« WSAU Opinion Blog

OPINION - Queer Amtrak, and other strange web sites

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Regular readers of my blog know of my love of train travel. I’ve written before about waste, theft and fraud on Amtrak, which I can’t stand. It gives ammunition to train-travel opponents, and sucks up money that could be used in other areas to make train travel better.

My topic today is wasteful jobs within the Amtrak bureaucracy. Mark Mastro, Saunya Connelly, and Lilianna Lopez need to be fired immediately. It’s not that they aren’t doing a good job. Their jobs are completely unnecessary. Actually, they’re insulting.

Amtrak announced earlier this week they are launching three new web sites: AmtrakRideWithPride.com , MyBlackJourney.com , and DescrubeNotreAmerica.com . These are microblogs trying to get gay, black, and Hispanic passengers to try train travel. Mastro, Connelly and Lopez are the editors and lead bloggers on these sites. This is silly. Wasteful. Condescending. Total bunk.

If a lesbian couple wants to travel from Chicago to San Francisco they’ll enjoy the same spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains as I will. If an African-American family picks the high-speed Acela Express from Washington to Boston, they can fit quite comfortably in the seats across the aisle from me. A Latino going from Albany to New York City will be captivated by the autumn views of the Hudson River valley the same way I am. To say that these special groups need special web sites to “help” them take the train is offensive.

Train travel is different – you see things you’d miss at 35,000 feet. You’ll want to know whether there’s an electrical outlet at your seat to plug in your electronics. (There is.)  Only an experienced rail traveler knows that the upper bunk bed in a Viewliner car has a window, while the “upper” in a Superliner doesn’t. There’s community seating in the dining car – if you’re not a party of four, you’ll share a table and enjoy your meal with strangers. You may not know to sit on the right side of the coach for to see the Hudson River, or on the left side to see Lake Pontchartrain into New Orleans. Are pets allowed? (No, unless they’re service dogs.)  Do you pay for carry-on bags? (No, this isn’t an airline.) What are the meals like? (OK, although it’s more like an Applebees than a five-star restaurant.) Why do some trains always run late? (Because on most routes, a freight railroad owns the track and is responsible for dispatching.) All of these “secrets” are explained in great detail on Amtrak’s regular web site, where people of all races, genders, and colors can make a reservation.

Or you can just ask. On my train trips I love talking to other people about why this way of traveling is neat. And if we strike up a conversation I don’t care if you’re gay, black or Hispanic. Maybe someone at Amtrak can explain to us why they think you need a special web site.

Chris Conley