Riding the rails (This is not a post about Donald Trump)

Dear Rebecca:

Sorry for my recent absence. As you know, I took a few days to take a real vacation with my family — the first time we’d taken a trip with my almost-9-year-old son that didn’t involve going to see family for one reason or another. We went to Chicago. And we took the train to get there.

Let me tell you, this is the only way to travel.

Sunset in Missouri, as seen from the Southwest Chief.

The trip happened to coincide with the first anniversary of our return to Kansas after eight years in Philadelphia. The return has brought me a renewed appreciation of the overlooked beauty of “flyover country” — the Flint Hills are as fine as any of God’s creations, and an evening spent on the back patio watching rabbits is probably one of the easier ways I find contentment these days.

My trip on the Southwest Chief added to that sense. We rolled through the rural parts of Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois — over verdant rolling hills, crossing the Mississippi River, past the cornrows and wind generators, through tiny brick towns that didn’t look much different from how they appeared 100 years ago.

And you haven’t seen a sunset until you’ve sat in the observation car and watched all 90 minutes of it, from the first pinkening of the skies to the last sliver of red on the horizon, all of it with Masonic cemeteries and backyard fire pits passing through your line of sight on the way.

Best of all: You can get up and stretch your legs without stopping, take a nap while still traveling, and the legroom is far in excess of what you’d get on an airline.

Maybe I’m romantic about the railroad because my dad and grandfather both worked on railroads during their lives. I wonder if I should’ve gotten my hands dirtier. Oh well.

What does this have to do with politics or religion? Nothing. (Unless we want to argue about Amtrak funding, I guess, but let’s save that for another day.) Sometimes it’s just good to reflect on the things that make life a little better lived. For me, a trip across the Midwest on a train in one of those things.

Sincerely, Joel

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