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Round Trip Flight
From Los Angeles to Boston
Steve's Travelogue - July 11, 1999

This is a bit of an unusual travelogue for me as it has nothing to do with rail travel at all but rather covers my round trip journey by jet from Los Angeles to Boston!

From all the rail travel that I do, some of you may have assumed that I either have a fear of flying or have something against flying. I do fly when I absolutely have to fly, but I suppose if you made the above two assumptions, you would be correct to some extent. However, I had no fear of flying and was once as totally into airplanes as I am now into trains!

I never had any fear of flying at all until I took over 60 hours of flying lessons which included about 20 hours of flying solo in a single engine plane! That was in the early 1970s before I was even married. It wasn't until I learned the basics of flying and had done a bit of it myself that I started to get nervous in commercial airliners. Suddenly, the plane I was in would seem to slow during landings. I would notice things during the flight which would never occur to me at all before I was the personal responsible for the operation of a plane!

I think that being overconcerned and probably paranoid comes natural when you have just a bit more knowledge than the general public, but maybe not enough to be an expert. There is another person that works on and off for TrainWeb that just about totally refuses to fly at all. They spent much of their life working on an aircraft assembly line and rather not board the final product of that line! The statistics show flying to be quite safe, but some of us can't help but have our doubts once we've seen the industry from another angle.

When I was in college, I worked at a chocolate factory for a year. The floor managers invite the workers to consume as much as they would like of the chocolate, but only while on the job at the factory. While at first it seems like chocolate heaven, it only takes a few days to get tired (and sick) of that. Then, after seeing more and more of the factory process, many workers end up with a diminished desire for chocolate or totally swear off it forever! Sometimes it is better not to see what goes on behind the scenes.

Do keep in mind that everything I am writing write now is being written at 37,000 feet!

My biggest aversion to air travel does not have to do with safety at all, but rather with how uncivilized it seems to me compared to rail travel.

Train: If I was taking a train, I would have taken a leisurely drive to Fullerton, California and parked my car for free in the plentiful spaces available at the indoor Fullerton Depot parking garage. It would have taken me about 20 minutes to drive from my home to the depot.

Plane: I left my house at 10:40 A.M on a Sunday and it took until about 12:10 P.M. to get to the airport. Well, actually we got to the airport at about 11:30 A.M., but we were stuck in bumper to bumper traffic slowly crawling our way into the airport from 11:30 A.M. to 12:10 P.M. Once we found the correct garage, we pulled up to the ticket machine and had to wait since the "LOT FULL" sign just went up. Once that sign goes up, there is no way to back up. You just have to wait at the entrance gate until enough cars leave the garage to allow more cars to enter the garage. That took about 15 minutes. On the good side, there was actually a space right at the entrance! On the bad side, parking is $16 per day!

Train: In worst case, even if you don't have your ticket yet, you'll seldom spend more than 5 or 10 minutes in line to get your ticket. There are no X-Ray machines or special check in procedures. You just go to the platform and wait for the train to arrive. When you board a train without going through metal detectors or being frisked, you still feel like a first class citizen rather than a person entering a prison!

Plane: We spent a very long time, maybe 30 minutes or so, dragging out luggage back and forth through a huge zig-zag Disneyland like line until we finally got to the counter. Once we received our boarding passes, we had to be escorted to special X-Ray machines to X-Ray our checked luggage. Then we were able to start to proceed to the boarding gates. But first, we had to have all of our carry-on luggage X-Rayed. As usual, I put EVERYTHING in my backpack and risked it all through the X-Ray machine, including my computer and cell phone. I hate having to demonstrate that all my electronic equipment is real and works to airport security. Please don't trust my word on this as I don't want to be responsible for any damage, but I believe it was Consumer Reports that once had an article about how it was virtually impossible for an X-Ray machine to do any damage to your computer or media at all! They ran a number of tests on computer equipment and media and found that anything short of heating the media to the point of melting was unlikely to damage the data either on diskettes or on the hard drive. Ever since I read that, I just let all my equipment and media go through the X-Ray scanners at the airport.

Train: Once you are at the platform, you just wait for the train to arrive at the station.

Plane: Our ordeal of boarding the plane isn't over yet! I noticed that one of the passes that we had said "NOT VALID WITHOUT FLIGHT COUPON." I didn't see any flight coupon, so I had to wait in another line in the boarding area to find out why I didn't have a Flight Coupon. Once I got to the front of the line, they did say that was an error on their part and they did issue us a flight coupon. Since this reservation was made at the last moment, we were issued seats at the very rear of the plane. These particular seats do not recline. Forget about footrests. I think most airlines did away with those for coarch travel quite some time ago.

The reason I am flying is because my cousin died a few days ago. My mom was very close to my cousin and is flying back for the wake and the funeral. I am traveling with my mom to help get her around and to visit family members that I myself have not seen in well over twenty years.

Train: The cost to travel round trip from Fullerton, California to Boston, Massachusettes would probably have been about $1800 in a Sleeping Car Standard Bedroom for two people. Unfortunately, it would be next to impossible to arrange for such accommodations at the last moment and taking 4 days to get from coast to coast would not fit withing the timeframe of the wake and funeral.

Plane: Because plans had to be made at the last moment, the round-trip cost would have been almost $4000 for two people! I was able to use 25,000 points to cover my rail travel which saved $2000 off the cost. My mother was able to qualify for the berievement rate which brought her rate down to about $1000 round trip. This is a trip with advance planning and an eye to specials could normally be obtain between $150 and $400 round trip per person. Keep in mind that we are just traveling coach and not first class! We are even in what could be assumed to be the worst seats on the plane. We are up agains a wall which means our seats do not recline. The video players are in the lockers above our head so we don't even have a place above our head to store our carry-ons! These are seats that the airline would have charged us $2000 round-trip each!

Train: In the sleeping car, we would have been able to board the train, put our luggage in the rack by the door, and walk up one flight of stairs to our private bedroom (or stayed on the lower level if our room was there). From that point on, we would have a relatively quiet and private journey from the west coast to the east coast! Even if we were traveling by coach, the seats are as larger or larger than the first class seats on this plane!

Plane: Once we were checked in, we were herded like cattle down the gang-plank and onto the plane, having to wait until each person in front of us situated themselves and was out of the way. Once we were in our seats, I was constantly banged by people, including the flight attendants themselves going up and down the aisles. People waiting to use the restrooms would hover over my seat as we were the closest seats to those facilities. The flight attendant has to lean over me every time she needs to change a tape in the VCR for the plane! Whenever someone passes someone waiting to use the restroom, the inevitably crash into my shoulder.

Train: First run movies are played in the train twice per day usually at no extra charge. Wine is usually available for $2.50 per glass and other alcoholic beverages are available at reduced rates during Happy Hour.

Plane: It costs $5 per person for headphones to listen to the sound track of the movie. Wine is $4 per glass.

Train: The only drawback to the train is the amount of time it takes to get to the destination. If you can work the travel time into the overall enjoyable travel experience, then travel by train wins hands down over travel by plane every time! Travel by train is a much more civilized and enjoyable experience than travel by plane. Even first class on a plane only beats out coach on a trail by the food that is provided. First class on a plane does not begin to come close to first class (sleepers) on a train!

Plane: My overall impression has not changed from the last few times that I have flown. The entire flight experience makes me feel like one in a herd of cattle or like I am going in or out of a prison. I can't remember the early days of flying very well, but I could have sworn that even flying coach was a first class enjoyable experience. Now there isn't much that is enjoyable about flying at all other than getting to your destination quickly.

The above gives you some idea as to why I favor train travel far and above plane travel and do everything in my power to travel by train every time I need to go anywhere. Sometimes the time is just not available and travel by plane is the only way to go. However, I certainly do not look forward to those experiences and do not enjoy them at all!

If you are wondering why I don't at least return to the Los Angeles area by train, once again the main issue is time. I have a number of rail journeys planned for the remainder of this year and am not sure how I am going to fit them all in! I will defintely be going to Disneyworld (Los Angeles to Florida) at the end of December this year by train. I also need to do the new Amtrak Oklahoma route as soon as possible. We've also committed to Amtrak to do a 360 x 360 photo shoot of one of their routes as soon as possible. Having already committed so much time away from the office and on the rail between now and the end of the year, it is getting very difficult to work in time for additional rail travel.

We stayed at the Quality Inn Kings Grant Hotel in Danvers, Massachusetts. The hotel is located immediately off of Route 128 at the Trask Lane exit. The hotel can be seen from the highway and you practically enter right into the parking lot as you leave the highway. The hotel is probably getting close to 50 years old, but they are in the process of remodeling all of the rooms. The rooms are quite large compared to most hotels I have stayed in and they have vaulted ceilings. We stayed in the "garden rooms" which have an outdoor patio overlooking the large indoor atrium. I'm glad we were on the second floor as the outdoor patio of the downstairs rooms were actually right in the atrium itself. The patio of the upstairs rooms was a balcony with two chairs and a table which overlooked the gardens. You can get an idea of what I am talking about from the above photographs.

For those of you that have been reading my travelogues for the past few years, you know that I have written a little, but not very much about my personal life and family. I feel compelled to mention that in this brief travelogue. It is very likely that members of my family will be visiting this web site for the first time and might be wondering why I did not go into detail about both the purpose of my trip to Massachusetts and about the events and the family members that I saw for the first time in over 20 to 30 years. It was never my intention to put my auto-biography forth in these travelogue and I think I have only described events that the readers will find interesting or relevant to their own future travels by rail.

There is one event that did occur while I was in Massachusetts that has only the remotest of relevancy with my experience with rail travel. But, the event was one of those where you think you may have entered the Twilight Zone!

Richard, who is the husband of my cousin that died, took us on a family tour of the old neighborhoods where everyone had lived while growing up. One of the places that we went was a shrine and medical center that overlooks Logan Airport in East Boston. The view from the building was tremendous! You could see all the planes at Logan taking-off and landing. There was a clear view of most of a runway as well as a good view of much of the Boston skyline.

We went to the gift shop in the church. The fiance of my cousins son was looking at some prayer cards. She noticed some very unusual names. She pointed one out to me that she thought was rather unusual: "Phillomena." She said that she had never heard of anyone with that name. Believe it or not, that name sounded very familiar to me! I said to her that I am pretty sure that I have heard of someone with that name before. I turned and asked my mother about it. She also said it was familiar, but couldn't place whose name it was.

We all then went down another level in the church. As we were walking, we saw a large plaque on the wall. At first, I thought it was a builders plaque that indicated the construction company that had built the building. There are a large number of schools, government and other public buildings in Massachusetts that have such a plaque that says the building was built by the "Grande and Volpe Construction Company." Even my own elementary school had such a plaque! But, no, it was not a builders plaque. The plaque was a dedication to John Volpe. I believe it said that the building of the shrine and medical center were made possible through the financial support of John Volpe or similar words to that effect.

For those of you who might not be aware of the history of Amtrak, it probably would not exist today if it had not been for the actions taken by John Volpe as Secretary of Transportation under President Richard Nixon!

Then, I suddenly remembered where I had heard the name Phillomena! It was in relation to John Volpe. I'm pretty sure that Phillomena was the name of either John Volpe's mother or wife. Having just been wondering who had the name Phillomena and then seeing the answer less than 5 minutes later on the wall of the church was pretty eerie!

But then, I thought, maybe it is not so strange after all. Would it be that unusual to have prayer cards for people with the name Phillomena in the gift shop of a building dedicated to John Volpe when he had close family with that name?

I know that members of the Volpe family have read some of my travelogues in the past. If someone has the information as to who Phillomena was, an e-mail would be greatly appreciated!

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