My weekend trips to Chicago have been the highlight of my week, every week. Spending time with Ping and Anna makes me happier than doing anything else. But the downside is that I have to spend 10-12 hours on the Amtrak train every weekend.
The train back to Ann Arbor this weekend is once again delayed, this time for almost two hours, so the train ride itself took about 6.5 hours. Plus the 20 minute bus ride, 20 minutes of walk from the bus stop to the train station in Chicago, half an hour waiting for the train, and the 20 minutes walk from the train station in Ann Arbor back to the Lawyer’s Club, I spent almost 8 hours on the road today.
I don’t think the Amtrak train has ever been on time this semester. The closest it got was about 20 minutes behind schedule. On a bad day, such as today, it could be delayed for almost two hours.
The official explanation is that since most people in the U.S. travel by air now, passenger trains are given a low priority on the tracks, and they must yield to freight trains. (It used to be the other way around.) And it seems that this is indeed the case. We often had to stop in the middle of nowhere to wait for freight trains to clear the tracks, sometimes for almost half an hour at a time.
When we were driving to Chicago for the fall break earlier this month, my friend J gave me another explanation — or, more like it, a justification — for the notoriously unreliable trains in this country. “You see, trains are in and by themselves difficult to be on time,” he explained, “Only the trains in Nazi countries are on-time, like Germany under Hitler, or Italy under Mussolini. Only a fascist regime would be so controlling as to require its trains to be on time. In a democratic country like the U.S. we are more humane and let the trains run late.”
We laughed, and I pointed out that if political systems can be distinguished by simple signs like the punctuality of trains, then China is a liberal country run by Democrats, because we 1) have strict gun control, 2) legalize, or even encourage, abortion, 3) have nation-wide affirmative action programs (the legality of which is not even challenged), and 4) are skeptical of the war in Iraq.