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With a heavy heart, It's a big miss for me
on April 26, 2012
For a first time Amtrak traveler I'd give it 4 stars due to some practical information and the simple, easy to digest writing style of the author. But for those who have already traveled on the US rail system, they will likely experience a lot of 'been there, done that' passages. I also encountered a LOT of repetitive information--sometimes nearly identical advice offered just pages apart. Again, this may prove valuable to a total train newbie, but even when I tried to read it by selecting random chapters, skipping sections that didn't apply to me, I still encountered repeated topics such as what to pack, missing connections, etc. I think had Mr. Loomis offered bulleted points or merely utilized a bold typeset for the stuff he really wanted to emphasis for the novice, it might have made for a more succinct read or at least succeeded as a quick reference guide. (This is more of an editing issue than Loomis' gaff, but it sure would be helpful for future editions.)
As a train fan, if I want a lot of cool, in depth history on US trains--mechanical specs, freight lines, etc., I seek out a book specific to that topic. But this title is trying to be both a glossy history lesson AND a basic 'how to' guide; it's suffering from an identity conflict because there's not enough in-depth info for the fanatic. Yet writing it as a regular general interest book means it includes more dry topics than a nervous first timer would want. So it's difficult to parse the facts needed for embarking on actual modern day excursions, failing as a mere reference guide or practical train 'bible' but leaving the mini experts wanting more. Mix in the memoir aspects of Loomis' lifetime as a train lover, and you've got a lot of different categories of train books in one bloated title. Something for everyone leaves someone (me) feeling like no one cared to understand their target demographic.
Ultimately my greatest disappointment comes from the promise found on the cover (and my main motivation for purchasing this title) called "Best Routes, Lowest Fares". That looked mighty appealing!! But, except for learning one single 'inside' piece of info concerning what time of day to call Amtrak for last minute sleeper car fares, I'm STILL searching for any fare related savings beyond the common sense all budget-conscious travelers apply to ANY form of travel! Perhaps this is because tricks to low fares aren't really addressed in this book at all--save the 'advice' to book early, take advantage of senior/student discounts (ones impossible to miss on the Amtrak reservations website or even via a phone rep), and understand summer months are popular travel times thus sell out rapidly. Really, how shocking?!! I never knew! Geesh. So the mention of frequent travelers joining Amtrak's loyalty program for future perks makes me wonder if the author believes every train rider has been living under a rock their entire life. In 2012, no matter what your age, it's insulting to think folks don't know loyalty programs are good ideas, summer is the most popular travel season, and booking early is prudent. Nothing gleaned from that front cover teaser, unfortunately.
I'm a big planner, and this title does succeed in highlighting a lot of what you'll encounter on your long distance journey. However, there's some major rose colored glasses going on. Loomis fails to mention how entirely unique every train ride can be--and that includes the good, the bad, and the very very ugly. Take it from me. I adore riding the rails, but I wish Loomis had included a list of stuff you might encounter that you're hardly prepared for. It's not always a very good time, but just telling us to 'bring your own travel pillow' and enjoy the 'scenic ride' is not enough true insight into what the realities of public train travel (journeys much longer than domestic flights) really involve. I officially checked out when, on page 82, I read "The dining-car food is quite good". I am hardly a food snob, but folks, if you believe that, I suggest you hit a few train blogs and discover the real deal with US train travel....and save yourself the price of this book and the overtly rosy strokes with which it's painted. Online you'll read real stories from real passengers, understand the huge differences between coach and sleepers (a topic Loomis seems hesitant to address and only in PC terms), determine which routes are truly snooze fests, cringe when discovering how overworked attendants can radically affect your experience, and ultimately decide if trains are for you. And if you're an old timer and plain ole train enthusiast, I'd ask what this book offers you that you really didn't know before.