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Chicagoland MG Club: Driveline
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  Chicagoland MG Club:Driveline
Amtrak Road Trip 2008
February 25th - 27th

We alternate between going to the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit in even years and other Amtrak-accessible venues like the Studebaker National Museum, the Ford Museum, the National Corvette Museum and St. Louis for transportation history in odd years. This year it was again the Auto Show in Detroit. Eleven of us met in the bar-behind-the-bar in Union Station in Chicago on the last Friday afternoon in January. After getting a sandwich to tide us over until the snacks started to flow on the train, we gathered in the lower Amtrak departure lounge. A few of in the group (names withheld to protect the guilty) were old enough to get pre-boarding and were able to hold seats for everyone else in our group. Bill and Debby Mennell, John and Ann Schroeder, Bob Simon, Don Zbylut, Mary Hanson, Larry Daniels, Jim Renkar and we got to sit together, thus greatly simplifying trading treats. The train left within a minute of the scheduled time, so the experienced Amtrak travelers knew there was a price to be paid somewhere for the convenience. As we went through successive courses of shrimp cocktail, cheese, cookies, and appropriate beverages, we got closer to Dearborn without any delays. The tension built, because Amtrak always exacts a price for performance. Getting from the Dearborn terminal to the Greenfield Inn was trouble-free, partly because we had a taxi company’s business card from the last trip there two years ago and because we had phoned during the day to tell the taxi company to expect us. Greenfield Inn supplies shuttle service only between 7 A.M. and 10 P.M., and our midnight arrival meant we were on our own to get to the hotel.
As both the bar and restaurant were closed by the time we got to the Greenfield Inn, we went straight to our rooms to get ready for the big day on Saturday. We had a very satisfying breakfast and got to Cobo Hall by 10 A.M. Fortunately, we came in a door that was marked with one of the yellow Corvettes that run in the American Le Mans series, and we made this our rendezvous point for later in the day. Needless to say, one day is not enough to see the whole show with due diligence, but part of the reason is that most of us simply were over-awed by the spectacular displays. Some of us spent time sitting behind the steering wheels (permitted in all but a few types) or staring at the remarkable cut-away engines of 4 in-line, V6, V8, V10, V12, hybrid, Mazda rotary and most everything else, including a Buick push-rod V8. There were no Porsche anything (write to the company to find out why), so the nearest cut-away to a Boxster was a Subaru flat-6. Most remarkable was the BMW V8 cut-away in which the entire block had been removed leaving only the rotating parts.
The concept cars are the big draw at the NAIAS. All major manufacturers and many smaller outfits had concept cars. They ranged from a track-ready Mazda street car, a Ford Verve (does this replace the Focus?) and an Acura American Le Mans prototype car. There were many electric concept car displays that showed an extension cord plugged into a regular 110 volt house receptacle, and it would be interesting to see the calculations on how far a car could go on an overnight charge. Overnight is how long our charger takes to recharge one battery, which might crank a car a hundred yards before the starting motor melts. There was a nice display of a device named “Phil” that seemed to be able to compress natural gas from a home supply into a tank in the car. And several of the major European manufactures (Mercedes, Audi, Volkswagen) showed technology to rid Diesel exhausts of nitrogen oxides by reaction with ammonia to give nitrogen (part of the air we breathe) and water.
A few of us managed to get in some pool time on Saturday and everyone met for early cocktails in the bar and prepared to relax into a fantastic late Sunday brunch the next day. That is when John Schroeder’s cell phone brought a call from Amtrak announcing their revenge for the perfect trip to Dearborn on Friday: they told us that our Sunday noon-time train had been cancelled, leaving us with several bad second choices. Everyone opted for the 7:45 A.M. train on Sunday, which scrapped the luxurious Sunday morning we had all planned, as a better alternative to an Amtrak bus (there were rumors of being stranded in Kalamazoo forever) or the train that would arrive in Chicago at 10:30 P.M., if on time, and if not, effectively condemning many of us to forego a trip home Sunday evening and temporarily reducing us to homeless status because the Metra trains did not run that late. While we had dinner in the Greenfield Inn we explained our situation to the waitress, who promised to let us in early so we could get a better breakfast than that afforded by Amtrak the next day.

Once again, we got to where we wanted to go, had a fantastic time, and got back home on schedule, more or less. And as the Amtrak poster advertising the St. Louis Mardi Gras in Union Station says, “Getting there is half the fun”. Getting back is fun, too.

Jake and Ann Snyder

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