate Chicago unless you get into the neighborhoods and my buddy Erik has told me about some incredible experiences to be had in Chicago but honestly, it was my fault for not scheduling enough time in this great MidWest City and coming in the winter. Of course, one thing to keep in mind – it was COLD. Too cold to enjoy. I have to reserve judgment on this city in terms of having a great time until I can come and spend more time during a nicer time of the year. Still – Chicago has its wonders.
The Federal Reserve Building in Chicago with a nice reflection of some public art called “Flamingo”
I know this though. The architecture is astounding in the city that gave birth to the skyscraper. The Chicago Institute of Art was mind blowing and I’m told that all the rest of the museums are too. I believe it. I found Chicago to be too cold and too fast for my tastes. I know, it was January, but the people seemed cold too. Not nearly as friendly as New Yorkers but maybe I just didn’t understand them.
I spoke with a cab driver who had been driving in Chicago for forty years and he told me that he had never seen business as slow as it currently is. He said that even on New Years, he wasn’t as hectic as he should have been. So, from the ground level, the recession is still being felt. He told me that buses and trains are fuller than ever and his usual customers are saving money on a cab and using public transport instead.
I hunkered down in a Cosi Coffee House and caught up on uploading video and pictures, updating existensis, and answering emails for a few hours while it snowed outside. I looked for something to do online and since I am definitely a movie lover, I decided to go to the Gene Siskel Film Center and catch a movie at 6 before catching my train to Boston at 10.
At that point, I got a call from Erin, the couch surf host I was supposed to have surfed with and I asked her if she wanted to join me for the film. She said yes, so we met up at the theater got some popcorn and a couple of beers and watched a very interesting animated fairy tale called Azur and Asmar.
I admit to being a big fan of fairy tales and since about 1/3 of this one was in Arabic, I enjoyed it all the more. The animation was of the sort that I am not a huge fan of, the sort of computer generated graphics that I really am sort of annoyed by. My Arabic is so rusty that I caught less than 1/3 of what was there, none the less, I did catch some of it. That felt pretty good. I think it will come back pretty quickly. The animation of the set was absolutely astounding. So many geometric patterns and middle eastern motifs. In any event, it was definitely enjoyable even though there was a slight feel of great white hope to it.
After the movie, Erin walked me to Union Station and we searched for a whole foods I thought was in the area without any luck, so I bought three sandwiches for the 24 hour train trip from Potbelly’s. They were damn good sandwiches.
This was by far the worst train I have taken on this trip so far. The seats were not as comfy as the other train seats, the dining car was filled with drunks, one of whom had to be escorted off the train by police because he became so incredibly drunk that he began cussing at the train attendant and heaping verbal abuse on her. The police came on the train at the next stop and he left with them. In the car I was in there was a Jethro type from Missouri who looked more than a little inbred. He sang loudly to himself and stood at the window saying “Oh my gawd, there ain’t no traffic like this in Missouri. Eight lanes” and other bumpkin phrases. He asked to borrow several people’s cell phones so he could ‘call his ma’ and tried to make friends with me, but I didn’t care to be his friend. You know how sometimes you just know that someone is awful.
I found a seat I liked and a Russian guy sat behind me and began talking loudly on his cell phone. I moved. Not a friendly bunch.
The highlight of the trip was watching a movie my friend Ark had given me called Survive Style 5+. Great film with one of the best endings I’ve ever encountered. It also gave me a chance to ignore the freakshow around me.
I was exhausted after not enough sleep the night before and walking around freezing Chicago all day, admittedly not in the best mood of my trip. The grey sky, grey buildings, and leafless brown scenery didn’t improve things. The trip to Boston from Chicago was drab and ugly and my mood was the same. When we finally arrived in Boston, I was relieved to see evergreens, warm brick buildings, colorful houses, and people that actually took the time to smile.
These were the highlights for me from the Chicago Art Institute…can you name them? Can you name the artist?
I also I really thought this Native American sculpture of a story teller was spectacular
Back in 2008, I took Amtrak trains across the United States of America. I started in Portland, Oregon and ended in New York City. Along the way, one stop was in Chicago where I visited the glorious Art Institute of Chicago – one of the top art museums in the world. Below there is a slideshow of the pictures I took there but before showing you that, I’d love to show you the five pieces that hit me with the most power.
Founded in 1879, the Art Institute of Chicago is one of the oldest and most respected art museums in the United States. It is the second largest art museum in the United States (the largest is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City which I visited a few days later). With more than 300,000 paintings in it’s collection and thirty wings – the Art Institute isn’t a one day stop – but I did the best I could with the time I had. Here are five paintings that brought out a vivid sensory feeling in me….but these are just five…the collections at the Art Institute of Chicago are mind bending – Hopper’s Nighthawks, Picasso, Miro, Rembrandt, Andy Warhol, and so much more….take my word for it, you simply must go!
American Gothic by Grant Wood – 1930
I really didn’t expect this to have an impact on me. Of course, I’d seen it in books and film and I’d seen lots of parodies of it. Standing in front of it, however, I was quite taken with it. The allusion between the farmer’s face and the gothic window in the clapboard farmhouse behind him. The pitchfork also seemed to echo both elements and then there is the absurd, almost constipated look on the woman’s face. Interestingly, it’s not suppossed to be his wife but his daughter or sister. Looking at this painting, I could feel exactly where I don’t want to be and who I don’t want to spend time with.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. At the Moulin Rouge, 1892-1895
The woman’s blue face and the energy in the drinking hall behind her captured my imagination and wouldn’t let go. All of Toulouse-Lautrec’s work captures my imagination with his modern art deco style and compelling figures. This one, however actually made noise in my head. I could smell the smoke and hear the chatter. There is a depressed somberness to this painting – like something that you want but know that you can never have.
Nightlife by Archibald John Motley, Jr. 1943
While there was something almost opiate about Toulouse-Latrec’s work – Nightlife just made me want to have a drink and go dancing, do the jitterbug and swing to some serious frenetic jazz. Again, I could hear the music in this one. The complete opposite of the Moulin Rouge but better and more fun.
The Drinkers by Vincent Van Gogh – 1890
On a totally different drinking level are these guys sharing a drink (with the child as well) on a cloudy afternoon. It’s not starry night, but there is the same sort of dreamlike fluffiness to this painting that is real enough to take you there, but dreamy enough to make the entire world seem suffused in magical realism.
Resting by Antonio Mancini 1882-1892
She is so beautiful. Looking at this painting, I had the urge to call in sick and climb in bed with her. Could there be anything better than this moment? The soft beauty of this painting is a major contrast to the nearly inch thick impasto of the work. The paint on this is so thick and hard and jagged and yet – the subject is so soft in the light. It’s no wonder this took ten years for Mancini to complete – no doubt it took him that long to buy enough paint! This impressionist painting captured all of the longing I’ve ever felt for love…
These pictures were taken with my old 8 megapixel Pentax back in 2008 – it’s amazing how much better my iphone takes pictures now – but these are what I have for the moment. I hope you enjoy the slideshow.