Saturday, July 30, 2011

Agawa Canyon

The Agawa Canyon Tour Train during its 90-minute layover in the Ontario gorge.

The report on my trip last week to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and the Agawa Canyon Tour Train is now online at my train travel blog.

The gist: It's a great ride, but probably not for the Disneyland-and-Wisconsin Dells crowd.

Monday, July 18, 2011

In bed with the enemy

Years ago I had a good friend and colleague, one quite a bit higher up the editorial ladder from my modest rung, who refused to attend social events involving politicians or public servants of any kind. As we went out the door to hoist one with a local alderman or cop, he'd shake his head and hang back.

"You don't socialize with the people you cover," he'd say when pressed.

Some of us thought he was being needlessly priggish, perhaps just covering for an innate shyness, an inability to relate to others outside the office. It's important, we journos told ourselves, to know our subjects fully, and to do so we need to experience their company in friendly and relaxed surroundings. We need to see them when they let their hair down.

On the other hand, every time I read about Washington journalists hanging out after hours with Capitol Hill pols and federal government functionaries, even to throwing huge parties for them, I've wondered about that wisdom. How honest and objective can a journalist be if he's drinking buddies with the people he's writing about? Can he throw a chum under the bus for the sake of truth and enlightenment if it should come to that?

Over the last few days, as revelation after revelation has burst in London of News Corporation writers and editors partying with Scotland Yard honchos and members of Parliament (even at their country houses) during the years in which a titanic phone hacking scandal struggled to emerge from a massive cover-up, I kept thinking of my old colleague.

Maybe he wasn't so shy and stiff-necked, after all. Maybe he was smarter than the rest of us. Surely he was prescient.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Off to the Agawa Canyon

Courtesy of the Algoma Central Ry. Click on the map for larger version.
In a few days I'm driving the 5 1/2 hours across the Upper Peninsula from Ontonagon to the Soo to ride a train -- the Agawa Canyon Tour Train of the Algoma Central Railway.

The train runs 114 winding miles northward from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., through the thickly forested Canadian Shield to Agawa Canyon, said to be one of the most spectacular rubbernecking sites in Ontario. It's an all-day trip, leaving at 8 a.m. and returning about 6 p.m. The train stops at the waterfall-bedecked canyon for 1 1/2 hours so that passengers can debark to hike and lollygag, then heads back to the Soo.

I'm making the trip wearing my field reporter's cap for, and will be an on-board guest of Canadian National Railways, owner of the Algoma Central.

Past reviews of the journey on have been all over the map. Some people hated it, some loved it, and many were indifferent. The two 2011 reviews so far posted on TripAdvisor, however, are four- and five-star, leading me to think that the winter refurbishment of the train has been a success. Many of the coaches have been replaced by rebuilt cars from the recently defunct Rio Grande Ski Train, which once carried skiers from Denver to Winter Park.

One of the new attractions of the train is a GPS-driven on-board narration (in five languages) of the tour that tells you exactly what you're seeing as you see it. Out of curiosity I asked the CN marketing people if they provided a printed script of the narration for the deaf and hearing-impaired -- and they do. They emailed me a link to the script for printing out, and I'll be carrying it on the train.

Full report to come.