The dance of the fairy waves

Standard

I saw waves dancing in the in the pre-dawn hours.

I sat on my balcony at 5 a.m. and saw lights racing around the ship. I thought there was some type of phosphorous fish or something in the water, but it turned out to be the waves on the ocean meeting the waves produced by the ship and catching the light from the ship.

Watching the waves, it appeared as if they were dancing and that they were talking to each other. There would be a fast-running ripple and then several waves together playfully bobbing over each other. I watched the waves for half an hour as the line where ocean met sky in the east slowly turned to pink.

The ocean was vast, and I didn’t see or hear another person. It was just me and the dancing waves.

I then went back to bed and slept for another hour. When I awoke, I saw Nassau in the distance and gulls were wheeling around my balcony. Land was in sight.IMG_7642

I ordered room service and it arrived right on time. I had a great pot of coffee and watched us come into the harbor. I have always loved gulls and the sounds they make.

IMG_7687

a friendly pup at the Bahamas Humane Society.

It is Easter Monday today and many of the shops and museums were closed because this is a major holiday here. Instead a group of us toured the Bahamas Humane Society. I’m going to write more about that visit in a different post. But it was a fantastic visit and I was extremely impressed by what they were doing for the animals.

We then did the touristy thing an went to Senor Frogs and took the obligatory photos. I had some tasty fish tacos. I wanted to find some local artisan made items, but since many shops were closed, my group of friends mainly wandered around looking at the architecture and trying not to get run over on the narrow streets.IMG_7708

They had what was called a straw market, but my guess was 90 percent of the items for sale came from another country. There were a few people making items out of grass or straw, but most of the items for sale could be found in just about any gift shop. There was a group of shops inside the area where only ship passengers could access, and I did find some mother of pearl and freshwater pearl jewelry made by people with mental disabilities. The making of the jewelry pays them a wage. I bought a mother of pearl necklace.

I spent the afternoon back on the ship at the adults-only pool. You could get pizza, ice cream and of course all the alcohol you might desire. I slathered on a ton of sunscreen. The water was chilly in the pool and I decided they had to be somehow cooling the water as it was so hot out on the pool deck it could burn your feet.

Tonight was one of the “dress up” dinners although no one had to get super dressed up. If you weren’t wearing a bathing suit, cut off jeans or raggedy shorts, you were good to go. At our table there was a man in a tux and then me in capri pants and a nice blouse.

I explored the forward part of the ship tonight, but it was extremely windy, and the top deck was closed for safety reasons. There are giant round huts on the forward sun deck that would probably comfortably seat four people. They are great at keeping the wind away. I could seriously have slept there.

The sea is choppier tonight and I can feel the boat rocking more than I could last night. I haven’t felt seasick at all, so I am hoping that continues.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Starry nights and ocean breezes

Standard

I have seen the stars as they were meant to be seen without light pollution. I have looked out on the ocean and seen not a thing. Just a wide-open expanse of sea for as far as I can see. I have felt the breeze and listened to the waves as a ship plows through the seas.

I am on a cruise.

leaving fort lauderdale

Leaving the port at Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on the Carnival Conquest. 

This is my second cruise, but since the first one was 20 years ago; this one is like being on one for the first time.

Going on vacation is difficult for me. I find it hard to unwind. I live a fast-paced life by design. By day I manage the editorial departments of three weekly newspapers. On the evenings and weekends I help people problem solve the issues they are having with their dog and in my spare time I am an active member of a volunteer search and recovery unit. I have jobs that I love. But they are all full of deadlines and stress. I would never trade them for less fast-paced jobs, but I do realize I need to relax more.

When a friend said she was getting married on an island in the Bahamas and asked if any of her friends wanted to come along on the cruise, I jumped on the chance. I knew it would force me to take a break and recharge.

Getting on the ship was a breeze. A friend of mine picked me up at the airport yester

day and we had a fun-filled day and then she drove me to the port. I had

mango

The first drink, a mango margarita

chosen a Faster to Fun pass on the Carnival ship I am sailing on. I bypassed all the lines and it took me about 10 minutes from the time I was dropped off until I was on board the ship and sitting at a poolside bar.

I met my friends who are on the cruise for the wedding.

I spent an hour waiting for the muster drill. The ship must conduct a safety briefing, so each passenger knows where his or her lifeboat station is located. Evidently in an emergency the ship personnel think passengers will remember in their panicked state where their muster station is located. My guess is in a real emergency many people will just find the nearest lifeboat. But, for now I know where my lifeboat is located and how to properly put on my life jacket which is equipped with a whistle (cue Titanic) and a salt water activated flashlight. Sadly, as with many things

lifeboat 12

In the event of abandoning ship, look for me in lifeboat 12. 

there were people who did not seem to think the ship personnel meant them when they said this was a mandatory activity. I arrived at my station at the designated time and then waited and waited while the ship kept asking people to please show up for the drill.

But once it was over I made my way to a poolside and a poolside bar and chatted with friends. Then it was dinner time! I had mahi mahi which was excellent. I have worked hard since January to lose weight and am very proud that I lost 25 pounds so far. I was able to buy cruise clothes one size smaller! But I also know the free food and my unlimited drinks pass are going to be a challenge. So far, I have done great (I think) in my food intake. I just have to keep it up and I am walking up and down the steps instead of taking the elevator for the most part.

The most fun for Day #1 was a massage. This was the first thing I booked after I paid for the cruise. I ended up buying an extended massage once I got there. (I’m an easy upsell). I have had numerous massages over the years and this one was one of the absolute best. I booked the same woman for another massage in a few days. She spent a long time telling me how messed up my body is (I assured her I know).

I am not sharing a cabin with anyone. I could have found someone to share the room with me and it would have certainly been less expensive. But I wanted to just relax and not have to worry whether my snoring or reading at night would bother another person. I wanted to do whatever I wanted rather than have to worry about the feelings of another person. I dearly love friends and family, but my mind told me I just needed to do some serious alone time. I booked a balcony room and sitting on that balcony is one of my favorite things. It took me a bit to overcome the feeling that I could topple over the railing, but I feel confident the cruise line takes great pains not to accidently lose a passenger.

sunset

Just a few hours after leaving the crowded port at Fort Lauderdale, it appeared we had the entire ocean to ourselves as there was not another ship in sight or any land for that matter. 

I am going to try and store up every feeling I get sitting on the balcony watching the night sky and feeling the warm breeze. I find it is something I am unable to put into words. This is when I wish I was a painter as I think I could paint my feeling. I think it would look like a Monet.

I wonder if anyone ever brings their blankets outside to sleep on the balcony? The railing is tall so there is no way a person could fall overboard. I wished I had a hammock out there. I would have slept in a hammock on the balcony.

I am sad the first day is drawing to a close as it means I am one day nearer to the end already.

Goodnight ocean breezes. I’ll see you in the morning.

 

 

A wrinkle in time

Standard

I put my foot on the first step of a staircase and reached out to flip a light switch.

A simple gesture. One I had done literally thousands of times before. But, six years had passed since last I flipped this particular light switch.  I stood on the steps feeling as if I was caught in Madeleine L’Engle’s book A Wrinkle in Time. I had been here; then I was gone; now I was back and it was as if six years of my life never happened. Time had wrinkled and I was back on the staircase leading up to the editorial offices of AntiqueWeek and The Auction Exchange. This had been my home for more than 20 years.

However, I left the job in 2011 to pursue a career in animal welfare as a dog trainer at a humane society. Through a series of unfortunate events (you can read more about that here) I became unemployed in October of 2016. I then started my own dog training business and am doing really well. I was not looking for a new job. I could pay my bills and was able to put money in my savings account.

But, when I got a text message from my previous boss at AntiqueWeek asking if I would be interested in coming back to my old job, I was intrigued. I was also conflicted.

Quite a few people gave me grief when I stopped job hunting and began pursuing my own business as a dog trainer and animal welfare consultant. But, Liam Neeson is not the only person with a very particular set of skills. I had a background in running a small business (antique shop) and I knew lots about marketing from my job at AntiqueWeek. I also had a strong relationship with six years worth of people in animal welfare who were happy to send clients my way. May 28 will mark the six month anniversary of my news business: Connie Swaim Canine Behavior Services.

I love my dog training business. I love the clients (well I love most of them). I leave every consult with the hope that a dog now has a better life because of me. And I’m good at it. I rarely toot my own horn; but it turns out the force is strong with me in terms of canine behavior problem solving.

Ah, but that intriguing text message asking if I wanted my old job back. When I left AntiqueWeek; it had nothing to do with being unhappy with anything specific. It was more of a feeling that after almost 25 years in the same place I felt stuck. I had traveled the world (well at least Canada, Mexico and England); I had hosted a party for the appraisers of the Antiques Roadshow. I lectured at conventions. My job let me travel to countless cities across the U.S. to cover antique shows.

The job was also heavily tied into my feelings about my parents. Mom and Dad were antique dealers when I first went to work for AntiqueWeek. They were ESTATIC when I got the job. Dad especially said he could not imagine a better job in the world. My parents and I went to shows together. Mom sometimes went with me when I traveled out of state to events. For 20 years my parents and their business partners owned an antique mall in which I had a booth. I also helped run the shop a few times a year. My Dad wanted nothing more in life than to retire; get an RV and travel the United States antiquing. When he died suddenly at 62; our antiquing world changed. Mom and I still went antiquing; but it was Dad who really loved it the most. Then when my Mom died; every time I stepped in an antique mall I thought of my parents. Suddenly antiquing wasn’t as fun as it used to be. I would see an antique teddy bear and start to buy it for my Mom. Or I would see an old cast-iron toy and reach for my phone to call my Dad.

I just felt lost.

When I got the opportunity to work in an animal shelter; I decided the time was right for a new adventure. I do not regret it at all. It opened up a new world for me. The culture was as far away as possible from my job at AntiqueWeek. There were no daily reminders of my fun times with my parents. I parted on good terms with the publishers of AntiqueWeek.

When I got the text message I could hear my parents jumping up and down for joy. Which is how I found myself on that stair switching on the light.

I have to say it is the weirdest feeling in the world to go back to someplace after being gone for six years. In a way it is as if I never left. Then, I will find someone new in an office who wasn’t there six years ago. Or I find that I go and look for something and it isn’t in the same spot. However, most people are still in their same offices and there are only about 10 new people who weren’t there when I left. The vending machine has become more progressive and carries iced tea now. But, when I open the computer I still see the same folders I created years ago when we first went digital. Some of the software has changed; but it is basically the same. The instructions I got turned out to the same instructions I had written out six years ago for my replacement. She had kept them and added in changes. She said she hoped I could follow my own directions.

I can wrinkle time and see myself at 26 climbing these same steps (although when I was 26 I could run up the steps, now I slowly pull myself up). I can see myself through the years wherever I go in the offices.

It felt good to be back. I even spent two hours in an antique mall and was happy again rather than feeling nostalgic for all that I had lost.

I am also keeping my dog training business. It turns out I can do both with a little flexibility.

I am truly one of the luckiest people in the world. I have always loved every job I had and now I get to do two things I love.

Time to walk up those steps.

At the stage door

Standard

“Life upon the wicked stage

Ain’t ever what a girl supposes.” – Showboat

 

I have loved musical theater for as long as I can remember. My parents went to a play on their honeymoon in St. Louis in 1959. All of our records were soundtracks from musicals. Yes, I was a very odd child.

My parents were also involved in Parke Players a local theater group. They put on a melodrama each October during the Parke County Covered Bridge festival and a play in February/March during the Maple Fair in Parke County. Dad was always behind the scenes building sets; mom was a great singer and actress and she had many parts through the years.

And there I was, the hopeless romantic who knew every love song from every musical.

I was so excited when I got parts in a play. I was a street urchin in A Christmas Carol. I

GN-11connie

Me in 1979 Gay 90s Review, Parke Players. I  loved this costume. 

got small parts in some of the Melodramas. I laid behind a couch for much of Blythe Spirit so I could make things move for the spirit. I ran lines with my mom. I BEGGED to go to any cast parties (Dad always said NO).

I was in one play in college and I worked with a friend who directed several college plays. I had been to some plays at Starlight Musicals in Indianapolis, which was as close as I had gotten to professional theater. In 1982, I went to a play that took things to a whole new level.

It was in that year I saw a play in Chicago for the first time. I was in college and dating a man in Chicago and he got us tickets to Evita. I knew nothing about Evita. All of my parent’s records were the classic musicals from the 1940s-60s. Looking back I don’t even know how he got tickets. It was the first year Evita played in Chicago and this was only the second national tour of the musical.

Evita was playing at the Shubert Theatre. I was in love the second I stepped through the
door. The Shubert had opened in 1906 as The Majestic. It was a Evita

popular Vaudeville venue. It closed during the Depression and reopened with the Shubert name in 1945. The theater was beautiful. It was majestic. It had a sweeping staircase. It had glittering chandeliers and people in sparkling clothes. For a farm girl like me this was definitely what I imaged theater to be.

So many things I didn’t know. I did not know Evita was based on a real person. I had never heard of Eva Peron. It wasn’t until intermission when I heard people talking that I realized this was a play about a real person. I felt like a hick for sure. However, I had never, ever seen anything so spectacular. This was the first time I saw a stage that moved so it appeared people were moving instead of the set. I had never seen a play where the actors held a position for long periods of time to make it appear as if they were statues. It was the most amazing experience and I will cherish it forever.

I then bought ever y book I could find on both Eva Peron and the making of Evita. Less than a year later I had the opportunity for a one-month internship at the Bronx Zoo in New York. I spent one week living in downtown NYC. The average ticket price in 1983 was $30. I was a poor college student. But, someone (I still don’t know who) sent my professor money and asked it be sent to me and the only instructions were that I had to spend it something fun.

I went to three plays: Evita, Dreamgirls and Merlin. In doing research for this, I learned 1983 was considered the worst year for Broadway in more than a decade. Which probably explains how I was able to get tickets to three plays. Merlin was in pre-production and it only lasted a few months. Dreamgirls was awesome and I loved Evita on Broadway. I really enjoyed Merlin and was sad to that it didn’t last.

I still remember being on an elevator and seeing little girls in Cats makeup. I had no idea you could dress up as a character and go to a play. While it was a bad year on Broadway, Cats was the only big thing going and unfortunately, I was unable to get tickets to it.

Since then I’ve seen Evita at least eight times. It will always hold a place in my heart because it was the first.

Mom had always wanted to go to Broadway and luckily we made it a few years before she died. We had the misfortune of being in New York in August of 2003 when a power surge and a faulty computer program caused all of New York City to lose power (and we got the Tshirts to prove it). Mom and I were on a tour bus returning from Liberty Island when every traffic signal in New York City went out. Thank God the bus driver was able to get us to within two blocks of our hotel. Unfortunately, our room was on the 25th floor and mom had a bad knee. There was no way we could climb 25 flights of steps. Instead of seeing the Great White Way; we saw Times Square when it was absolutely dark. No lights anywhere. We spent the night sleeping on chairs in our hotel’s ballroom (and there was no running water for restroom facilities).

We had tickets to The Producers for the night of the blackout. Bummer. Luckily, the next morning power was restored and we were able to convert our tickets to the following evening. We LOVED The Producers. We also took lots of photos of signs saying “Stage Door.” Unfortunately, we didn’t do any tours of actual stages. One of Mom’s wishes was that her ashes be scattered on a Broadway stage. I still have the ashes. I just need to sneak them onto a theater stage at some point.  The power outage affected airlines and we were able to extend our stay in New York and saw The Phantom of the Opera as well.

Through the years I’ve taken every opportunity I can to see musical theater productions. I got to see Les Miserables in London. (Where they bring a drink cart around prior to the start of the show. I love London).

I found myself back in the old Shubert Theatre the first week of May to see Hamilton. Of course the Shubert is not called that anymore. It has the horrible name of The PrivateBank Theatre. Naming rights; evidently they get the job done.

20170506_131525It amazes me it was 35 years ago when I first found myself in the theater. It seems like only yesterday. I really couldn’t remember anything except I thought the theater seemed smaller. In 1982 I hadn’t been anywhere or seen any other professional theater. And ticket prices have certainly changed in the last 35 years. Tickets to Hamilton in Chicago were $200.

Like Evita, Hamilton is based on real people (although Hamilton is much more historically accurate). And like Evita; I fell in love. I knew the music to Hamilton. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for months. But, seeing it in person was beyond description. It now moves into my top spot as my favorite musical. I can’t wait to go see it again.

It was a bit disconcerting for the first five minutes or so. I knew the Lin-Manuel soundtrack of the original Broadway cast. The Chicago cast obviously sounded different. Soon however I stopped noticing the differences. I actually loved the actors playing Hamilton, Burr and Washington. And the actor playing King George was fantastic.

 

“There’s no business like show business like no business I know

Everything about it is appealing, everything that traffic will allow” – From Annie Get Your Gun.

 

 

A road never traveled before

Gallery

I find myself in a position I have never been in during my 56 years on Earth – unemployed.

I have been so lucky in my life that jobs always found me.

A month before I graduated from college the owner of The Daily Clintonian called and said he had an opening and he would hold it for me until I graduated. I had worked at the Clintonian the summer before so they knew me there. Two days after I graduated from college I was in my first real job.

A year later a friend told me of an opening at the Monticello Herald Journal. He worked there and put in a good word for me and I found myself living on my own in a small rented apartment in Monticello. I took a short hiatus when I became engaged and moved from Monticello all the way down to Mount Vernon. My husband worked for the Mount Vernon Democrat. The only other paper in the area was the New Harmony Times. The owner of the Times saw me at a board meeting and offered me a job.

Two years later my husband applied for a job at AntiqueWeek in Knightstown, Ind. We had been antique dealers for a year and my parents had been antique dealers for many years at that point. The only time Don could go for an interview was while we were on our way to a friend’s wedding. I was going to sit in the truck, but Mr. Mayhill (publisher of AntiqueWeek) wouldn’t hear of it and invited me in as well. During our small talk he found out my parents were antique dealers and that I was also a journalist. When we walked out the door, we both had jobs.

For the next 25 years I didn’t move. I had found the perfect home of antiques and journalism. I went from assistant editor of AntiqueWeek’s Eastern Edition to Managing Editor of both editions of AntiqueWeek, The Antiques and Auction Exchange and AntiqueWest. I worked for a family owned paper. Then the paper was sold to dmg World Media; one of the world’s largest media empires. I got to go to England to visit the dmg World Media antiques publications offices. I was the speaker on a seven-day cruise to Bermuda; I traveled to countless states and spoke at auctioneer conventions. I put together a traveling exhibit of reproductions, fakes and fantasies to help people understand what was real and what wasn’t in the antiques industry. I visited thousands of antique shows as a speaker.

I saw the economy change as the Internet turned the antiques industry and journalism upside down. The papers shrank as advertisers explored new ways of reaching clients. Dmg World Media decided to divest itself of our chunk of the business and we went back to being family owned once more. But, through it all I was happy. I made a very good living. I absolutely loved what I did, I had the absolute best co-workers in the world. I ate lunch with my boss just about every day and we argued about whose politics were the best.

Then everything changed when my Dad died suddenly at the age of 62. My Mom died when she was 67. I realized I might not have all the time in the world. I had been in the same job for 25 years. I loved it, I was happy; but what if I never did anything else in my life? Would I regret it?

Running through the background during this time I also became very interested in dog training and behavior. I had been going to seminars on dog behavior; I found a world I didn’t know existed in terms of dog sports and animal welfare. I found out that Indianapolis had a horrible animal welfare situation going on (this was 8 years ago) and I started a blog called Save Indiana Animals. I covered public meetings; I wrote about what was going on; I interviewed the players in the industry. I met a lot of people.

Great change took place during this time in the Indianapolis animal welfare scene. In 2011 I was offered a completely different job. I could be a dog trainer at the Humane Society of Indianapolis. I had already been there two years as a part-time employee in the canine behavior department.

Running through the decision was also that I had met someone and moved in with him in Indianapolis, so a job that didn’t involve an hour drive was appealing. I had begun to feel “stuck” at AntiqueWeek. I was comfortable, I could do that job in my sleep. I was affected by the early deaths of my parents. I decided I needed to try something new in my life.

That decision will always weigh heavily on me. The marriage didn’t work out, I ended up being in a position where I was driving an hour to work again (and for a lot less money). I missed traveling. At AntiqueWeek I got to go so many places. But, I also loved what I did at IndyHumane. I actually saved the lives of dogs. I made a real difference for both people and animals.

It is easy to armchair quarterback and tell myself I should never have left AntiqueWeek. I would still be sitting in my wonderful office having coffee with awesome people every morning. But, at least 30 dogs (and some cats) would be dead. I only fostered the hard-to-place dogs. I fostered more than 100 animals in my five years at the shelter.

Bandit, who is currently snoozing on my bed, would certainly be dead as no one else would have taken him. Sir Puff, who escaped IndyHumane the day after transfer from another shelter, is alive because I spent five hours tracking him through a neighborhood. I illegally entered back yards. I got Batman to do a down stay at the entrance to a yard while I got friends from work to help me grab the little guy. There was Louie, the labradoodle, who we transferred to a labradoodle rescue. He escaped one hour after I dropped him off. I spent the next day driving around Bloomington and after walking through a park for more than an hour found Louie laying under my van and eager to get back in.  I fostered a feral mother cat and her kittens. The mama almost took my face off when I had to take the kittens and her back to the shelter for vaccines. She climbed the wall (an actual wall), and jumped at my face. I had to wear bite gloves to retrieve Calvin, a small terrier, from under a sink. I fostered at least two Chihuahuas that bit people before finding their forever homes. Sweet Guinevere is alive because I refused to give up and started a blog for her that ended up raising the $3,000 she needed for medical treatment. I fostered her for six months while she recovered.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

But, for the first time in my life, I don’t know what to do. After 35 years of having jobs come to me, I find myself unemployed. Although to be fair, I have had several truly amazing people reach out with job offers. And if I hadn’t moved to New Castle and if I wasn’t the caretaker of too many pets (meaning it will be difficult to find a place to rent), then I would have definitely taken at least one person up on their offer. However, in order to afford to drive an hour into Indy every day, I need a certain level of income. I put 31,000 miles on my vehicle and I haven’t owned it a year yet. At this rate, I won’t pay it off before it has 300,000 miles on it.

Suddenly I just don’t know what to do after having such clear direction for so long. It is a weird place to be. I’m going to have to hope that any good karma I accumulated from all those animals I saved comes back to help me out.

Planes, Trains or Automobiles

Standard

After taking my first overnight train ride, I have to say I am in love with train travel. I decided to do a comparison on how the trip might have gone had I taken an airplane or driven to Utopia, Texas, from Indianapolis.

For pricing comparison I used a seven-day period in January to make it far enough in advance to get better rates.

Planes

Roundtrip airfare between Indianapolis and San Antonio, Texas, is around $400 for regular seating. The flights ranged from six to eight hours depending on the layover. I could not find a direct flight. If you factor in two hours prior to the flight and an hour getting out, getting your checked luggage and obtaining a rental car, then your day is shot.

Traveling by air is uncomfortable. My hips just don’t fit comfortably in those seats and being in the middle seat of a three-seat row is exceedingly cramped. Then you have security; the rush and hassle of taking off shoes, unpacking electronics, repacking electronics, getting pulled out for a random search, uncomfortable lounge chairs, etc.

The meals (when they do serve them) are not very good. At least I have never had anything very tasty. On most flights I was lucky to get a beverage and a small bag of peanuts. Moving on an airplane is also difficult. Either the seat belt sign is on or there is just nowhere to go. Instead you are sitting in a tiny, cramped seat for five or six hours.

If you have to get somewhere as quickly as possible, then an airplane is the way to go, but it is definitely not the most comfortable choice.

In this scenario I would also need to rent a vehicle for the two-hour drive from San Antonio to Utopia ; a minimum of $222 for a week, plus the gas.

 

Automobile

According to MapQuest it is a 19-hour 30-minute drive between Indianapolis and Utopia, Texas. It is 1,244 miles one way. Even if you only stopped for restroom breaks and to fill up the car you will need to add a couple of more hours in there. I used $2.25 a gallon for my gas cost and came up with $112 or $224 for the roundtrip. Plus, you would need at least one night in a motel each way or two or three very dedicated drivers and the ability to sleep in a car.

So, at minimum $350 for gas and a hotel for the round trip. This does not include meals. Let’s say we add in $60 a day for food and drinks; that brings our round trip total to $470. This does not include wear and tear and adding 2,488 miles to a vehicle.

I do love driving. I enjoy the scenery and I like the ability to control my speed, what I want to stop and see, etc. But, if I was trying to get to Utopia and actually have time to spend in Utopia then I would have to drive without making lots of stops along the way.

I would of course have my own vehicle, so there would be no rental fees involved once I arrived at my destination.

Trains

20160827_092849_1472575372251_resized

This is my seat in the Roomette

If I took the train I could get a round trip ticket between Indianapolis and San Marcos, Texas, for $431 for a roomette.  If I wanted to stay in the coach section, I could get a coach seat roundtrip for $137. The trip is 29 hours. I would need to rent the car to get from San Marcos to Utopia, so I have my $222 for the week’s rental.

If you book a roomette all meals are included.
The only thing you have to pay for is alcohol. All non-alcoholic drinks are included with the meals. I ate nine of

20160820_195240_1472575568861_resized

Steak and potato on the train.

my meals on the train. The food was awesome. I had steak and baked potato one night; scramble
d eggs and bacon for breakfa
st, a hamburger for lunch, etc. The menu isn’t very deep, but there are generally three to seven choices depending on what meal you are eating. Dessert included

20160821_123727_1472575531750_resized

An example of one of the lunches I had on the train

a chocolate torte, cheese cake or ice cream. There were limited vegetarian option. If you had serious dietary restrictions you would probably not be able to enjoy the dining car.

If you travel via coach you could bring your own food or you could eat either in the dining car or in the snack car. If you paid for the meals in the dining car it would get expensive. The steak option was $24. If I had paid for each of my meals on the train they would have ranged from $12 for breakfast up to $30 for dinner. I probably would have spent $150 or more eating during the 29-hour train trip if meals had not been included. That would make about $300 for food for the roundtrip. If I subtract that $300 from my $431, that makes my actual sleeping car only $131 for the round trip. What a deal.

The coach seats on the train are fabulous and exceedingly comfortable.

20160827_092441_1472575402887_resized

These are the coach seats on the train. They are adjustable and have footstools and foot rests. Notice the electric outlooks on the wall.

You could certainly travel that way and sleep. You wouldn’t have any privacy, but because the seating is roomy; it is still far more comfortable than falling asleep on an airplane.

The roomettes are cramped for two people (but perfect for one). If you share a roomette

20160820_142739_resized

This is the observation car. There is a bar on the first floor of the observation car that sells some mixed drinks, beer and wine. It also serves food and snacks.

then you need to enjoy the company of the person with whom you are traveling. There are larger rooms on the train, but I did not price them for this post. For the roomette, you sit facing the other person and there is about one foot of space between your knees. In the evening, a train attendant comes by and shoves the two bottom chairs together to form a bed and then drops a bunk down from the ceiling to form the second bed. Even with a bad knee, I was able to get to the top bunk. I had a hard time maneuvering, but it was doable. I much preferred sleeping in the bottom bunk. There was more room and I could look out the window as I fell asleep.

20160827_092509_1472575388992_resized

This is one of the larger rooms on the train. This forms a bed at night and a second bed can be formed by bringing down the bunk that is attached to the ceiling.  There is also a private restroom in the larger rooms.

While you might be somewhat cramped in the roomette with a friend, there is so much room on the train that you don’t have to be in one place. I spent very little time in my roomette. During part of my trip one of the coach cars was empty. I spent several hours stretched out in the coach car with all of my electronic equipment spread around me and plugged in to various outlets. I also spent hours and hours in the observation car. I had lots of room and electrical outlets. I could look at the passing scenery, listen to my music via headphones or write. If I wanted company, most of the people in the observation car were friendly and open to conversation. Talking to strangers on a train is a tradition after all.

I could walk all over the train if I needed to move around and at least every two hours (and generally more often) the station stop was long enough so you could get off the train and walk around either the station or the immediate area. Station stops ranged from 10 minutes to 45 minutes.

There were no luggage checks on the train. I never had to take off my shoes or unpack my laptop bag. When we got on the train in San Marcos, the attendant asked for one of our party’s driver’s license. That was their random check.

Most people who know me well also know that restrooms are important to me. My rating of the restrooms between the airplane, plane and driving would probably be a wash. The train restrooms may rate a little lower than the airplane and some gas stations. The restrooms on the train are very small. I also think Amtrak may need to invest in more cleaning staff and some air fresheners in the bathrooms. But, overall they were certainly better than a tree in the woods.

20160827_135040_resized

The doorway leading from the coach cars to the private sleeping quarters.

If you travel in the largest rooms you have a private bathroom. The car with the roomettes had one bathroom on the floor of the rooms and then two more bathrooms on the floor below us, which is also where the shower was located.

20160827_135050_1472575332486_resized

This is the connecting doorway between two cars. It take some getting used to going through these doors and keeping your balance.

I would definitely now choose train travel over any other form of travel if it were an option. Obviously, an airplane will get you someplace faster and train travel is not going to be convenient to many locations. But, if it is an option, I highly recommend it.

Snippets

Standard

This is going to be a free-flowing post about random things I remember about the trip so far.

farm house

This is one of the two homes on the ranch. This is the older home

Currently, I am on a train somewhere in the heart of Texas making our way northeast toward Chicago.

I took my first ride in a Tesla. Not that I had to come to Texas to do that, but that’s where I was when I was offered the opportunity. I am now in love. I want a Tesla. We accelerated so fast I was actually pushed back into my seat. I think the astronauts could use the car for basic training. It was fun to see the car plugged into an outdoor ranch outlet. I am sure the outlet was originally installed so people using power tools or wanting to recharge the golf cart would have a place to plug in. Seeing the car plugged into the old outlet was amazing.

I did not see a single scorpion, snake, long horn or wild pig. I spent so much time worrying about scorpions and rattlesnakes that in the end it was somewhat disappointing not to see one. Some of my traveling companions did see a scorpion in the house we were staying in and they promptly squished it, but that was the only sighting. They also saw a small black snake, but again I wasn’t there so I missed it. And everyone was talking about the wild pig problem in Texas. But, do not mistake the wild pigs for the javelinas. Javelinas look like pigs but only weigh in at 60 pounds and are not related to wild boars. They are in the peccary family, a group of hoofed mammals originating from South America. Evidently, the wild pigs are  something to be concerned about as they are destructive and can be dangerous to animals and humans. I read some interesting articles describing the differences between the wild pigs and the javelinas. I would love to have seen a javelina. If you want to see what a javelina looks like, click here.

We lucked out in terms of weather. The area we were in had been through several years of serious drought, but in the months right before we arrived some significant rain had fallen and greened up the land. Also, while it was more than 100 degrees in the week before we arrived, the temperature dropped into the high 80s and low to mid 90s while we were on the ranch. It was not nearly as humid as it is in Indiana.

I hadn’t been swimming in years, but on this trip I was in two different swimming pools and went twice to the swimming hole on the property. Swimming pools definitely make sense in this part of Texas. Indiana only has three months in which a pool is really useful. The places we visited in Texas rarely see snow for local residents cold is if it drops into the 40s. They get a lot more life out of the pool in Texas.

water fall

This waterfall is the perfect spa experience. If you lie right in the middle warm water buffets around you creating a massage effect. 

The swimming hole was awesome. The creek on my family property in Indiana is not clear. It is full of silt and mud so when you swim or wade you can’t really see what you are stepping on. The water in Texas was so clear. If there was a snake or a turtle, we could see it coming from a distance! There were several springs which fed the creek and provided water for the two homes on the ranch. For two days we lost water to one of the homes due to an unfortunate mowing accident. (An outdoor spigot was put in so close to the ground the person mowing didn’t see it). One of our party decided to go pioneer woman and bathed in the spring. We teased her that in the movies a handsome cowboy would have come along while she was bathing. But, she pointed out she did not put her petticoats over the bushes so the cowboy wouldn’t have known she was there.

The swimming hole had an amazing waterfall as well and was just like a high-priced spa. The water coming over the rocks into the swimming hole was really warm due to the sunbaked rocks. The closer you got to the waterfall, the warmer the water. If you laid right in the waterfall it was exactly like getting a deep tissue massage while lying in water. It may be the most relaxing thing I will ever experience in my life. From now on, whenever I am stressed, I am going to remember that feeling of stretching out in the waterfall and letting the water pound around me.

The creek running through the property was wide with deep holes below the springs, but almost dry above the springs. Above the springs we hiked over large slabs of rock (me worrying about rattlesnakes hiding under the rocks). The fossils were numerous. A ranch near where we were staying has dinosaur tracks on its land, which you can pay to go see, but we just didn’t have time to fit it in.

creek stones

In less than one quarter of a mile we went from 15 foot deep water to this. 

The closest town to our ranch was Utopia: home to about 300 people. It had a bank, a Justice of the Peace, café, a few churches, an antique store, gas station, grocery and a thrift store. I loved the grocery. I get overwhelmed in a Super Walmart. In this grocery there were four aisles of food and a small freezer section. If you wanted coffee they had two brands to choose from: Folgers and Maxwell House. When I shop at Kroger I have to look at 37 different types of coffee and ponder my decision. I could learn to love fewer choices.

The nearest Wal-Mart and movie theater were almost an hour away. Living in this area would mean you didn’t just drive out for a quick trip to the store because you forgot something. You would have to be happy working on your own land and doing your own thing. Jimmy Johns is definitely not delivering to this area and if they did, they would need to memorize a lot of gate codes because all the ranches had electronic gates.

While I didn’t see a lot of cattle, I did see pasture after pasture of goats. Thousands of goats. I also saw lots of pens of deer. Not sure if they were venison farms or if they deer were being raised for canned hunts. Texas sadly has a large canned hunting industry. I’m hoping the deer I saw were meat deer.

I did see several deer on the ranch. The property owners maintain feeders for both deer and turkey. The squirrels and the duck also enjoyed the feeders.

barn swallows

A nest of barn swallow babies

I lost count of the number of hummingbirds we saw. Barn swallows were also prevalent.

The part of Texas I was is called the Hill Country due to the many hills. Since this is the only part of Texas I have been in (except for a weekend once at a convention in San Antonio) I don’t have anything to compare with my stay. But, I do love the Hill Country. It was remote and beautiful.

While I will always call my beloved Parke County, Ind., home; spending this week on the ranch in Texas is something I will always remember.