Tag Archives: trains

24 hours with Jacob

Friday, I wrote about the train trip Jacob and I were planning to take. Here’s the story about it.

Friday night, Jacob was super excited. He was running around the house, talking about trains. I had him pack his own backpack with toys this time, which were — you guessed it — trains. Plus train track. His usual bedtime is around 7. He was still awake in his room at about 11, too excited to sleep.

The train was an hour late into Newton, so got up, got ready, and then went into Jacob’s room at 3:15AM. I put my arm around him and said his name softly. No response. I said, just a little louder, “Jacob, it’s time to wake up to go to the train station.” There was about a 2-second pause and then he sat bolt upright rubbing his eyes. A couple seconds later, in a very tired but clear voice, “OK dad, let’s go!” That is, I believe, a record for waking up speed for Jacob.

We went downstairs, got coats, mittens, hats, etc. on, made sure we had the stuffed butterfly he always sleeps with, and went out the door.

As usual, Jacob chattered happily during the entire 15-minute drive to the Amtrak station. One of these days I need to remember to record it because it’s unique. He described things to me ranging from the difference between freight and passenger trains, to what the dining car is all about, to tractors and how to ride them safely. Newton has some “winter lights”, and a few places still had Christmas lights, which were of course big hits.

We had to wait a few minutes at the Amtrak station, and Jacob hadn’t shown any signs of slowing down yet. He wanted to look at every Amtrak poster, picture, logo, or sign in the building. This generally meant me holding him up high while he leaned over to touch it and make out a few words. Then, of course, he would pick out minute details about the trains, such as how many coach cars he thought they had, and we’d visit about that for awhile.

We got on at about 4:20. We found our seats, and Jacob showed no signs of calming down, despite having had only 4 hours of sleep (instead of his usual 11) so far. We checked out the buttons for lights. And, of course, he excitedly yelled out, “Dad, the train is moving!”

He spent the next while mostly watching out his window, but also still exploring his space. Finally at about 5, I said, “Jacob, I am really tired. I am going to sleep now. Will you sleep too?” His response: “Oh sure dad, I will sleep with my eyes open!” As a result, no sleep was had for Jacob, and only a little for me.

The dining car opens for breakfast at 6:30, which is normally a rather foreign time for breakfast on the train for us. But we were both awake so I figured might as well go. So Jacob and I went to the dining car. We sat with a woman going from New Mexico to Lawrence for her grandpa’s funeral, though it was expected and she was having a good time on the train. Jacob turned completely shy, and refused to say a word, except maybe a few whispered into my ear.

He got his favorite railroad French toast, and had me “drizzle” some syrup on it. I used the word “drizzle” for syrup the first time he had French toast on the train, and if I fail to use that word in the dining car, I will hear about it in no uncertain terms from Jacob.

He loved his dining car breakfast, but we spent about an hour and a half there. He was really slow at eating because his face was pressed up against the window so much. But that was just fine; we had nowhere else to be, the person eating breakfast with us enjoyed visiting (and, apparently, scaring the dining car staff with tales of bears in the New Mexico mountains). This was what the train trip was all about, after all.

We played in the lounge car for awhile. The almost floor-to-ceiling wrap-around windows provided a great view for him, and more opportunities to press his face against a window. We talked about freight trains that he saw, noticed the snow on some of them. Then we found the back of the train and he got to look out the back window.

Back at our seat, he played with his toys for about 10 minutes, which was all he used them on the entire trip. There was just too much else to enjoy.

When we used the restroom on the train, he’d comment on how much he liked the Amtrak soap. “It smells SO very very good!” He wanted to wash his hands on the train. By late morning, he had decided: “Dad, I LOVE this Amtrak soap. It smells like peaches! Shall your hands smell like peaches too?” And, when we’d get back up to our seats, he’d put his hands in my face, saying, “Dad, smell that! My hands smell like peaches! It was from the AMTRAK SOAP!”

At some point, he discovered the airline-style safety brochures in the seat back pockets. These were filled with diagrams of the train car, a few photos, and lots of icons with descriptions. I don’t know how many times I read the thing to him, or really how many times he then recited it to me from memory. It was a lot. He spent hours with those brochures.

Jacob had already told me that he wanted pizza for lunch, so I got him the kid-sized pizza. It wasn’t all that big, and he could have devoured at least half of it when hungry. But he was getting really tired and ate only a few bites of pizza and a few chips. Pretty soon he was leaning up against me, the window, and eventually had his head on the table in some tomato sauce. But he didn’t quite fall asleep by the time we went back to our seats, and of course was wide awake by that point.

Jacob loves spotting the word “Amtrak” on things. It was very exciting when he noticed his orange juice at breakfast, and milk at lunch, were “Amtrak juice” and “Amtrak milk” due to the logo on the cups. At dinner he noticed we had Amtrak plates, and when I pointed out that his metal fork had the Amtrak logo on it, he got very excited and had to check every piece of silverware within reach. “Dad, I have an Amtrak fork too!…. And dad, YOU also have an Amtrak fork! We ALL have Amtrak forks! *cackling laughter*”

I finally insisted that Jacob lay down for some quiet time. I closed the curtains, and he finally did fall asleep… less than an hour before our arrival into Galesburg. So by 2:15 he was up to 4.75 hours of sleep, I guess.

We stopped in the train station briefly, then started our walk to the Discovery Depot Children’s Museum, which was right nearby. Although I made no comment about it, Jacob said, “Dad, there is a train museum RIGHT HERE!” “Yes, you’re right Jacob. I can see a steam engine and some cars here.” “Let’s go in!” “I don’t think it’s open today.” “It IS open — shall we go check?” It wasn’t, and that was mighty sad — though when he spotted another old caboose sitting outside the children’s museum, the day suddenly seemed brighter. He complained of how cold he was, although my suggestion that he stop walking through the big piles of snowdrifts was met with a whiny, “But dad, I WANT to do that!”

We went inside the museum (having to walk right buy the locked caboose — thankfully the people at the desk promised to unlock it for us when we were ready) and Jacob started to explore. There was some wooden play trains big enough for children to climb in which he enjoyed, but in general he went from one thing to the next every minute or two as he does when he’s really tired or overstimulated. Until, that is, he discovered the giant toy train table. It had a multi-level wooden track setup, and many toy trains with magnetic hitches. It was like what we have at home, only much bigger and fancier. He spent a LONG time with that. We then briefly explored the rest of the museum and went out into the caboose. It wasn’t the hit it might have been, possibly because there are several at the Great Plains Transportation Museum that he gets to go in on a somewhat regular basis.

After that, he was ready to go back into the museum, but I was feeling rather over-stimulated. On a day when the highs were still well below freezing, it seemed just about every family in Galesburg was crowded into the children’s museum, making it loud and crowded — which I don’t enjoy at all. So I suggested maybe it was snack time instead. A moment’s thought, then he started to pull me out of the caboose before I could get my gloves back on — “Yes dad, I think it IS snack time. Let’s go. Let’s go NOW!”

We walked over to Uncle Billy’s Bakery (Google link or minimal website). Jacob spotted some sugar cookies shaped like mittens. Despite my reluctance to get him more sugar, he was so excited — plus I had barely prevented a meltdown at lunch by promising him that he would get dessert later in the day — so he picked two red mitten cookies. I got myself a wonderful peach muffin and a croissant and we sat down at one of the tables by the window. I taught Jacob how to hang his coat on his chair and he lit into those cookies.

I spotted a guy at the next table over wearing a BNSF jacket, and asked him if he worked for the railroad. He had retired as an engineer a couple of years ago, and had worked various jobs before that. He grew up in Manhattan, KS and so was interested in our trip — and very friendly. While we visited, Jacob devoured his cookies and increasing portions of my snack as well. He told us about a new shop — The Stray Cat — just two stores down that was having a grand opening event today. They make decorations and art out of basically discarded items, and had some really nifty things that I may have bought had I not been wanting for space in our backpack.

Then I spotted Sweets Old-Fashioned Ice Cream, Candy, and Soda Shop across the road. I figured he’d love it and I was already in for the sugar so might as well. He picked out some “birthday cake” flavor ice cream for himself. I got huckleberry ice cream, which he insisted on calling “purpleberry” and managed to get some tastes of as well.

After that, we went to the train station. It was about an hour until our train would be there. I wasn’t sure if we’d find enough to do, but I shouldn’t have worried. Earlier, we had made the happy discovery that the station’s restroom featured the Amtrak soap, so there was that. Then there was the model Amtrak train in the ticket window, which Jacob kept wanting to look at while I’d hold him. And also, the California Zephyr came in. We watched it arrive from the station window, saw people get off and on, and saw it leave — maybe the first time Jacob has witnessed all that in person. And, of course, we looked at the pictures in that train station. The ticketmaster gave Jacob a paper conductor’s hat with puzzles and mazes on the back side.

And then it was time to get onto our train back home. We ate dinner — Jacob again ate little and almost fell asleep — and got back to our seats. I let Jacob stay awake until about 8, when he was starting to get a bit fragile. It took him awhile to fall asleep, but he finally did at about 8:30.

Today he’s still been all excited. He will randomly tell us about bits of the trip, that the man at supper called his grilled cheese sandwich piece “little” when it was really big, what we did at the ice cream store, etc. And I do think that he is now a train safety expert.

All in all, I think that is probably the most excitement he’s ever had in 24 hours and it was a lot of fun to be with him for it!

A Smart Gas Tax

The recent announcements by McCain and Clinton of their support for a temporary repeal of the Federal gas tax make me sick. More on why later, but first, I want to put forth my idea. I think both Republicans and Democrats would like it — as it’s based on market principles and achieves a reduction in costs to the average household, while simultaneously helping the environment and reducing our dependency on foreign oil. But of course, it’s courageous, and we don’t have many politicians of that type anymore.

What we need is a large, revenue-neutral, gas tax increase. Now, before people go nuts, let’s explore what this means.

Revenue-neutral means that it doesn’t result in a net increase of monies going to the government. The increase in the gas tax rate is offset by a decrease in the income tax, tied to the cost of direct and indirect taxable gasoline each family or business consumes. So on day 1, if you cost of filling up at the tank goes up by $10 in a week, if you are an average family, your total paychecks also go up by $10. Your cost for receiving a package might go up by $1, and your paycheck goes up by the same amount. So you’re no worse off than before — if you’re average.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of this sort of plan:

  • The economic incentive to be efficient consumers of gas is magnified. This will eventually lead to Americans having more money in their pockets, increasing market incentives for fuel efficiency, and a decreasing (or increasing slower) price of oil as demand slows.
  • Economic incentives to use mass transit, live close to urban centers, or drive fuel-efficient vehicles are magnified. Likewise, the economic incentives to invest in mass transit and efficient automobiles are also magnified.
  • As more efficient technologies come on the market, and Americans decide that they’d like to pad their bank accounts by hundreds or thousands of dollars a year, more sustainable and environmentally-friendly development patterns will emerge. Also, the price of oil will be kept low. Of course, people that choose not to change will, on average, be no worse off than before.
  • Alternative choices to the automobile will have a greater incentive to develop. Think the return of a fast, speedy national passenger and freight network, greater mass transit options, etc.
  • The marketplace will drive Detroit to love making fuel-efficient vehicles, because they will be the new profit centers.
  • This sort of thing is known to work well in other countries around the world.

If we think more long-term, we see even more positive effects:

  • The return to local agriculture and manufacturing. Due to lower transportation costs, local farmers and manufacturers will be able to undercut Walmart’s prices due to the larger relative costs of Walmart’s much-vaunted national distribution network. Unless, that is, Walmart starts buying local — which is a good thing too. This is a good thing for American jobs.
  • Keeping all that oil money in the domestic economy is a good thing for American jobs, too.
  • Our businesses will have a jump start on being competitive in the increasingly carbon-regulated global marketplace.

As for the cons:

  • Eventually this will lead to a net reduction in Federal revenues as efficiencies develop in the marketplace and people save money on gas. Corresponding budget cuts will be required. (A good thing, I figure)
  • Implementing this all at once would be a shock to some people living inefficiently now — those that are far above average. It would have to be implemented gradually to avoid being a shock to the economy.

Now, for the McCain/Clinton plan: it’s a farce. Reducing the gas taxes means more efficient gas, which means more consumption of gas, which in turn leads to — yes — higher gas prices. Its real effect will be minimal, and is a terrible long-term policy. It charges tens of billions of dollars to the national credit card (which we, and our children, will have to repay) while achieving almost no benefit now. It’s a gimmick through and through, and something that says loud and clear that neither candidate is on track for the “Straight Talk Express”.

Update 4/29/2008: One potential solution for the problem of declining revenues over time is to periodically re-index the averages to mirror current usage. Assuming this does really lead to the expected drop in consumption, there is no sense in 2020 of paying people for how much gas they would have used in 2008.