Passenger trains still work (really)


I probably should have suspected this, but now I know for sure: This whole passenger-train thing really does work.

Movies and TV shows -- my main reference points in life -- always hint that trains work. They show passengers riding effortlessly; along the way, people find romance, sex and mysteries, plus a mean  guy who's intent on killing James Bond.

Still, I keep forgetting to try. My one previous train trip (from Minnesota to Michigan) had included fun and Scrabble; then I went back to my usual car life.

This week, I finally re-trained myself.The goal was to go from near Lansing, Michigan, to Madison, Wisconsin. It's a tough trip, because Chicago keeps wedging itself between. I checked with Amtrak, which said it would take me there (train to Chicago, then bus) for $49.

I had no illusions of finding mysteries, Scrabble or Bond-killers, but I was hoping to see some upcoming TV episodes during the trip, before the battery on my little DVD player gave out.

When I got to the train station, I was delighted to find an electrical outlet. When I got into the train, I found another outlet right next to my super-comfy seat. I even found a place to plug in at the Chicago terminal.

The second half of the trip was adequate. The terminal had no interest in telling me where or how to find my bus. The bus was (again) super-comfy, but didn't have outlets. I read, instead.

By the end of the trip, I knew a lot about "Oliver Twist"; also, I had seen:

-- A good "Heroes" (9 p.m. Monday, Feb. 4, NBC), which finally gets most of the characters back together.

-- A great "American Experience" (9 p.m. Monday, PBS), looking at the massive efforts to prevent polio.

-- A fairly good "Frontline" (9 p.m. Tuesday, PBS), offering a personal view of Parkinson's disease.

-- And more, including a wonderful George Carlin tribute (9 p.m. Wednesday, PBS). Scooting across the countryside in comfort, I was watching clips of a comic genius. I think I like trains.