[2 Days] From Chicago to DC

Amtrak Adventure 20-21/31 (about October 20th-21st, 2021)

I didn’t publish an update yesterday, so this one will cover the last two days!

Two days ago, we woke up in Chicago. Our train was due to head out at 5:45p, so we had a whole day ahead of us. There were three things we wanted to do: (1) get some custard at Culver’s, (2) work in the Chicago Public Library, and (3) meet up with my coworker Ben to chat or grab some food in person. We only managed one of those.

And it was the first one! Packing out of our Airbnb, we took the L to the closest Culver’s north of Chicago, where Mattea got custard and a bag of fried cheese curds (think small cheddar mozzarella sticks) and I got a burger for “breakfast.”

While we were eating, I booted up my laptop to catch up on Slack for the morning—and discovered that the Internet there had a bandwidth of 120 Mbps! (For reference, our home WiFi connection is ~30 Mbps, a typical Starbucks connection is 10 Mobs, and a Zoom call takes ~5 Mbps… 120 is a lot, especially for a fast food restaurant.)

So we decided to keep it simple: instead of going to the library (which would have been about an hour of riding & walking), we just stayed there for the workday.

We headed back to Union Station about two hours early, on the off chance that Ben would be able to come meet us—but he had an unexpected meeting come up and couldn’t make it. So we sat and worked there some more, filled up our water bottles, and boarded the train to DC!

On the train, we started reflecting on the trip overall; our biggest takeaway is that we packed too much stuff. If we hadn’t brought our winter–weather clothes—which we haven’t and won’t have used—our bags could be 1/3 lighter and less bulky. Lesson learned for next time: err further on the side of not bringing enough, because it’s easier to buy things when needed than to lug them around for dozens of miles on foot!

Because we ended up going to bed early two days ago, we woke up early yesterday. We were both fully conscious by 7 AM; normally it takes until ~9-12p to get there (for me, at least).

We hopped off at the Charleston, WV “smoke break” to do our morning pushups; our train went through the Appalachians for most of the day, cutting in a southeast line through some of the prettiest parts of West Virginia (which I maintain is one of the 10 most beautiful states in the nation). Another new state under Mattea’s belt!

[I would put a picture of West Virginia here, but our windows were filthy and we didn't manage to take any good ones.]

As we pulled through the Alderson, WV stop, an old lady in the row in front of us exclaimed excitedly to her seatmate: “this is where Martha Stewart went to jail!” Mattea and I instantly (and silently) cracked up; why would someone know a detail like that, of all things?! (We looked it up; it’s true.)

Right after we took the last tunnel into Virginia, my workday started! I’ve been batching all my meetings into one day per week, and yesterday (a Wednesday) was that day; thankfully, I had existent-enough cell service to get through most of the calls, even if one or two dropped a few times.

Towards the end of the trip, there was an interesting incident near us: a passenger who was clearly plastered out of his mind sat down next to a friend of ours and immediately started trying to steal his electronics. He got apprehended by the conductors and kicked off the train at the next stop; there wasn’t ever any danger, thankfully, because he was so incredibly drunk as to move at ~10% of normal speed (it took him 2 whole minutes to check his pocket for a mask when told to don one).

Before we knew it, we were pulling into DC’s Union Station! This is the only big-city Union Station so far that hasn’t had a ridiculously large American flag hanging in the lobby. You can see the top of the Capitol building through the main doors, though, so that certainly makes up for the lack of patriotism? 🇺🇸

DC is very expensive to stay in, so we procrastinated a lot on booking a bed! At about 6 PM, though, we finally gave in and booked a decent place—for half its previously-listed price! (Airbnb’s algorithm knocks the price of a same-day stay down very quickly if it hasn’t been booked by evening.) The surprised host delayed our check-in until 7:30p to change the sheets and wipe down surfaces, so after walking 2 miles north from the station we hung out at a local park for a bit before getting in.

And now we’re here, in government- and museum-land! The plan is to spend every spare hour for the next three days inside the Smithsonians and on the National Mall before my mother joins us for the next leg… but y’all’ve seen by now how much things change. Onto the next part of the adventure!

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