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  • Writer's pictureChris Lanier

Why You Should Ride a Train (or do something else your friends think is weird!)

6 hours on the train or 4 in the car? Only one sparks joy for me.

My friend chuckled and asked a variation of the same question I'd fielded twice in an hour, "Dude, why were you riding the train?" I gave him an answer that I knew would get me off the hook, a straightforward bridge to the next segment of our conversation. "Oh, I was just returning a buddy's car to him in Los Angeles. He had it in a body shop here and it was an easy way to get back home." Easy peazy right? Seems logical, the cost of a one-way train ticket was cheaper than the cost of a one-way car rental ($74 vs. $100 + gas if you are wondering), so I took the train. That's true, but it's not why I chose rail. I took the train because I'd been wanting to ride the Amtrak Coast Starlight ever since we moved to California.

Trains have fascinated me since childhood. Maybe it was a trip to New Orleans that did it. One summer morning my Dad loaded up the family and pointed our car towards Mobile, Alabama where we boarded Amtrak's Sunset Limited for a trip to the 1984 World's Fair. I don't remember much about the fair, but I remember how excited I was to ride the train. Up to that point in my life I'd never rode in anything but a car, so everything about the train fascinated me; especially the notion of having a meal in the restaurant car on board. Wow...we get to eat at a table while moving! This peculiar excitement followed me to other modes of transportation as well: RVs, airplanes, boats, etc. There's no rational reason I should be excited about eating at a table while moving,....yet, I am. I also have an irrational fascination with sleeping on a train. I'm not talking about the "courtesy check the seat behind you before you recline and cram your neighbor's laptop into his skull" economy sleep, but the luxurious lay-flat sleep of a full bed. I'll never be able to afford that on an airplane, but I can certainly swing a room in the sleeper car on Amtrak. In fact, I did just such a thing back in 2011. We were living near St. Louis and I was training for a few weeks in Altus, OK. Southwest whisked me home a couple of times, but for one of my weekends off I decided I'd drive to Forth Worth so I could take the overnight train home. It was wonderful! I departed late afternoon and arrived the next morning in St. Louis. In between I read, had dinner, gazed at scenery with a beer in hand, and slept in my private room as we traveled north. It wasn't as fast as an airline trip, but it was considerably more enjoyable for me.

That was my only overnight experience, but I've logged many hours on trains since. Traveling by rail is a viable alternative to driving in Europe. My family used it on many occasions while living in Belgium. We funneled under the Chunnel on the Eurostar from Lille to London, sped across Germany for a ski trip in the Alps, and frequently avoided traffic snarls around Brussels on the way to the airport. If taking the train was an option, that's how we rolled. It was especially economical if I was traveling alone on business where the cost of a single ticket was often cheaper than fuel for the car. Those opportunities are far less frequent in the US where distances are vast and the population more dispersed. But you can find a rail adventure that fits if you take the time to look and the show courage to book. This is especially true when traveling in the northeast or along the west coast. Which brings us full circle to my exhortation: you should ride a train! <<or do something else your friends think is weird>>


Why am I encouraging you to ride a train? It's something that really doesn't make sense to many of my friends. Here's an "I'm taking the train" conversation starter pack for you. Take 2 or 3 of these, combine in any order, and you'll have a transcript of every conversation I've ever had about riding the train.

  • Why are you taking the train? Weird.

  • You know, it takes a lot longer to ride the train than it does to drive.

  • I've heard that sometimes the train gets delayed. <it does>

  • It's not very convenient.

  • It only comes through town a couple of times a day.

  • I'm so sorry, is your car broken?

And you know what? If the decision boiled down to a simple cost-benefit analysis, all are valid arguments. But that's not what it's about for me. The choice is 20 percent analytic cogitation and 80 percent unbridled imagination. Dr. Seuss-like thoughts about Things You Can Do On a Train dance around my head like Mickey Mouse's Magic Brooms in Fantasia.


You can have a drink

You can walk and think

Take a little nap before putting on your reading cap

These are but some of the things you can do on a train while avoiding the pain...

Of automobile veins worming around unimaginative ruts of the gridlocked city

Chart a path where you can take a stand up shower

Or snap photos of the whimeradiferal flower

Hidden in mountain passes...

Only a train can take you there


Los Angeles is Spanish for "Traffic Jam." I poured a little Hazy IPA out for my homies stuck on I-5. Watching traffic from the train while drinking Modern Times sparks joy. Sitting in traffic with no Modern Times does not.

Do you have something that brings you happiness that your friends don't understand? Do you pursue it regardless? I'm encouraging you to ride the train or something equally "weird" because it's about pursing a personal happiness that others don't have to understand. You can try to explain it, but don't feel obligated. There's a good chance they may never get it and that's o.k. It's not for's for you. This shouldn't give you license to be an a-hole when discussing said pursuit. On the contrary, discussing our differences and things that make us happy is one of life's great joys. Passions and likes should spill out of us and affect others in a positive way. Maybe in the course of discussion your friends will come to understand why your "weird" pursuits and interests bring you happiness. But it's o.k. to politely disengage if someone wants to browbeat you instead because they think differently or aren't interested in what makes you happy. You can easily extend this outlook to many other things (looking at you politics).

Choose things that make you happy. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't be considerate if your decisions affect others. But when your decisions have little bearing on others you needn't seek approval. Think golf is awesome? I don't enjoy it, but who cares? I'm not the one playing; go head on Tiger! The course awaits. I want you to be happy. You should want me to be happy as well. And one of the things that makes me happy is eating at a table while moving...on a train. :-) Oh, and taking pictures. That also makes me happy.

On the central coast of California some of the best views are from the Pacific Surfliner at sunset. I soaked up the scenery a few days ago and grabbed some photos (above) and a little video I've shared below. It really is an amazing way to see California's central coast! So the next time someone tells you they are going to ride the train, before dropping a,"weird" on them, consider asking asking what makes them happy about riding the train. Maybe you'll learn something. Maybe you'll want to give it a try someday. Or maybe not, and that's o.k. Because I ride the train for my happiness, not yours; and that's all that matters in this case. But you really should ride a train, the Pacific Surfliner at sunset to be specific...because I'm quite sure it'll spark joy in you. :-)

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