Thursday, September 25, 2008

Criss-crossing the Country

Since our last blog, we've gone 250 miles by bus to NYC and then 3700 miles on Amtrak to LA. Apparently jealous of those numbers, the luggage we sent ahead spent 11 days on the move, with the bike (in its 2 suitcases) logging 6000 miles from Ithaca to LA to Denver and back, and the box with our panniers and helmets won the mileage contest with Ithaca-LA-Ohio-LA. In fact, they almost missed the boat.

It seems that FedEx and us had a misunderstanding about the "hold for pickup" feature they offer. They don't allow it for FedEx Ground, but didn't make that overly clear on their website, and then took our luggage knowing we wanted it held. Well, the genius at the receiving end not only didn't hold it, he decided that what we really wanted was for FedEx to ship it back to Ithaca - without bothering to phone us to check. Three days of frantic calls to three FedEx employees only showed us how much further from the boat our stuff was getting.
Finally, a desperate plea to be connected to someone in the corporate office got us to someone who ordered the intellectuals in the shipping dept. to climb in the shipping containers and pull out our stuff for airshipment to LA. All ended well, as you can see at the Long Beach Kinko's, but it cost us some restless nights, you can be sure.

The bus trip to New York was nothing like the ones we recall from our college years, between NY and Boston for Jeff and Boston to Ann Arbor for Louise. Those bring back all the nostalgia of an overbooked airplane trip on Thanksgiving weekend, but with weirdos from the bus terminal thrown in for color. The Cornell Campus To Campus bus, however, had more comfortable seats than we have in our condo, with WiFi and electical outlets at each seat and free coffee, soda pop and pretzels in the kithchenette at the rear of the bus.
It did give us a view of traffic jams we haven't had for months, but then dropped us off in front of the Cornell Club in the heart of NYC, a short walk from Louise's brother's apartment.

We had a relaxing weekend with Richard and with Louise's son Brian and his wife Ardith, highlighted by an outdoor brunch on a busy Brooklyn streetcorner
and then a stroll through Prospect Park.

We found an affordable apartment in NYC through Craig's List, a fellow who takes off to his parents' place upstate on the weekend when he can get paying customers for a few nights. It was a little weird being in someone else's apartment, but it worked and it was a convenient location.

Amtrak was the usual adventure. For those of you who have not enjoyed an overnight trip, we've put in some photos to show you how comfortable it can be.

We had a deluxe (i.e. larger-than-closet-sized) sleeper for both legs of the trip, NY - Austin and Austin - LA. The trains are a bit different east and west of Chicago, with single-level trains to Chicago then double-decker cars beyond. But the sleeper room was similar, a wide sofa on one side of the room and a single upholstered chair facing it, plus a sink and toilet. The toilet can function as a shower room, but there's also a separate shower room with adjacent changing area down the hall that worked better.

Sleeping accommodation includes meals in the price, and the diner cars were attractive and the meals after Chicago were actually cooked on the train and about the quality of Denny's. Alas, the train from NY to Chicago had microwaved meals. Not too bad considering, but nothing to get excited about.

After Chicago the double-decker train also had a lounge car where we spent a bit of time enjoying the scenery while reading or, in Louise's case, knitting. Among the sights were this abandoned railroad bridge over the Hudson that is being converted to a bike trail, due to open next year; the Chicago skyline, including the Sears Tower; the Rio Grande River, with Mexico just beyond that house on stilts;

the canyon of the Pecos River; mountains, in southern New Mexico; and Palm Springs, with its windmill farms.

Ours was the last car on the train, so occasionally we went to the back window to see the scenery disappearing behind the train.

We stopped for four days in Austin to see Jeff's daughter Becky and her family: husband Sean and his two daughters Ivy and Zoe. It was Ivy's 8th birthday, so we joined Ivy and Zoe and a few of their friends for a roller skating party -- that's Jeff with Ivy and Becky with Zoe -- and a birthday cake back at their home. We also got to visit Becky in her lab
at the University of Texas, and watched her do an analysis of some algae for her research that we later found out was a first success in something that might prove to be a big deal, if all works out.
And, of course, we paid a visit to "Mellow Johnny's," Lance Armstrong's new and very impressive bike store that gets its name from the way his Texas friends pronounced maillot jaune, the yellow jersey the leader of the Tour de France gets to wear. On the wall were seven maillots jaune from the seven Tours he won.
And in one corner were a few pieces of off-beat art, including this machine for the Tour de Lawn.

After four great days in Austin we had a final meal at an Ethiopian restaurant and then got on the train, waved goodbye one last time from our sleeper room,
and were off to LA. We actually arrived 30 minutes early in beautiful Union Station, had dinner that night with
Jeff's college friend Jerry Reilly, and were at the Volendam the next morning for the next stage of the adventure. Talk to you next from somewhere in the Pacific!

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