Tuesday, May 22, 2012

a night on the choochoo

On our recent trip to South Bend we took the train rather than driving or flying. I'm still trying to decide how I felt about the experience. It wasn't a perfect experience, better in some ways than I was expecting while worse in others.

The major downside of the train is that it's a long ride, about 14 hours from Mississippi to Chicago. It's an overnight train which somewhat mitigates this issue (you get on around 7:30pm and arrive at Union Station at 9am), but I found sleeping on the train to be difficult, even in the sleeping car. It was impossible on a coach seat, but that's partly me: I just can't sleep well in a chair, no matter how comfortable, and the mattress in the sleeping car was rather hard.

Of course, that being said, it's also about that long driving.

On the other hand, the train was vastly more comfortable and swanky than a plane at about $200 less than flying. We got 2 free meals, and full meals at that: oven baked chicken with mashed potatoes and steamed veggies, and then cheese crepes with chicken-maple sausage patties for breakfast. We even got cloth napkins! The sleeping car was tiny, but private and comfortable. I also discovered that the train is shockingly quiet and smooth. Even Union Station is much nicer than your average airport. The lounge was particularly lovely, with free soft drinks and comfy chairs to hang out in, and they held our bags for hours free of charge while we explored Greektown (which, incidentally, is all of three blocks from the station).

On top of that, there's no security theater b.s. at the train station. You arrive, you show the conductor your ticket (which can be printed out on your computer at home), and you get on the train. No baggies for 3 oz. of liquids, no nudie scanners, no taking off shoes. Plus, the train conductors seemed much more friendly and accommodating than my general airline experiences have been.

It really is a shame that we don't put more money into our train system, but I'm impressed with what Amtrak has managed with their meager funding.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

standing up for people and against them

We now have a current Democratic president and a former Republican Vice President on the record as supporting gay marriage. Neither can do anything about it, but these kind of things can help "move the needle" on popular opinion. They also further show us that, despite the occasional hateful referendum, marriage equality is coming someday.

This announcement is especially interesting since there isn't any obvious political angle. Despite partisan outcries to "follow the money" or some such nonsense, it's hard to see how it helps more than hurts. I suspect it's more or less exactly what President Obama said it was: Biden went off script on him and forced him to take a stand one way or the other. Certainly Biden on more than a few occasions has said things that ill-conceived or got him into trouble, he's a long time politician who was generally pretty effective at planting messages in the media. My suspicion is he saw an opening after North Carolina to do exactly this. Good for him.

We also learned about an episode of somewhat serious bullying from Mitt Romney's high school days. I don't think Romney is the kind of guy who would condone that sort of behavior now, but I can buy him doing it as a teenager. Teenagers with issues to work through or in the grips of mob mentality do some heinous stuff to each other, even premeditated. Sometimes they grow up to become kind-hearted adults who would "never" do such a thing. Lord knows I said, and quite possibly did, some awful stuff to classmates in high school!

Frankly, the only reason I don't see Obama doing the same thing is he seems to have been something of an outsider in high school. This public shame play, cutting off a kid's hair in front of the in-group, is something ringleaders from conservative families do. I'm sure Obama did a bit of lashing out at his classmates as well, just as most people have; it probably just takes a somewhat different shape.

Perhaps part of the reason I'm dismissive of this news is also that Romney's just not a great example of a bully conservative. A phony, yes. Made his living as a vulture, sure. He doesn't do a lot of getting ahead by kicking vulnerable people around, though, like some Republicans do. He's no George Allen calling a 20 year old campaign aid ugly names in front of his friends, no Ronald Reagan lavishing in the tropes of the black stereotype, no John McCain jocularly telling nasty jokes about the president's teenage daughter to his press buddies.