Thursday, February 24, 2011

Snag that low bucket fare

There's a new post on my train travel site. It's all about a new online tool that helps one score the lowest prices for Amtrak tickets.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

On to Arizona

Wanderlust strikes again.

The Lady Friend and I have booked a trip to Winslow, Arizona, in early April. We will be traveling aboard Amtrak's Southwest Chief and I will be wearing my new official outfit as a Field Reporter for and

Actually the uniform consists of a big camera and a small press card, to be flashed at opportune moments in the hope of impressing officialdom.

Why Winslow? The town used to be an important stop on Route US 66 on the way to L.A., but the coming of the Interstates and the decline of passenger railroading nearly turned the place into a ghost town.

But it has struggled back. Its chief attraction is the restored La Posada Hotel, built in 1930 by the Fred Harvey chain as a waypoint on the old Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. Beautiful (and properly chaperoned) young ladies known as Harvey Girls greeted weary travelers from both the highway and the high iron, and fed them in the roomy restaurant. We'll be staying there two nights.

The hotel lies spang on the busy Burlington Northern Santa Fe main line, affording camera-bedecked railfans (who me?) considerable opportunity for photography from deck chairs scattered about the property. The Amtrak station occupies part of the hotel grounds.

Good thing, for there isn't much else to do in Winslow proper. Homolovi Ruins State Park just north of town has been closed for the last year by budget-beleaguered Arizona, but is reopening March 18, and we'll pay it a visit. We are also renting a car and will either drive 67 miles north to see the Hopi pueblos near the Four Corners so magnificently celebrated in Tony Hillerman's mysteries, or head 20 miles west to Meteor Crater, the mile-wide hole blasted out of the ground by an asteroid 50,000 years ago.

There will of course be a full report.

There will also be a full dispatch on our night's stopover along the way at La Plata, Missouri, and the Depot Inn & Suites, headquarters of Trainweb/Railnet. I've been there once and enjoyed it mightily (reports are here and here).


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Book review

Having made a living for 33 years reviewing books, I do not do that any more. I made a clean break from that profession in 2006, when I retired from the Chicago Sun-Times.

But there are exceptions, especially if the book in question is about train travel. Now that I am an official and certified (complete with press credentials) reporter for TrainWeb/RailNet, the nation's largest railroad-oriented web site, it's part of the job for me to assess and report upon new choo-choo books.

Which I did today here.

Now you know.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


One of the beneficiaries of the Egyptian revolution -- in the United States, at least -- seems to be the Arabic broadcast network Al-Jazeera.

Long reviled by right-wing Islamophobes as "anti-American," Al-Jazeera displayed no such bias -- at least that I could see -- in its coverage of the events of the last three weeks in Tunisia and Egypt. Sure, its opinionators displayed points of view that could be called liberal or leftish, but no more so than the pundits of MSNBC or HuffPo.

In its early reporting Al-Jazeera was far ahead of the Western news organizations, all of which were caught flatfooted by the events in North Africa. Like generals and senators, editors and pundits tend to fight the last foreign wars and aren't very good at spotting unfamiliar blips on radar screens.

As American news organizations continue to shrink their foreign coverage, outlets like al-Jazeera are going to become ever more important to our knowledge of what's going on in the world as well as our understanding of the points of view of other cultures.

You can read the English-language reports of Al-Jazeera here, and also see its streaming video here.

Al-Jazeera is now a regular stop on my morning Internet newscrawl, and I hope a cable network will ignore the blinkered and bombastic Bill O'Reillys and start broadcasting the station live in the United States.

FEBRUARY 13: More on this issue here. Note the comments after the piece.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Send to Kindle

You're scanning the news websites in a hurry, skimming the headlines and making mental notes to return to read the stories. Of course, the mental notes fall out of your head and roll under the bed with the dust-kitties.

If you have a Kindle and also are using Google's Chrome as a browser, you can use a new Chrome extension called "Send to Kindle" to do just as it says -- send the entire text of a web article to your Kindle for later reading. It's terrific and it's free.

Among the sites I visit regularly are Arts & Letters Daily, Bookforum and The Browser, all handy compendiums of interesting but longish articles and reviews published elsewhere. Reading them on the Kindle instead of a backlighted computer screen is much more restful on the eyes.

Stop at an article on your computer. Click on a little check mark box in the Chrome header. Then click again -- and the article is sent to your Kindle mail address for uploading to your e-reader the next time you turn it on within wi-fi range. It takes just a few minutes for to do its thing and relay it to you.

You can get the Send to Kindle extension here. (You'll need to be using Chrome to download it.)

Sorry, it works only with Chrome, not Firefox or Internet Explorer or any of the non-Google browsers.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

My new conductor's cap

I've just joined the official correspondent's corps of TrainWeb/RailNet, the nation's largest rail buff Internet forum, as a "Field Reporter."

Actually, the job will consist mostly of repackaging, in TrainWeb style, future Reluctant Blogger blogposts on my train travels -- you'll see them here as well as there. But I'll also be going out on the high iron with increased frequency to exercise my press credentials.

I won't be writing merely about life aboard trains, but also will yarn about my adventures during stopovers and at destinations. (My first effort is here.)

Of course there will be photographs, lots of them.

Come along for the ride.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Ladies and gentlemen, start your Kindles

The judges of the English-speaking literary world's highest honor have been issued Kindles to help them read the 140-odd heavy-duty submissions to the Man Booker Prize.

Here's the story in the Independent.

Not everybody thinks it's a good idea, of course. Highlighting passages and making marginal notes is much easier with tree-books -- and that's one reason why printed copies as well as electronic versions are being submitted to the judges.

But the e-handwriting is on the wall.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My car

This doesn't need a caption, does it now?