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Today's word on journalism

May 8, 2009

The Last WORD

The Fat Lady Sings, Off-Key, Drools

At about this time every year, like the swallows to Capistrano or the buzzards to Hinckley, Ohio, the WORD migrates to its summer musing grounds at the sanitarium —St. Mumbles Home for the Terminally Verbose.

The reason is clear, and never moreso than as this season —the WORD's 13th —peters out.

It's been a fraught year of high palaver and eye-popping transition, both good and not-so-much. An interminable presidential campaign saga finally did end, and in extraordinary and historic fashion. Meanwhile, the bottom and everything that's below the bottom fell out of the economy, with families, homes, entire industries and —of particular interest to WORDsters and the civic-minded —dozens of daily newspapers ("I don't so much mind that newspapers are dying--it's watching them commit suicide that pisses me off." --Molly Ivins). . . all evaporating. What replaces them, from the individual to the institutional to the societal? Are we looking at a future of in-depth Tweeting?

As any newsperson or firehorse knows, it's hard to turn your back on day-to-day catastrophe --we just have to look at the car wreck. But even the most deranged and driven need a rest. As philosopher Lilly Tomlin once observed, "No matter how cynical you become, it's never enough to keep up."

So this morning, as a near-frost hovered over northern Utah, the unmarked van pulled into the driveway and the gentle, soft-spoken men in the white coats rolled the WORD out of bed and into a straitjacket for the usual summer trip to St. Mumbles, where the blathering one will be assigned a hammock and fed soothing, healthy foods --like tapioca, dog biscuits and salmon --while recharging the essential muscles of cynicism, outrage, sarcasm, social engagement and high-mindedness, in preparation for the next edition.
Summer well, friends.

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Feedback and suggestions --printable and otherwise --always welcome. "There are no false opinions."

Getting there on Amtrak is half the fun

By Kandice Crompton

March 16, 2009 | If you're anything like me you've begun to think about summer. I started hearing the buzz about summer activities about three weeks ago.

The sun finally showed itself for the first time in what felts like weeks. The snow started sliding off the roof of the TSC and the slush on the side of the road turned an ugly brown. While plans for spring break were already established, ideas summer activities were just starting to bloom. I would like to take this column to suggest a unique and incredibly fun experience that I think many people miss out on. Who knows, maybe it can be incorporated in your summer break plans.

The Amtrak train has six stations in Utah, and is best for travel if you're heading toward California or Chicago. From California the train goes north or south, and from Chicago you can explore the East Coast. Riding the train opens you to people and places you would never have known existed.

In December 2007, I was moving home to Utah from Washington, D.C. My roommate, who was moving home to Colorado, decided that instead of flying home we would like to try riding Amtrak. I will forever consider it one of the most interesting experiences of my life.

On the two-day ride home I met a 60-year-old man who bought me dinner in the dining car. We made friends with the snack-car attendant, who later crept into the dining car to sneak us some ice cream. My roommate made friends with an old man who e-mailed her weekly for two months after getting home. I slept comfortably in a seat one night, and under that same seat the next. I didn't shower for 55 hours. Through Colorado an old conductor regaled us with stories about the area from the scenic car. All in all, it was a successful trip.

I can understand why people these days don't ride trains. While trains were the quickest way to get from point A to point B in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the airplane replaced it quickly when commercial airlines started. To fly from Salt Lake City to Washington, D.C., takes six hours and costs $182.80, while riding the train takes 55 hours, and will cost you $10.20 more (based on fares from and leaving on June 1). But honestly, who cares about an extra $10.20 when you get the opportunity to see a parts of America that people often pass by.

Riding the train offers more than just an adventure. In a time of rocketing airline ticket prices, Amtrak's rate have not increased since at least 2007, when I paid exactly $193 for my ticket. Airlines are not only charging more for tickets but have imposed drastic baggage restrictions. Many airlines now charge you to check even one bag. Not Amtrak. Amtrak's baggage policy allows each passenger to carry on two items, and check three more at no extra charge. One top of that, you can check three more bags for only $10 each! This is a great thing for students like myself who are trying to move across the country, and don't want to buy all new things once they reach their destination.

If you have a few extra days, consider riding a train across the country. The scenery is beautiful, the people are friendly, and train food is much better than airplane food! When it comes to your destination, getting there is half the fun.

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