Monday, November 14, 2011

What I Learned on Vacation

We took the AMTRAK from Chicago to Springfield, Illinois. The online ticket purchasing was easy. The check-in was quick, and we didn't have to arrive early or go through security. The conductor was pleasant. The seating was much more roomy and comfortable than on an airplane, and we could walk around. There was no charge for luggage.

I struck up conversations with a couple of other passengers. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the ride, which was much cheaper than flying, safer and more relaxing than driving, and less polluting than either. We arrived right in downtown Springfield and walked a couple of blocks to a hotel. We were delayed because of a computer problem experienced by the freight line that shares the tracks with AMTRAK, so we arrived about an hour and twenty minutes late. The delay was annoying, but much less annoying than construction or accident delays we might have encountered on the road. AMTRAK is talking about putting high-speed rail on this same route. Sounds like a good idea to me.

We toured the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum that the State of Illinois opened in 2005. It does a nice job of presenting a very limited story about Lincoln, but it probably didn't need to be built. Few authentic objects from Lincoln's life were on display. The historic district just a couple of blocks away, which is run by the U.S. Department of the Interior, is more impressive. At the historic district we toured through the actual Lincoln home, which has been beautifully restored. The tour guide was very knowledgeable and helpful. In another building, there was a well-presented orientation video. Those who say our federal government doesn't do anything well should visit this historic district. I have visited historic sites and museums all around the country, and a few abroad, and the Lincoln historic district is among the best. Admission was free. Paid for by our tax dollars.

We also visited the historic old state capitol. This is the stone building Obama stood outside when he announced he was running for President. Although some relatively minor mistakes were made in the restoration, such as putting the wrong kind of glass in the windows, the friendly docents were quick to point out the errors and to give additional information to anyone who wanted it. I walked out on a presentation about Civil War weapons. The presenters seemed entirely too in love with their killing machines and didn't seem to have any perspective on the destruction those weapons caused in their time or how they have contributed to our present-day militarism. The talk was for a general audience, and the presenters made an effort to engage the youngsters who were there. But it upset me that the only message those kids were getting about guns was “golly-gee-whiz isn't that cool.”

We talked with a few Springfield residents. They like their town but are sad to see it in its present state of economic decline. One state employee told us that the big problem is that recent Democratic governors have eliminated a lot of government jobs and moved others to the Chicago area, where most Illinoisans live, rather than keep them in Springfield, where Republican job-holders used to turn out the vote. Seemed strange to hear complaints in this traditionally strong Republican town that the Democrats are cutting government too much.

Everywhere we went, the people who depend on tourist dollars were gracious and accommodating. Over and over they thanked us for staying at their hotel, eating at their restaurants, visiting their attractions. I'm not sure that a few years ago, when people had more choices of jobs, that they were quite so hospitable.

It was good to get out of the house, talk with a few strangers, and see what is going on somewhere else. The hard times are reaching far and wide, and they will have long-lasting effects, good and bad. Just like when Lincoln was president.


  1. Good post on Springfield. I was there recently and concur in your opinions. I found the streets frighteningly empty at night and little to do during the day other than look at Lincoln exhibits, or occupy the capitol with the 99% folks when they are around. Liked the political cartoon room at the museum (my dad called it the Fox News room), but the rest of the exhibit is sort of unintentionally cartoon-like and fake and speaks to children more than adults seriously interested in Lincoln--and it fails to show the complexities in the man and his presidency--particularly in that it completely fails to address issues of federal policy regarding the railroads and the Native Americans. The food is terrific in town because the lobbyists need somewhere to take their clients. Since we've already slaughtered the Native American people in favor of the railroads, it's sort of ironic that the southbound Amtrak train is always late and there is always some malfunction with a freight line that shares the track. The passenger train should not be sharing that track with freight lines which have track priority. Just another example showing how for all the buildup in the late 19th and 20th centuries, we have not kept up our infrastructure and are now slaughtering our environment to keep the cars and airplanes running.

  2. Why not take all the troops who will soon return from Iraq and set them loose rebuilding infrastructure? They're all going to need jobs, how about some high speed rail lines?