Why Wait?: Travel During the Coronavirus Pandemic on Amtrak

(Part 1 of the Go Marta Go Travel Series)

Riding the rails is my happy place…

On September 14, 2011, around 12:30am I boarded an Amtrak train for the very first time leaving Little Rock (Mopac) Union Station bound for Chicago Union Station.  My best friend from back in the pigtail days was getting married and I was doubly excited about the adventure that lay before me.  I splurged and bought myself a Superliner Roomette because you might have noticed my boarding time was in the wee hours of the morning and something told me that I would thank myself later.

When I first entered the compartment I was overwhelmed by a giggle-induced giddiness that I’m sure would have amused some and annoyed others.  I had dreamed of the day when I would be able to take a trip on the train since I was little and the fact that I was able to make this trip to Chicago held a special meaning.  

See, two branches of my family belong to the population of over 6 million African Americans who left the rural South to move North during The Great Migration beginning in 1916 and ending around 1970.  My family left rural Georgia and Alabama for the promise of new lives and new opportunities working for the steel mills in Northwest Indiana.  Can you guess how they arrived in the Chicagoland area?  That’s right, by train.  Now here I was, leaving Arkansas on my way to see Chicago Union Station for the first time.

Now this was not my first visit to Chicago by any stretch. In fact, my very first trip ever was to Chicago to visit my grandparents when I was only a few weeks old and my parents flew us from Savannah, Georgia, to Chicago. But this would be the first time I ever trained into CHI and I was determined to make the most of it.

My research told me that the trip would likely take around 14 hours give or take and I figured I would sleep through at least half of it.  All of my luggage fit comfortably inside the roomette with me since I was traveling alone and I even brought a few snacks and something to read just in case I needed them.  As it turned out, I would not need either of those provisions.

My worries that I would have trouble sleeping on the train evaporated after about 20 minutes.  That train lulled me to sleep so quickly that I never stood a chance of seeing the Walnut Ridge stop.  In fact, I slept until just outside St. Louis which we rolled up on around 8 o’clock in the morning.  My porter came around to guide me to breakfast and when I returned to my room I was glowing with excitement.  I pulled out my then “brand new” CoolPix camera, turned it around and captured the excitement of that moment in time.

Falling in love with train travel

(can you see the joy in my face even without audio)

I spent the rest of my ride staring in awe at the countryside.  The landscape looked both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.  I had driven many of those roads in my little 2005 Hyundai Accent for years but the vantage points were very different from my private coach on the Amtrak Texas Eagle. When I arrived at Chicago Union Station it felt too soon and as I picked up my rental car to head to my hotel north of the city it took me some time to realize that I had fallen in love with train travel.  I made a promise then and there to myself that I would do a cross country trip on Amtrak one day to see my homeland from sea to shining sea.

And then, life happened.

You know that space between dreams and dreams fulfilled when we forget or mash down the promises we make to ourselves to be bold and courageously chase after the things we want?  I be no means stopped traveling but I did allow the dream of doing travel by train to fade.  Living outside the Northeast Corridor, it’s difficult to make the business case to an employer that they should allow you to travel by long-distance train for work purposes.  Even if the cost is comparable, most jobs want you to travel to and fro as quickly (and as cheaply) as possible spending as few days outside of the office as possible.  When vacation time comes and you want to travel from Little Rock, Arkansas, to Orlando, Florida, and you break down the cost of money and time to take one train to Chicago, then another to D.C. then another down to Orlando, you get your butt on the plane or drive because the time on the train would eat up all of your paid time off.

Fast forward to 2020, the year of renewed vision and I put my foot down.  I was going to do my Amtrak trip in honor of my 40th birthday.  I made a plan and started buying tickets and then the Coronavirus hit the U.S.  The closer I came to my scheduled departure date the worse the stats seemed to get for the spread of the virus until I had to call it and delay my March departure and back it up to July.  I thought, “Surely, we’ll have this thing under control by mid-summer and all will be well”. 

Well, June came and still the country seemed paralyzed with fear and confusion.  As I contemplated another postponement something in me paused and I asked myself a serious question…Why wait?  Something can and probably always will pop up to give you a good reason not to do something that appears to be out of the normal humdrum of life.  So I began to think about how I could take the trip and minimize my risk of exposure to COVID-19 with proper planning.  

The result was an epic experience of riding Amtrak for a month and experiencing 6 of their 35 trains in active service.  My journey took me from the Heartland and over to the East Coast with a dip down into the Deep South before racing back across the expanse of the U.S. to Los Angeles and back home again to Arkansas covering 22 states and our nation’s capital.  It was an experience I will never forget and I’m going to share highlights with all of you on how I did it safely while having the time of my life. 

You can follow along on my journey here on TheWRITEaddiction.com on Mondays as a part of my Go Marta Go series where I’ll share how I did all of this for under $4,000 total. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss out on the juicy details of my grand adventure.

Marta C. Youngblood is the founder and creative engine behind TheWRITEaddiction creatives co-op founded in 2014 as a virtual community supporting writers from all over the United States of America. Marta’s passion drives her to support the success of creatives from all walks of life to honor their talent and share it with the world. She believes that working in our creative callings does not have to be synonymous with being a “starving artist” and helps creatives master the business skills and strategies they need to work in their gifts.

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