Cross the U.S. and See the Country.
When it comes to traveling across the country, most Americans don’t think of Amtrak. Their main concern is getting to their destination as quickly as possible. And that, I think, is because most of the time the “getting there” is no longer the rewarding experience it once was.
At the end of my freshman year at the University of Colorado, another C.U. student and I set out in my 1951 Pontiac to drive from Boulder to my home in Connecticut.
After threading our way through Denver, we headed east on U.S. Route 40, a two-lane highway that was straight as a string. We drove for several hours and just as we were getting low on gas and very hungry, we came to the town of Last Chance. I still remember a hand-lettered sign there: STOP. EAT. GET GAS. (They got that right.)
By morning we had crossed Nebraska and were in Missouri. Then, over the next day or two, came Illinois, Indiana and Ohio—and all of it on Route 40 and all of it two lane road. We’d travel for a half hour or so at the speed limit of 50 mph, then slow to 25 when Route 40 invariably became Main Street through a town.
We’d pass a motel and a bank and a row of stores and a couple of gas stations. And there was always a water tower with the town’s name on both sides so, whether heading east or west, you would know where you were.
Finally we reached the Pennsylvania Turnpike and before we knew it, we were in Connecticut rolling up the Merritt Parkway toward Hartford and then home.
These days, if you’re going to travel across this country, you have three choices: fly, drive or train. You can’t see America from 30,000 feet and the Interstate Highway System bypasses all the cities and towns.
The fact is, there is only one way you can cross great stretches of this country and actually see it—and it’s by Amtrak. That’s what I tell people when they ask why I take the train when I could fly there in four hours. A lot of them still don’t get it, and that’s really a pity. But some do, and I do believe they all have a better understanding of this country as a result.