On Trains. On Theroux.

Lake Shore Limited Paul Theroux trains snob viewliner surfliner differences train travel writing

I’m giving you a parallel post today: a photoblog with captions describing the differences between this Viewliner train and the Superliners I usually ride to the west coast; and a text discussion of the merits of Paul Theroux, travel writer and train connoisseur.

Consider this a “you pick” story. If you don’t have time or aren’t interested in Theroux, you can just view the train photos and read the captions and you have the day’s post. If you do have time or are more interested in the discussion about a famous travel writer, read the text.

Lake Shore Limited Paul Theroux trains snob viewliner surfliner differences train travel writing

Dining car booth. The viewliner is a single-story train, and primarily used on the east coast, where the superliners (double-deckers) are too tall to go. I love the sightseer lounge on those great coast-to-coast superliners, but the seating in this viewliner seems much more accommodating.

Some of the most interesting people you’ll ever meet are only riding the rails, and each time I fly, I’m a little sad to imagine the conversations I’m missing 30,000 feet below. I would like to tell you I’m stereotyping, but if you meet a seasoned train rider, ask her to tell you about just one person she’s met during her travels and I’ll bet you get stories of dozens. There are exceptions, of course, but generally people on a train feel a connection to one another, if only through our mutual love of riding the rails. Of course there is also the time factor. In a sightseer lounge, or in a dining car over breakfast, lunch and dinner, it often becomes a strange version of speed dating, and we find ourselves paring down our lives to compelling bursts of information, until we strike a common chord.

Lake Shore Limited Paul Theroux trains snob viewliner surfliner differences train travel writing

This train will actually split in two in Albany. My portion will go to Boston. The other portion will go to New York City. I’ve been told if I go to the cafe I can see it occur. I will try to get photos for you (and also try to be on the correct side of the split and/or not straddling it.) 😉

On the Capital Limited I met a cellist who recently created a new type of rosin for string instruments, and on this train, the Lake Short Limited, I met a string instrument player who mastered the Nyckelharpa. (I’ll tell you all about both of them in a future post.)

But I wanted to tell you about another happy surprise for me, especially since I’m riding this train to a writing conference, where I’m eager to go to panels over which some of my favorite authors will preside.

Lake Shore Limited Paul Theroux trains snob viewliner surfliner differences train travel writing

Even the coach seats are oversized and comfortable.

You may or may not remember about my love/hate relationship with Paul Theroux. He is often considered arrogant or snobbish. I say love/hate, because despite that cynicism bleeding onto the page, there are so many times I agree with his words, and I love to read about the places he has been, despite the approach. And maybe even (sometimes) because of it.

Lake Shore Limited Paul Theroux trains snob viewliner surfliner differences train travel writing

Early boarders (those in sleeper cars) are treated to wine and cheese in the dining car while the rest of the train boards.

I’ve not ridden this train (Lake Short Limited) before, and despite being exhausted from a long layover in Chicago on only 4.5 hours sleep, I went to the dining car for free cheese and wine. I’m glad I did, because I got into a conversation with a couple from the west coast (Sandy Ried and Sam Swan) about trains and my eagerness to take the train from Cape Town, South Africa to Cairo, Egypt. It was one recently listed as one of the top 10 train rides in the world, and I’m determined to sell a kidney to take the trip while we’re living in Sotuh Africa. In response, Sandy and Sam looked at me quizzically, surprised there was such a trip, because they hadn’t read it from the train traveling expert: Paul Theroux.

Lake Shore Limited Paul Theroux trains snob viewliner surfliner differences train travel writing

Sandy Ried and Sam Swan are an engaging and lively couple from California. I wasn’t actually at their table, but you know me. I was sitting alone and decided to nose in on their conversation since they seemed both friendly and interesting (and they were, indeed, both!)

There was no love/hate in the opinions expressed, and it was wonderful to hear how well read Sandy and Sam were on Theroux’s various books and expeditions. I had to admit that my love/hate relationship was only from limited exposure through his editing and foreward in a Best American Travel Writing book, and excerpts from In Patagonia among others, which we had to study as part of the Travel Writing concentration in my MFA program.

Lake Shore Limited Paul Theroux trains snob viewliner surfliner differences train travel writing

The roomette on the viewliner is larger than the roomette on the superliner, width-wise because of the surprises in these compartments on the left side of the chair/bed. Do you know what’s in those compartments?

As I listened to Sam talk about the various books with the purity of a truly ardent fan and close reader, I realized that for me to honestly decide if I love or hate Theroux (or if my opinion will remain ambivalent) I should read his entire canon.

Lake Shore Limited Paul Theroux trains snob viewliner surfliner differences train travel writing

Voila! While I’m not entirely sure the idea of sleeping next to the toilet (albeit empty) is ideal, it sure makes a difference for little weak-bladdered me to not have to traipse down the hall in the middle of the night.

Of course, the manuscript revision is first priority, and preparing for South Africa second, but it’s on my list now, thanks to a random train encounter with an ardent Theroux fan.

Lake Shore Limited Paul Theroux trains snob viewliner surfliner differences train travel writing

The standing room under the upper bunk in a roomette is better on a viewliner than on a surfliner and as its name suggests, these roomettes have extra windows so that the person in the top bunk actually has windows as well.

Love, Marla

P.S. Reminder! Tonight at 5pm is the deadline to try to win the signed hardcover of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. It’s easy to enter and you can have up to 5 entries. Just click this link to get the details.

Lake Shore Limited Paul Theroux trains snob viewliner surfliner differences train travel writing

The handicap bedroom, as shown to me by Thomas, a very kind conductor, is more than accommodating so that a wheelchair can have mobility both when the bed is down as well as up.

Lake Shore Limited Paul Theroux trains snob viewliner surfliner differences train travel writing

The handicap bathroom in the viewliner is much larger than the surfliner, and includes a shower that can be wheeled into.

5 Comments on “On Trains. On Theroux.

  1. Pingback: WHERE in the World is WARLA? I mean, MARLA?! | Traveling MarLa

  2. Love the train stories and wow! All the way to Cairo?! Gotta do it! How amazing wd that be?

    I love Theroux as well. After all if we only read to experience the world through our eyes, it would be mighty boring, yes? Have a ball at the next conference; you are one busy lass!

  3. You really travel in style!

    It makes me jealous too. There aren’t many trains in New Zealand, and I’m gradually working my way through them, but as I’m doing the whole “get to know my own country” part of my travelling life right now, trains aren’t really a part of it. *sniff*

    The way I do it, mostly, is on the El Cheapo Sleazo. I take a weekend off, drive in my trusty Full Metal Bucket to my destination, and stay at a local backpackers. I’ve met some incredible people at backpackers, and everywhere I’ve been, with one exception (Base Wellington) was clean and tidy.

    Then I spend all my hard earned bucks on doing stuff and eating in style, instead of accommodation and travel. So I do a lot of adventure stuff (Zorbing is my next goal!), eat really well (steaks, seafood, yum!), and live a life of a very active Queen before crawling back to my Sleazeville digs for the night, and grogging on with people from all over the world, usually half my age 🙂

    It’s fun. Better yet, it’s cheap enough that I can afford to do it every couple of months nd not kill my budget.

    But oh! That train of yours! I’m gonna have to do that…*drools*

    Soooo jealous….

  4. Your pictures and posts about and from trains has me itching to go on a long train trip! I almost took my grandaughters to Texas by train a few years ago but between the cost for 3 beds and a 30 hour layover in Chicago we decided to fly instead 🙁 I am going to New York City by train in April, but that is only 6 hours from Altoona, so it probably won’t ease the yearning for an extended trip. I have always thought that as a kindergartner in MC we went on a train ride from the old station there but my mom insists no passenger trains ran from there in 1966, and that I must have dreamt it. However I can still picture the train, the other kids, and even remember a classmate getting sick after drinking a bottle of orange Nehi. Maybe it wasn’t from MC, or maybe it was really a dream, but it’s always left me wanting to ride the rails. Maybe someday….

    • Do it, Mona! It’s such a great experience. Did you confirm the price online or with someone on the phone? You should only have to pay for the bedroom one time, plus two coach tickets. They don’t always make that clear on the website and it’s not easy to navigate.
      Granted it is often cheaper to fly coach, but if you consider the train ride part of the vacation itself and look at it as hotel stay and meals (since meals are included) it makes it easier to consider.

      In any case, I hope you get the time, money and opportunity to do it with your granddaughters.

      Regarding your 1966 ride, you should double-check with the old newspapers in Indiana County. Maybe your memory is correct. Either way, I hope you’re adding that to your collection of stories for the grandkids!

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