Around the U.S. By Train – Part 7

It’s good to be back in Boston. One of the reasons I like this city so much is that it has all the advantages of a big city – sporting events, cultural opportunities, excellent public transit, etc. – but has the look and the feel of a smaller town, with tree-shaded streets of classic five-story walk-ups.

I stay in one of those during my annual Boston visit when I come to see the Red Sox play three or four games. My home-away-from-home here is a classic brownstone on Bay State Road, a block from the Charles River and just a few hundred yards from Fenway Park.

The next four days are delightful: sleep in, have breakfast and conversation with other guests at the B&B, stroll over to Kenmore Square and browse through a bookstore, have a cappuccino and tap out some leisurely posts on my laptop, visit with friends in the area, and go to the ballgames. The only possible way this break in the middle of my rail odyssey could have been improved? If the Red Sox hadn’t lost three of the four games I’ve seen.

The next leg of my rail trip will be aboard the Lake Shore Limited to Chicago. One section of the train originates in New York City, the other in Boston, with the two meeting and joining in Albany, NY, for the overnight journey to Chicago.

The day before I’m scheduled to leave, however, Amtrak calls to say that CSX, the freight railroad owning the track between here and Chicago, will be doing extensive track work somewhere between Boston and Albany. So, instead of a train ride between here and Albany, I’ll be on an Amtrak bus.

There are, in fact, two buses waiting outside of South Station the next day for the Albany bound passengers. Just before our scheduled noon departure, an Amtrak conductor climbs aboard the bus with a cardboard box full of cans of soft drinks and snack bags to serve as lunch. In each bag there are individually wrapped packets containing an oatmeal cookie, some trail mix, crackers and a gooey, yellow substance labeled “Gourmet Cheese Spread.” I am able to spread it, but it may or may not be cheese and there is nothing even remotely gourmet about it. I give them one out of three.

A few minutes after swinging out onto the Massachusetts Turnpike, the bus passes just behind the Green Monster, the 37-foot-high left field wall of Fenway Park … with the possible exception of Wrigley Field in Chicago, the best possible place to see a big league ballgame.

The trip takes 3½ hours, most of which is spent on what the locals refer to simply as the Mass Pike. It’s a boring trip, largely because we construct super highways by scraping a swath through the countryside that’s couple of hundred yards wide, building up and flattening out and turning the whole thing into mile after mile of sameness. And that’s too bad because we do seem to be passing through some pretty country which would no doubt be enjoyable if we got off the Mass Pike and took some of the country roads.

The Albany station is crowded with people, some arriving on trains from New York City or other points south of here, others waiting to board trains headed back in that direction, plus those of us waiting for the New York section of the Lake Shore Limited. I settle into a comfortable seat in a portion of the station that extends over the several tracks and offering a good view of these comings and goings.

The Lake Shore arrives just a few minutes late and soon I’m comfortably settled in my Viewliner roomette. Then comes the familiar routine of dinner, some time with a good book, and bed. It’s a routine that, for me, will never get old.