Taking Amtrak (short distances) is a good way to see REAL" America
Imagine the sight:
Me, running full steam with backpack and overloaded day bag slung over my
shoulders, making a mad dash through downtown Chicago. A
delay on the subway had turned my "45 minute" commute into an hour
and a half - and I had literally just minutes remaining before the train would
leave the station. Huffing and puffing, I somehow managed to stumble rush into
the coach, just as the train was sounding the horn and the conductor was
yelling "All Aboard!!!" The train pulled out truly just seconds after
I sat down.
Despite today's rush, I love travel by train. It just seems so "civil" compared to flying or driving. Although the Chicago to St. Louis trek is not the most scenic in the United States, it still has its moments.
First, history buffs may enjoy the fact that the train follows the once-popular "Route 66" for almost the entire journey into Springfield. Auto enthusiasts may enjoy catching the sight of an antique roadster or motorcycles making their pilgrimage down this historic highway.
Lincoln-era Old State Capital
But mostly, the view is of never-ending farmland, punctuated by the occasional glimpse of wildlife (such as the badger - or was it a beaver - that I saw scamper out of the woodlands?); or kids inner-tubing down the Sangamon River; or the very "Huckleberry Finn" scene of a boy in overalls fishing from a log in the river.
To me, these are the simple rewards of traveling by train. I hope this is just the first of many train travels I enjoy during this journey.
Stepping off the train in Springfield Illinois, it's easy to feel like I'm stepping back in time - or at least to a parallel universe.
There are almost no cars on the street, and every business is closed. I halfway expected to hear the Twilight Zone music playing in the background. In actuality, it is downtown on a Sunday, a time when only tourists head into this area.
I was able to visit with Grandma a few months before she passed away.
Say "Springfield" and what comes to mind? For most, it will be The Simpsons. (Trivia note: I am told that the producers of that show picked the city name Springfield, because it is the most common town name in the USA.) But this town should be better known as MY BIRTHPLACE. Okay, and also where that other famous guy grew up: Abraham Lincoln.
If you are into Lincoln-ology, then this is a great spot for a day or two. You can see Lincoln's log cabin home, his later homes, his law office, where he became President of the US, and where his body now lies. Actually impressive, is the Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum. I'm not one to get mushy about Presidential Libraries, but this one is quite unusual. It is more like a Disneyland attraction - with "rides" and special effects such as 3D, holographic projections, animations and more. Definitely worth a visit if you are a Lincoln buff!
I also took a side-trip to the equally-impressive Illinois State Capitol building. The last time I was in this impressive marble-laden rotunda was when I was a naive young news reporter. My assignment was to interview 3 women who had chained themselves to the lobby railings to protest lack of equal rights for women in those days. I gathered my courage (and my microphone and cassette recorder) and nervously approached the protesters. In my 15-yr old squeaky voice, I mustered a polite: "Good morning ladies." To which they instantly hurled back "We are NOT ladies! We are WOMYN!" Yikes... some memories are hard to erase.
I do have worse memories of this city, however. Growing up here as a fairly "out" gay teen/young man in the 70's was not easy. I was gay-bashed and left for dead just 2 blocks from where I am typing this blog tonight. Only three blocks away is the parking garage where a young acquaintance jumped to his death after telling me and others he "didn't want to be a fag." But things are changing here too, now. A former Mayor (and friend of our family) announced Springfield as a "hate-free zone" and now the Governor is instituting Domestic Partner benefits. But the legislature of Illinois is now proposing a constitutional amendment to forever make that - and equal marriage rights ILLEGAL. The local LGBT groups are trying to fight.
Quick side note: It is easy for a gay guy (like me) to move to a big gay-friendly city (like San Francisco), but my hat is off to the truly courageous gays and lesbians who have chosen to STAY in Springfield, and demand their equal right to live here. If every queer LEAVES their hometown, when will small towns ever SEE what gay people are really like? These people who stay - and are OUT - and the really BRAVE ones. Thank you! (Please contact Buzz Carmichael at Springfield's only gay newspaper, www.prarieflame.biz to voice your support, if you'd like.)
Of course, the main reason for this sidetrip was to see family, my 94-year old grandmother in particular. (Note: Grandma passed away a few months after this photo was taken.)
Springfield Sights & Attractions review
Unexpected entertainment at Lincoln's new Presidential Library Complex
I'm not one to get mushy about Presidential Libraries, but this one is quite unusual. Actually, it is the Museum side of the complex that offers more-… read entire review