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The @Amtrak California Zephyr: What an experience!

June 11, 2018 1 comment
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The Amtrak train station in Emeryville, California.

Peaceful. Relaxing. Quiet. Scenic. Breathtaking. Comfortable. Spectacular! These are all words that come to mind when I recall my first-ever Amtrak ride on the California Zephyr recently.

I’ve done some pretty cool things in my life. But none of them quite compare with the experience I had from May 29 to June 6, 2018, when I spent six days (three days straight each way) in coach seating on the Amtrak California Zephyr Superliner from Chicago, Illinois to Emeryville, California and back. It’s one of the longest and most scenic train rides in America.

Westbound it’s the #5 train, eastbound it’s the #6 train. The service operates daily.

On May 15, 2018 I published a blog that summarized my research into riding on Amtrak. Here’s a link to that blog post: https://aroundindy.wordpress.com/2018/05/15/tips-for-long-distance-travel-on-amtrak/. You know what? The advice I gave in that blog post turned out to be pretty accurate, so it’s still good reading if there is a long-distance Amtrak trip in your future.

Here are my thoughts after spending six days and 122 hours through eight states covering more than 5,200 miles:

    1. I was impressed with how smooth and quiet the ride is. The Superliner train is definitely a cut above the regular trains on the short-distance routes. When quiet hours were in effect from 10 pm to 7 am each night, it was so quiet that it almost felt like I was floating.
    2. The train doesn’t go very fast for much of the journey. Some sections of the tracks have mandatory speed limits that the train must observe, and in the Rocky Mountains I’d guess the train was only doing 20-30 mph a lot of the time as it snaked its way through the curves, canyons, and valleys. I think overall we averaged around 50 mph.
    3. I didn’t have any trouble sleeping at all. There’s a certain point where I simply “hit the wall” and just dozed off, waking up hours later in a different state. Sleep mask? Didn’t need it.
    4. On the other hand, I consider a travel blanket and travel pillow to be MANDATORY items for a train trip, especially in coach where I was. Let me tell ya: it’s C-O-L-D on the train. But after I thought about it, I’ve decided that this is intentional. I don’t think it would be a good idea to have a bunch of hot and sweaty passengers in a confined space for three days. So I think Amtrak keeps the temperature low on purpose. I wore a t-shirt, hoodie, and jeans, and I was comfortable with my travel blanket and pillow.
    5. Westbound we left Chicago five minutes after scheduled departure at 2:05 pm on May 29 and arrived in Emeryville three days later at 4:18 pm on May 31 — just 8 minutes after the 4:10 pm ETA.
    6. Eastbound we left Emeryville at 9:10 am on June 4 and arrived in Chicago three days later at 4:14 pm on June 6 — this time 84 minutes after its 2:50 pm ETA, but still in time to catch my ride on the Hoosier State #850 train to Indianapolis at 5:45 pm.
    7. Clearly Day #2 of the 3-day trip each way is the best. Amtrak plans it that way. That’s when the Zephyr travels through the Rocky Mountains during daylight hours between Denver and Glenwood Springs, Colorado. The views are simply spectacular (see photos herein). And here’s a YouTube video I shot traveling through the Rocky Mountains: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKYOw8VWMOg
  1. I was really glad I took a 6-foot extension cord. There are two power outlets in each row of seats. I was assigned an aisle seat from Chicago to Denver westbound. Having the extension cord enabled me to keep my smartphone, laptop, and camera batteries charged without disturbing the passenger in the window seat. And although I had the window seat eastbound, I had passengers in the aisle seat from Sacramento to Salt Lake City, and then from Osceola, Iowa to Chicago. I plugged in the extension cord and shared it with those passengers, and they were very appreciative!
  2. I took raisins, peanuts, chocolate, and Little Debbie snacks in my carry-on bags. I supplemented my snacks with these microwaved items from the snack bar in the Lounge Car: Buffalo Chicken Tenders, Angus Beef Cheeseburger, Hot Dog, Jimmy Dean Sausage and Egg Biscuit, plus Lay’s potato chips and some orange juice. I only spent $36.50 on food in total over the six days (east and west bound), plus $10 in gratuities to the snack bar attendants, and $30 in gratuities to my coach car attendants. Hence, total cost for round trip on the Zephyr: $350, or about $0.06 cents per mile! 
  3. Your ticket cost will vary depending upon when you make your reservations, what type of accommodations you choose (coach v. sleeper), what meals and food you choose in the Lounge Car or Dining Car (sit down dinners were $18 to $39), and any discounts for which you may be eligible (I qualified for the senior discount). For these reasons, it’s impossible to tell you exactly what it will cost you. Just visit amtrak.com to evaluate your fare choices.
  4. The hot dogs were the most popular item in the snack bar. They ran out of hot dogs both westbound and eastbound.
  5. There was plenty of room for all my gear in the coach section. I put a suitcase and two carry-on bags in the overhead rack above my seat with no problem, plus my big suitcase went into the luggage rack just inside the door of the train on the lower level of the coach car. I had full access to my big suitcase whenever I needed a change of clothing or other items.
  6. I shot GoPro video, shot still photos with a small Canon point-and-shoot, and shot high-quality photos with a Canon digital SLR camera. I had audio, video, and camera gear spread all over my lap and seat and on the floor, and there was still plenty of leg room without annoying the passengers in the adjoining seat. Coach seating is very comfortable on the California Zephyr!
  7. There were no passengers in the adjoining seat from Denver to Emeryville westbound, and from Salt Lake City to Osceola, Iowa eastbound. The extra space was very nice indeed! But certainly there is no guarantee of this.
  8. The restrooms are not roomy, but they were clean and functional throughout my trip. Coach passengers do not have access to a shower. The lounge restroom in each coach car is large enough to accommodate a suitcase when you want to get a change of clothing and clean up. The tap water in the restrooms is drinkable, which I used to fill my water bottle. But there is also cold tap water with small paper cups available in each coach car.
  9. I’m glad I took a small roll of duct tape. I broke the cover on my video lighting unit, but was able to repair it with a little bit of duct tape.
  10. I must confess that I was really nervous about safety and security prior to my trip. I didn’t want to be robbed, and I didn’t want any of my digital gear stolen. Turns out that I was needlessly worried about this. I kept an eye on my stuff, of course, but I was pleased that there were Amtrak police in the stations, plainclothes officers riding in the train, and crew members constantly moving through the aisles. I felt safe throughout the trip (although I was panhandled in the Great Hall at Chicago’s Union Station).
  11. There were delays: A Union Pacific freight train held us up for 45 minutes in Denver (freight trains have priority over Amtrak), there was a medical emergency on the eastbound Zephyr that required paramedics to evacuate the affected passenger from the train, and there was a passenger situation at one of our stops in Illinois that required police intervention. But when a train travels nearly 2,500 miles in three days and comes in just 8 minutes late, I consider that a win!
  12. Don’t get off the train unless it is your stop! A man and his little son got off the train at a stop in Iowa, and the train started rolling without them. Fortunately, the attendant in the last coach car saw them running across the platform and was able to get the engineer to stop the train. Then we got a stern warning over the P.A. to stay on the train.
  13. I took way too much stuff: clothing, snacks, camera and digital gear, toiletries and travel items, etc. I could have gotten everything I needed into one big suitcase and left the other three at home.

SUMMARY: I’m now in love with the Amtrak California Zephyr. The “romance of the rails” is real and I understand why so many people prefer this method of travel. I’d do it again in a minute because (1) the price was right, (2) the scenery in the mountains was nothing short of bucket-list spectacular, (3) there are no long TSA lines or excessive baggage fees compared to the airlines, and (4) the experience is unforgettable and enjoyable.

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Valentine’s Day Celebration at the Indianapolis City Market, Feb. 14, 2018 @indycm

January 25, 2018 1 comment
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Indianapolis City Market in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana.
AroundIndy.com staff photo, (c) 2013, all rights reserved.

By Joe Perin
Indianapolis City Market

Married couples are invited to start their Valentine’s Day celebrations with an opportunity to renew the vows they took when first married by attending the Indianapolis City Market‘s “Sharing the Love” celebration.

The event is open to the public and will include a wedding vow renewal ceremony officiated by Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett. There will also be live music, cake and punch, a photo station, a card writing station, and special coupon offerings to participating City Market merchants.

The event will be held on Valentine’s Day, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2018. Those participating should arrive around 10:30 a.m. The wedding vow renewal ceremony will begin at 11:00 a.m., and couples will be welcome to remain after the ceremony. Cake for the event will be provided by City Market merchant Circle City Sweets.

WHAT: Sharing the Love – Valentine’s Day Celebration & Wedding Vow Renewal Ceremony

WHEN: Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2018, 10:30 a.m. – 12 p.m.

WHERE: The Indianapolis City Market – North Mezzanine

INFO: http://www.indycm.com or 317-634-9266

Wheelchair Accessibility Info
Enter the City Market from the East Side of the building. The East Entrance has door opening assistance and is distinguished by double doors. An elevator to the Mezzanine is located on the first floor at the north side of the building after passing through the breezeway as you approach the Platform.

ABOUT INDIANAPOLIS CITY MARKET
Indianapolis City Market (ICM) feeds the community and its guests by offering distinct foods, products, and services, in an environment that preserves and perpetuated central Indiana’s agricultural, architectural, and cultural history. ICM was on the original Plat of the City design by Alexander Ralston in 1821. ICM’s main Market House celebrated its 130th birthday in November 2016. Indianapolis City Market Corporation, a nonprofit organization, is governed by a 13-member board of directors appointed by the Mayor of Indianapolis and the City-County Council.

Kubota Donates Tractor to Brandywine Creek Farms @BCFIndiana

November 16, 2017 1 comment

By Bob Burchfield, Editor
AroundIndy.com, LLC

This morning I was at Brandywine Creek Farms north of Greenfield, Indiana, for a very special event involving Jonathan Lawler (Executive Director at the farm) and Amanda Mattix Lawler (Director of Volunteer Outreach).

Kubota Tractor Corporation presented Jonathan and Amanda with a donated Kubota L3301 tractor and a Land Pride implement in a special recognition ceremony for their dedication to growing and donating fresh produce to feed the less fortunate in our community.

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The 58-acre Brandywine Creek Farms donates the food it produces to local food pantries, including Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana Inc., Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen, Flanner House of Indianapolis, and other such organizations.

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The tractor was donated as part of the Kubota Cares program, dedicated to powering and empowering those who move the earth.

There were several guests present from the Board of Directors of Brandywine Creek Farms, Kubota Tractor Corporation, McCallister, and local media, including:

  • Steven Payn
    Director, Northern Division Manager, Kubota Tractor Corporation
  • Jeremy Cook
    District Sales Manager, Kubota Tractor Corporation
  • Jon Brookbank
    Regional Sales Manager, Kubota Tractor Corporation
  • Drue Gray
    Parts Merchandising and Training Manager, Kubota Tractor Corporation
  • Tim Kinslow
    McCallister
  • Gabe Nix
    Board of Directors, Brandywine Creek Farms

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And I also found that Jonathan and I have a mutual acquaintance in Brandon Cosby! Small world!

Congratulations to Jonathan and Amanda on a most deserving award!

Downtown Indy Events on Martin Luther King Day 2017 @IndyDT

January 15, 2017 Leave a comment

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By Jennifer Hanson
Downtown Indy, Inc.

Celebrate the birth of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by taking advantage of special offerings in Downtown Indy. FREE admission to Downtown’s top attractions, volunteer opportunities and more help make this year’s tribute to the iconic civil rights leader a fun, meaningful one for the family. To view all these events online, visit: www.downtownindy.org/event-coll…/…/martin-luther-king-jr-day.

Indianapolis Museum of Art
FREE admission with donation on Sunday, Jan. 15 from 1 – 4 p.m.
Spend the afternoon at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and reflect on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Hear Indy poets, singers and artists speak of love. Practice mindfulness, relieve anxiety through a large group meditation, and engage with others through activities and random acts of kindness. Donations can include non-perishable food items, toiletries and school supplies for the MLK Community Center.

White River State Park
Receive FREE admission Monday, Jan. 16 with a donation of one non-perishable food item per person, per attraction for Gleaner’s Food Bank. The Park is also offering complimentary parking. Visitors may park in the underground garage located off Washington Street in front of the Indiana State Museum, in the surface parking lots at the Indianapolis Zoo and Victory Field and in the surface parking lot across from Victory Field next to the Park’s Visitor’s Center.

Eiteljorg Museum
Enjoy the museum’s holiday exhibit, Jingle Rails: The Great Western Adventure and Titan of the West: The Adams Collection of Western and Native America Art. Be sure to check out the lunch specials at the Eiteljorg Museum Cafe.

Indiana State Museum
Films, activities and performance art fill the museum in celebration of the life of the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Indiana First Robotics Team from Southport High School will make a special appearance. The museum in its entirety is open to the public, and engages visitors in unique and meaningful ways that reflect the vision of MLK, Jr. Stay for lunch – the Farmer’s Market Café will be open.

Eskenazi Health and the Indianapolis Indians will offer free health screenings at the Indiana State Museum. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., nurses will also be available to discuss the importance of primary and preventive care. Anyone who participates in the health screenings will receive a complimentary ticket to Opening Night at Victory Field on April 6 courtesy of the Indianapolis Indians. Plus, Rowdie, the Indians mascot, will stop by for autographs between 11 a.m. and noon.

Indianapolis Zoo
Walk the grounds and see animals, especially the ones that love the cooler temperatures. Favorite activities will include petting sharks, looking eye-to-eye with orangutans and gazing at dolphins (12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.)

NCAA Hall of Champions
Get your workout in at the NCAA Hall of Champions where current and former student athletes lead classes. Guests can participate in a scavenger hunt and register for hourly raffle prizes. At 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., watch the film “Game of Change,” involving the 1963 NCAA men’s basketball tournament regional semifinal. Mississippi State, an all-white team, sneaks out of town in the middle of the night despite protests from the governor and state police of Mississippi to play a Loyola team that features four black starters.

IMAX Theatre
Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience, narrated by Brad Pitt, the film is a one-of-a-kind celebration of life and the grand history of the cosmos, transporting audiences into a vast yet up close and personal journey that spans the eons from Big Bang to the dinosaur age to our present human world. Shown for free as space permits at 10 a.m., 11:15 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 1:45 p.m. and 3 p.m. Make sure to get your IMAX tickets early that morning as there is limited seating capacity and tickets are typically gone before noon.

Indiana Historical Society
FREE admission on Monday, Jan. 16 from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Head to Indiana Historical Society for performances, programs and service opportunities, as well as free admission to the award winning Indiana Experience. Watch a short play featuring Hoosier reactions to Robert F. Kennedy’s speech in Indianapolis the night Dr. King was assassinated. The theater will also be home to a special performance by the Griot Drum Ensemble at 1:30 and 4 p.m. This presentation will treat visitors to African folktales accompanied by traditional instruments. guests can fill in a dream cloud with words or pictures featuring their own hopes for the future. The IHS traveling exhibition Who is a Hoosier? will also be on display.

Guests are invited to help pack care packages to benefit HealthNet Homeless Initiative Program, with items provided by Target and the Gentle Dentist. HealthNet will also be collecting new or gently used cold-weather items – hats, gloves, socks, coats and hand warmers – for its Homeless Initiative Program in honor of Jill Buck and two of her children who were killed in a crash in 2015.

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
FREE admission on Monday, Jan. 16 from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
At The Children’s Museum enjoy activities, storytelling by Portia Jackson about courageous children from the Civil Rights Movement (11:30 a.m., 12:30 & 1:30 p.m.) and performances by The Griot Drum Ensemble (10:30 & 11:45 a.m.) and the Freetown Village Singing Troupe (1 p.m.)

Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra
Music of the Earth Festival
FREE performance, Monday, Jan. 16, noon at Eskenazi Hospital
Seven Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra musicians, led by violinists Sherry Hong and Charles Morey, will take listeners on a poetic journey through an intimate performance of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. The performance takes place at the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Hospital: Eli Lilly and Company Foundation Concourse.

Day of Service at IUPUI
Monday, Jan. 16 from 8 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Hundreds of students, faculty and guests will volunteer at various sites around Indianapolis for the IUPUI Day of Service – a tribute to Dr. King’s commitment to service and social justice. Participants meet at the IUPUI Campus Center.

Landmark for Peace Memorial
Of course, if you are headed to Downtown Indy, stop by Martin Luther King Park (1702 Broadway St.), the site where Robert Kennedy gave his memorable speech the night King was assassinated in 1968. The park is home to the Landmark for Peace memorial sculpture, designed and executed by Indiana artist Greg Perry. The sculpture – showcasing King and Kennedy reaching out to each other – honors the contributions of both leaders.

http://blog.downtownindy.org/family-friendly-events-for-ml…/

Pop Indy Shop in Greenfield, Indiana: Throwback to Another Era

January 6, 2017 Leave a comment
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Pop Indy Soda Pop and Candy Shop in Greenfield, Indiana.
AroundIndy.com staff photo, (c) 2017, all rights reserved.

By Bob Burchfield, Editor
AroundIndy.com, LLC

Are you tired of the ordinary, the mundane, the routine? Have I got an answer for you!

It’s the Pop Indy Soda Pop and Candy Shop in Greenfield, Indiana (Pop INdy), across the street from Riley Park on East Main Street.

You want to take a trip down memory lane? Want to relive your childhood? Want to stir memories that haven’t come to mind in years? Then THIS is an absolute must-visit!

I can’t tell if the intoxicating aromas are from the popcorn, the candy, the ice cream, or the sodas–or a combination of all of the above. But I can tell you this: the smells alone are worth a trip to Greenfield. Beyond that, the color and strong visual appeal of this tiny shop is eye-catching and stimulating. It’s immediately enthralling and even somewhat enchanting!

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Just a few of the many varieties of soda at Pop Indy Shop.

There are dozens upon dozens of sodas in this shop that you’ve never heard, and a dozen more that you’ve forgotten about with the passage of time, like Choc-Ola, Grapefruit Kiss, even Dad’s Old-Fashioned Root Beer (there are at least a dozen different brands of root beer alone!).

With flavors like Kickapoo Joy Juice, Capt’n Eli’s Black Cherry Pop, Chocolate Raspberry Truffle soda, Frostie Cherry Limeade Soda, Italian Cherry Soda, and on and on and on, you will easily be able to spend an hour in a shop that is not much bigger than your living room!

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White Chocolate Raspberry Milk Shake at Pop Indy Shop.

There’s delicious ice cream concoctions, like the White Chocolate Raspberry milk shake pictured here, as well as dime candy, candy sticks, popcorn, and lots of other interesting and tasty treats.

And if you need to watch your P’s and Q’s like me, good news: I brought home a delicious bottle of Virgil’s Zero Black Cherry Cream Soda with zero calories, fat, carbs, sugar, and protein. There’s a whole section of diet and sugar free items.

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Shelaine Gilmer, owner and proprietor.

Owner and proprietor Shelaine Gilmer has put together a combination of the old corner grocery store and drugstore counter in a delightful little store that will leave you with a smile on your face and a soft spot in your heart. You’ll want to return often, for sure.

Pop Indy Soda Pop and Candy Shop is located in Riley Park Plaza, on the NE corner of East Main and Apple Streets, across the street from Riley Park (one block south of The Mug and just down the street from the Hancock County Fairgrounds. The address is 1004 East Main Street (see photo below). It’s open Tue-Sat, 10 AM to 6 PM.

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The shop is on Facebook at facebook.com/popindygreenfield, and on Instagram at @popindyshoppe. For more information, call 317-586-8277.

Check it out. You’ll be glad you did. And tell Shelaine I sent you.