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  • I had a few errands to run, so I put Olivia the Shihtzu's leash on her and let her tag along. She loves to ride in the car, and behaves very well, although I have to remember to lock out the power windows as she tends to open windows unintentionally. She was a very good girl this morning, so I decided to take her out to Detweiller Park here in Peoria, stopping by Starbucks to pick up a grande dark roast for myself. Olivia doesn't drink coffee.

    Detweiller Park is named in honor of Captain Detweiller, a riverboat captain and entrepreneur who made a considerable fortune back in the 1800's and was a great appreciator of nature. He purchased the land and deeded it to Peoria, with the specification it be used for a recreational park all the residents of Peoria could enjoy. These days it is primarily used for sports and hiking, with lots of fields for soccer and baseball, and plenty of trails through the forest on the hillside. But there are plenty of picnic areas as well, and even some campgrounds for church and family groups to hold gatherings. The park is beautifully maintained, and even on the hottest days there is usually a cool breeze due to it's proximity to the Illinois river, which lies across the road and past the railroad tracks.

    Olivia and I arrived and found a shady spot after a mandatory sniffing mission to check out the surroundings and mark her scent to let the other dogs know she was there. I had my journal with me, and was about to jot down a few notes when I heard the train coming down the tracks. As I looked across the road and between the trees, I spotted what appeared to be a long line of coal cars traveling south along the rails. Freight trains are common here in Central Illinois. Unfortunately, passenger trains are not.

    Back in the 1940's and 50's, passenger trains were a common sight in Peoria. But then came the passenger car, and with gasoline as cheap as it was back then (less than 25¢ a gallon), and the automobile itself becoming affordable to the common man, ridership decreased to the point that the passenger trains ceased coming to Peoria.

    Now you'd think with the recent increases in gasoline prices, coupled with the horrendous costs of parking a car in Chicago (the most common destination for downstate passengers from the Peoria area), there would be a revival in demand for passenger rail. Sadly, this is not the case. I guess we are all too independent to want to use public transportation these days. A recent study showed the ridership on trains in general is declining.

    It's too bad, in my opinion. I certainly would use the service for my brief and infrequent visits to Chicago. I would welcome any alternative to the traffic and the ridiculous cost of parking a car there (up to $25.00 an hour). But I would also like to travel by train more often because I like riding trains.

    When I was single and stationed in San Diego, California with the Navy, I would take the train to Los Angeles to visit my folks for the weekend. My father worked for L.A. County at the time, so I would let him know I was coming, and walk from the station to his office, where we would grab a drink and a quick sandwich and head home to Montclair, near Pomona. My brother and his family would usually come up when I was in town, and we would spend the weekend at my folk's house, playing pinochle, swimming, or taking rides in the mountains. It was a pleasant way of spending time with the family. Since my brother lived in Bell, he would drop me off on Sunday afternoon at the station, and I would catch the late train back to San Diego. I usually arrived early Monday morning, with plenty of time to catch a cab back to the ship, grab a shower and breakfast, and report on time to my job. Since I slept on the train, the conductors would make sure I was up in time to get back to base.

    There is something relaxing and pleasant about riding a train. I'm not sure if its the sound of the wheels on the rails (that rhythmic clickety clack is pleasant on the ears), or if its the ability to actually watch the scenery instead of having to concentrate on the road. Maybe it's the pleasant way the conductors chat with the riders. Or maybe its the opportunity to chat with someone new.

    I rarely took a magazine or some other form of distraction with me when I rode. There were no cell phones or laptop computers or I-Pads, so the only other form of entertainment was a pleasant conversation. And that was a wonderful way of spending the few hours while traveling. Getting to meet new people, finding out where they were going and what was in store when they got there. People, in general, are far more interesting than computers.

    Sometimes I would flirt with an eligible looking young lady (I was a single sailor at the time), or talk to a couple other sailors who were headed to L.A. for the day. Some folks were tourists, and there were always a few business commuters as well. But the conversations were always pleasant, and usually interesting. I spoke with newlyweds returning from their honeymoon, a couple of Women's PGA golfers heading to a tournament, and a few aspiring actresses who were meeting with agents. I remember one Latino businessman who was heading to Los Angeles to expand his San Diego produce markets with a supply deal for the Central Market. He was very interesting and spoke perfect English, which was a blessing since my Spanish leaves a lot to be desired.

    One of my most memorable conversations was with a group of five nuns who were touring the Missions of California. They were fascinating ladies, most of the older, who like me had been throughout the Pacific Rim with various Catholic churches and hospitals (they were all nurses as well), and we talked the entire trip about Japan and Singapore and the Philippines. They even forgave me for not being Catholic. When we arrived in Los Angeles, I invited them to coffee at a cafe in the station and we talked for another hour until their transportation arrived. I walked them out to the curb, waved goodbye, and headed to my dad's office. On the ride home, I told my dad all about the encounter, and he actually said he would have liked to have been there.

    Well, I could go on about the encounters, but that's the point, isn't it? I have memories from my time on trains most people of the modern era in America will never have. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend a trip by train. You may make a few memories of your own.

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