Saturday, August 29, 2015

People and Their States Project

On our recent day trip to Milford, PA I found myself absently playing the license plate game along 476. You know, the game where you try to see how many different state license plates you can find on a road trip. Parents since the beginning of license plate time have introduced the game to their kids as an answer to "Are We There Yet?". I can't help myself every time we hit the highway. Anyway, it was on that trip that I came up with idea to see how many different states we could find in the people we meet on our vacation.

To fully understand the challenge of this you need to know that on a scale of 1 to 10 - 10 being an "in your face: extrovert  and 1 being a "wants to blend into the wall whenever anyone comes into the room" introvert - I'm probably about a 4. I don't deal well with crowds or the noise that comes with them. Given the choice, I prefer to people watch rather than engage. I have almost no tolerance for small talk. So this idea was going to be interesting and definitely take me a bit outside my comfort zone.

The easiest part of this project would be the dining car on the train. Tables seat 4 and unless you are part of a party of 4 you will be matched up with the next people to come in the car. This is where we found PA and OR.

Tom is from Bristol Pennsylvania. He is an avid Phillies fan "all the way back to the Connie Mack Stadium days", he told us. To this day his - now adult - kids take him to the Phillies game celebrating Father's Day every year. He was on his way to Albuquerque to meet a friend and then the two of them were on to San Diego for a reunion with marine buddies from Viet Nam. He was riding coach on the Capitol Limited planning to switch to a sleeper on the next leg of his journey.

Tom and Ali

Ali is lately from Eugene Oregon. He was returning home from visiting his brother in Virginia. The brother just had hand surgery. Ali was visiting and helping. Ali is the second oldest of 10 children. He was born in Yemen. He worked for a US company affiliated with the Dept of Agriculture. When the work was done he came to the US with his boss. He is really proud have having met Bush Sr and thinks the US is awesome for helping his family and others out of war torn Yemen. It was difficult to understand everything Ali said through his accent. I tried not to ask him to repeat everything and he was patiently tolerant when I did ask.

The next day we had breakfast with Lee and Lana from Gettysburg PA. That makes 3 folks from PA but that happens sometimes. Lee and Lanna were on their way to a Viet Nam reunion as well. This one for Army vets in Austin. They hosted the reunion at their house last year. Lee worked for 31 years for the Cumberland Valley School District. This was their first long distance train trip and they were loving it a lot.

At the train station in Chicago we met a woman returning home to Seattle Washington. Now when I started the project (it feels disrespectful to the people to call it a game) I thought I would have to get names for the state to count. But it's hard to just ask people their name first and since it's my project I can bend the rules if I want. Our chat with this woman was cut short when they called for boarding our train to St. Louis. She had been in Chicago for a wedding and she rides the long distance trains a lot. I would have loved to talk to her more about her adventures but it was time to go too soon. I would have gotten her name if we had more time.

On Tuesday morning we met Jerry and Vivian from Iowa while at the complimentary breakfast at the Hampton Inn. Vivian was wearing a t shirt that said "Cardinals fan by marriage". That was my opener. I asked her who she would root for if she wasn't married to a Cardinals fan. She laughed and told us the story of the shirt. For Jerry's 60th birthday the family gathered in St Louis for a game and everyone wore a generation/relationship appropriate t-shirt similar to hers. Isn't that cool!? They did tell us that one of the brother in laws refused to admit to being a fan so his shirt simply said "Married to a Cardinals fan". There's always one in every family, right? Jerry told us he had a cousin in Haddonfield NJ (it doesn't count because I didn't actually meet the cousin) who is a 'live and die by the Eagles' fan. Jerry prefers the Packers. At least he didn't say Cowboys.

While on the tram ride down from the top of the Arch, Dave met Mary and her son John. Mary is from Massachusetts and John is from Illinois. No I did not go up in the Arch. Because of this ....

but I met them through marriage. For better or worse and your wife's silly stuff. So Massachusetts and Illinois count. :)

While waiting for the river boat ride we saw a guy with a baseball Giants jersey. Cool a chance to meet someone from California. Nope, he is from New Jersey but he likes Buster Posey. He was on a three stadium tour. He had come from Kansas City and would see a game in Cincinnati before he was done. While we were chatting with him about ballparks another man in line chimed in that he thought Fenway was the best park. He is from Massachusetts originally and now in Illinois. Both states we already had but it was fun chatting with him anyway. Giant guy took off after that. I thought about chasing him down to get his name but got the feeling he wouldn't like that. And just like with the woman in the train station -- I have rule bending privileges.

Magrette at the Forget Me Not B&B  is from North Carolina. Yes, she lives in Missouri now but I counted her as North Carolina because it was obvious she thought of herself as a southerner and only counting people once was a rule I decided could not be bent. Magrette's husband Chuck is from California so I counted him from there as well even though I had yet to get a Missouri person. It seemed fitting to count them both in the same manner. But I couldn't add Chuck to the list unless we actually met. He is an engineer who was gone to work early our first two morning. Fortunately he joined us on Saturday before we left. These two were quite the couple. By their own admission neither of them are morning people yet the operate a B&B which requires them to be up early.

Magrette, Chuck, Haley and Spike
Unfortunately for us we were in St. Louis after the main tourist season. So there were no other guests at the inn until Friday evening and they slept in on Saturday so we did not get to add any new states to the list from the B&B. I was sure that and the train would be our best sources.

While taking the Hannibal tour we were asked by a family from Kansas City, Missouri to take their photo. They noticed Dave's Cardinals hat said they were Royals fans and lived in Kansas City.

On Saturday morning we drove to the hotel near the airport where we would stay the last night before heading home on an early Sunday flight. We had hoped to simply store our bags there but we were able to check in despite it only being 9 am. On the way back down in the elevator we met a couple on their way home to Williamsburg,Virginia. We told them of our plans to visit there soon. They said we would like it.

So there you have it. 11 states in an 8 day trip. It was easier than I thought it would be. And hardly any small talk.

As I wrote this I decided the project should be a long term one. How long it will take to get all 50 states. I don't have to be on vacation or away from home to collect a state but I do have to earn it from meeting someone who I don't already know.

If you'd like to see more photos from the trip go here.

Keep smiling and keep moving

PS Other random tidbits from vacation

  1. The train was 40 minutes late in Cumberland MD but on time in Toledo Ohio. Must have picked up a lead foot engineer on the night shift.
  2. The Texas Limited (Chicago to St. Louis) took a detoured route due to rail construction. This meant no intermediate station stops but a whole lot of construction stops. A 5.5 hour ride became 7. Only downside to that was our arrival in St Louis involved a 180 degree turn around the Arch which would have been beautiful in the setting sun. Instead we saw it lit up by lightening!! Not a bad trade off. 
  3. Sign along the route from Chicago to St Louis - "Warning. Train Derails 1000 feet". Really? 
  4. The word REALTOR was mis-used on a plaque at the Ulysses S Grant NHS. Hazard of my job that I noticed. I chose not to say anything but I may write a friendly letter one of these days.
  5. I purchased a national parks passport book at the Jefferson Expansion Memorial (the Arch) and was able to pick up two cancellations on this trip. I came home to discover that August 25 was the 99th birthday of the National Park Service. So I now I have to see how many cancellations I can get in its 100th year! :) 


  1. VERY cool game - and fun to keep it going until you hit all 50. So if you start talking to someone and they're from a state you already have to you say 'sorry - can't chat'? Just wondering... =)

    #3 - let me off the train at 999 feet, please.
    #4 - you should definitely send them a kind note

  2. Ha Ha... no I just won't 'count' them. I'm having fun trying to find interesting ways to start conversations that are not small talk but won't scare people away either.