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Kistaro Windrider, Reptillian Situation Assessor

Unfortunately, I Really Am That Nerdy

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Of travel, textbooks, and tetanus shots
color cycle (slow)
Okay, I'm finally getting around to posting about my trip home! It took me long enough, I suppose, but I've had a lot to do in the interim, and a lot to recover from. I suppose three days of nonstop travel could be interesting to some people, but it's not something I really have the patience or endurance for. Given the restrictions against airline travel, and my lack of patience for them, I may not have much of a choice anyway.

So I spent two and a half days on a train from Wednesday to Friday. The original plan was for me to take a train from Seattle to Chicago, then Chicago to St. Louis. Plans, of course, are rarely held to in such situations, and I wound up taking a Greyhound bus from Chicago to home, due to my first train coming in three hours late and causing me to miss a two-hour connection. At least I did get home, however; I suppose it can be said that it was with a minimum of incident, but I certainly wouldn't call it my favorite travel experience of all time.

I took my seat in the coach next to a Canadian dude named Steve, heading from Vancouver to Ohio; he was going to rent a car in Chicago. We had a few discussions about trains and politics and travel in general, and then mostly peacefully ignored each other for the rest of the trip. Not to say that I got along perfectly with every passenger on the train. Why do people think it is a good idea to take a two-year-old child on a three-day train ride with no shower, no proper bed, and without bringing a food supply of your own other than pure sugar crap? Your child is going to behave like a horrible little bastard if you feed him a diet of cupcakes, cookies, and candy, and it is made even worse if you respond to his constant yelling and screaming ("NOOOOO!" "MIIINE!") by giving into his demands (frequently impinging on others, especially the unfortunate gentleman sitting in the other half of the seat), therefore teaching him that being an obnoxious little mouth bomb is going to be a successful strategy.

The child did not shut up for the better (worse?) part of the entire ride.

Fortunately, near the end, I'd managed to start learning how to ignore the din- not just of that child, but of a train full of people in general- and sleep. Unfortunately, this resulted in me sleeping through lunch and having to go mostly hungry. At least, when I got it, the food from the dining car was good- not good enough to justify the remarkably high prices, but that's what you get when you're a captive audience. At least Microsoft counts it as a travel expense, so I'll get reimbursed for my food- I saved all the receipts, don't worry.

The service in the dining car was slow, but it was justifiably so. I have no idea how the waiters there managed to learn to not fall over as the train moved and swerved and in general was a remarkably unstable platform- and there they were, carrying trays full of food one-handedly through the narrow aisle without dropping a thing. It was an impressive show, in its way. The staff themselves were also nice people; I have an especially high opinion of the one who noticed that I slept through lunch and, upon noticing me feeling ill due to a lack of food, brought me a leftover salad that was to be discarded as lunch was over and the salad had been sitting out for the better part of an hour. It had been sitting out, so the croutons were soggy and the lettuce was stale (and the dressing was of a variety I dislike), but I was far too hungry to care. Definitely good customer service, I'd say! (I do wonder how much of it was inspired by my, unlike many other patrons, actually leaving tips.)

I guess the travel itself wasn't really bad in any particular way, I just didn't really enjoy the experience as a whole- maybe train travel just isn't for me. I found it remarkably unpleasant to sleep in a chair for two days straight. (Especially with phantom-limb syndrome. Those chairs are uncomfortable enough as it is without having to work around tail and wing cramps.) Especially without a shower available- I did the best I could with limited privacy (a changing room door that closes, but doesn't lock), washcloths, and a couple clean changes of clothes. I guess I'm too used to modern convenience to be peaceful with feeling- and smelling- absolutely gross, by the end of the trip.

There was a stop in Spokane, Washington that went a little wrong. It was about at 1:00 in the morning, and the plan was to add a few new cars to the train (merging with a train from Portland, Oregon) and get going in half an hour. It actually took three and a half hours- this is where we fell so far behind that almost everybody on the train with a connection missed the connection. I sitll don't know exactly what happened, but I do know it involved an hour of sitting (with the air conditioning and toilets off, power out) doing nothing, then going forward fifty feet, then going backwards seventy feet (negative twenty feet of progress here, so far), then waiting another hour or two as the conductors and assistants yelled outside. I couldn't hear exactly what was going on from my seat, so I headed down the stairs to the door of the car to eavesdrop, alongside the other nine passengers who had the same idea. I'm still not sure what it was about; all I caught were some phrases. Those phrases were "six hours of delay", "more people than seats", "missed by twenty feet", and "who's fault is this, anyway?", none of which really helped my confidence much. We did eventually get going, but I can't help but wonder if someone wound up stranded for a quarter of a day.

The only particularly eventful part of the journey was finding out just how good the train's brakes were; not hitting the car stalled across the train/road crossing was some sort of miracle, and the waiters not spilling a drop of water or a single potato chip was even more impressive. The conductor was audibly rattled as he gave an announcement about what was going on; the car was moved fairly quickly after that and we got going again, but all the delays (especially the one in Spokane) added up, and I missed my connection by more than an hour.

I wasn't the only one inconvenienced by this, but I may have been one of the most civil about it. I went to their customer service office, explained the situation, and asked for alternate arrangements; I wound up scheduled on a Greyhound bus leaving four hours later than my original schedule (two and three-quarters hours after the conversation with customer service) and got a full refund for my second ticket with no trouble. Other customers were less polite about the whole ordeal- "irate" seems to be an understatement in more than a few cases. Admittedly, I found the desk fast enough to get served almost immediately, with no line, while a second train getting in late soon after mine caused the line to go out the door and force them to open a second office just for missed connections, but I still think some of the ire against the customer service representatives (who aren't why the train was late) was entirely uncalled for.

The Greyhound bus ride was uneventful, and it was more comfortable than the bus. The seats were closer together, but they were more comfortable, and the whole ride was quieter- the screaming child only screamed for a short portion of the journey before the mother managed to get her calmed down. Plus, I found going through the city and along the highway to have more interesting scenery- there's something nostalgic about the wilderness and the countryside, and definitely better for the environment, but I find cities to be interesting.

I finally arrived home at 3:45 in the morning and my parents took me home, and I've been here recovering from the trip and going to medical appointments. (When all I have is a week to get all my doctor visits done before college, it makes for a busy week.) This involved getting stabbed in the arm yesterday. I do not like shots, but I understand why they're required. The tetanus/whooping cough shot I had yesterday really didn't hurt much at the time, but my arm is in extreme pain now- that soreness (a standard side-effect of tetanus shots) is what woke me up at too early an hour this morning. I have an optometrist appointment later today, and even though it's less painful, I find the wide variety of medicated eyedrops they use to be even more unpleasant than getting shots. I'm not sure why, it just triggers every flinch reflex I have. I do need the examination, though; my glasses prescription stopped being useful for me nearly a year ago, but I do still need some sort of vision correction; glasses really did help my depth perception for a couple of years, but my eyes have changed since. I suspect I'll be wearing glasses again next year at college. Maybe I'll get a pair that resembles what noda illustrated for my userpics and the picture I'm currently using as my desktop wallpaper on two computers!

With the semester starting soon, I went to get my textbooks. I hit a new record: 15 books for the semester, total of $507.12 before tax. 12 of those books were for my Philosophy class, "Applied Ethics". It should be an interesting class, becuase they look like interesting books, but it's going to be reading-intensive! My already-sore arm wasn't helped any by carrying the books.

Other recent events included a new external hard drive and a new computer monitor. My Tablet PC's 60 GB hard drive doesn't seem as large now as it seemed on the spec page, and I'm already running low on space- plus, I wanted to get Virtual PC running so I could have some distro of Linux available without all the migranes involved with the funky hardware of a tablet. That needs a lot of space to create a Linux partition. But I don't need that everywhere- I just want it available to me on that computer, not necesarily available portably. So I've now offloaded most of my high-performance games, all of my media, and now a 100GB virtual hard drive (now formatted EXT3) on to a new 250GB external USB-based hard drive, and it seems to be running plenty fast enough; USB 2.0 is nice like that.

The second monitor is for my desktop computer. My TabletPC is better suited to classwork than this desktop computer was, with a higher-res monitor, handwriting input for good note-taking in class, and higher performance on both RAM and CPU. But a 12-inch screen isn't comfortable for a lot of things, and I want to keep that computer focused on my schoolwork- so my desktop computer is now going to mostly be used for multimedia (especially with my new Creative Zen Vision portable media player- my old MP3 player was finally developing too many faults to ignore, so I decided to upgrade to a good player, with a user-replacable battery- I went through three batteries on my other player, so I'd say getting the player that has a replacable battery will probably save money in the long run, relative to a non-replacable battery requiring the entire media player to be replaced) and gaming- and also schoolwork and programming, just as it was before. I'll just have a second computer available to do work on and have notes on, so I can have this computer doing processor-intensive multimedia stuff (converting DVDs for viewing on a portable media player, for example) while still having a computer available for work. To further this computer for doing classwork (especially debugging), however, I've now got two monitors, and that's working out well for me; I'll also probably find myself disconnecting the secondary monitor on a regular basis and connecting it to my TabletPC when I want to have it running with two monitors (including the one built in). I considered a KVM switch to facilitate that, but it's not worth the price- I'll just switch cables by hand.

What I'm considering is a new graphics card. My Radeon X300 isn't really cutting it; GameTap is showing dodgy performance in a lot of things due to graphical bottlenecks (changing to a low-resolution Window mode makes a huge difference, which is a dead giveaway that it's a graphical bottleneck and not other system specs) and the medium-high-performance 3D games I bought at Microsoft are choppy at the lowest quality settings and unplayable at anything higher (the action games are difficult to play anyway). As I've also discovered a few bugs in ATI's drivers interfering with my CD/DVD burner (screwing up LightScribe, which I rely on to label my discs because my handwriting is abysmal and LightScribe, per disc, is no more expensive than a labeler and it can't peel off), I'm going to move away from Radeon entirely. I'm now looking at the nVidia GeForce 7600 or thereabouts. Any suggestions?

My arm still hurts. I hope it gets feeling better by the time I have to move back in to college.

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I have a Geforce 7600 GT that works great. Runs everything I've thrown at it so far.

Your optometrist must be quite thorough. The only time I've had my eyes dilated (and drops put in) by the normal optometrist was when I'd injured myself (soccer ball to glasses) and she was checking to make sure I didn't have any problems with my retina detaching (well, and when she discovered I had lost peripheral vision and was probably actually having my retinas detach).

When my retinas did detach years later for reasons to the errant soccer ball, I got used to having all manner of things put in my eyes. Luckily, they seemed to have decided by then that the drops that "might sting a bit" wouldn't feel funny (though I later discovered that antibacterial drops did in fact still sting on the eye that had been treated by laser). I think it might be years of contacts. Of course, I then had the not so welcome discovery when I was in the hospital getting ready for surgery that the eye drops would somehow get somewhere in my body that I could taste them. I don't think the nurse had ever had anyone else complain about that. Sadly, the effect continued, so whenever I have eyedrops put in now, I will frequently end up tasting them. Eye drops do not taste good!

I have put in a lot of miles on Amtrak, and yes, you've discovered some basic truths already. Coach is not the preferable way to go. On most long distance routes, there are sleeping accommodations available and they aren't horribly expensive. You get something that serves as a bed (in the small singles and doubles it's kinda narrow but at least it is flat) and a private space that can be closed against the worst noise from outside (usually errant children, as you learned.) Children are just as apt to misbehave on airplanes and in airports, of course.

Train crews are remarkably friendly and eager to please in my experience. I can't say the same for ticket agents, but on the train it has always been pleasant. Dining car staff are amazingly skilled at handling hot dishes and pouring things without spilling, even when the tracks are rough. Except for a brief period when Amtrak tried serving "airline style" food, the dining car fare has been of good quality and sometimes exceptional. Yes, it costs a bit more than a stationary restaurant, but when you consider the extra costs that go into it, it's still not bad. I don't think you can beat the novelty of having dinner while the scenery rolls by your window.

I've not ridden the Empire Builder, but I've been on other western US routes and the scenery alone is worth the cost and extra time in my opinion. You just don't see that stuff from a plane, and usually not from a car either. The trains go through where there are no roads in many cases, following routes that were selected more than a century ago for practical reasons that had nothing to do with the reason automobile roads are laid out where they are.

If I go Amtrak again, I'll almost certainly get a bed rather than just a coach. I disagree with your assessment that it's not horribly expensive, however; if they were open (which they weren't- they'd run out), a sleeper car would have cost more than 1.5 times as much as the rail fare- and that doesn't include the fare, so it would have cost two and a half times as much to have a bedroom. (The difference is over $400.) That's not so bad when you could share the bedroom with someone else, but I didn't have a travel companion. (Single rooms? There weren't any, period, even if the train wasn't full.)

The scenery was nice, but after about three-quarters of a day, I wasn't in enough of a mood to really enjoy it.

Sleepers vary in size and cost depending on the route and equipment. Singles and over-under doubles existed on eastern and southern routes the last time I rode, but the so-called SuperLiner routes, of which the Empire Builder is one, are more expensive (and larger.)

I still think when you look at the cost of airfare (at least, the normal cost) and the obnoxious condition of airports and so-called security, the comparison puts the train on top easily.

I quit flying because of cattle car treatment and rotten luggage handling. I've never had either problem with Amtrak.

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