Thursday, November 1, 2007

Travel, History, Recycling and Trains

There's value sometimes in travel.

It provides new eyes with which to look at things back at home. Things like fuel efficiency, recycling, and the sense that one-size-fits-all doesn't always work.

We were impressed in many parts of a tour from New Orleans in the South to Vermont in the North.

In the Washington D.C. Metro station, I saw a special recycling container for newspapers. Lots of folks use the metro to commute, and finish their papers during the ride. For those riders, there's a convenient place in the terminal to drop off the papers. It's a fine response to a need.

In New Orleans, we stayed in a house built in 1820, and there had not been a lot of changes to it. It was a classic, narrow New Orleans French Quarter home, built right against the sidewalk, but with a courtyard inside the property the road and servant's quarters in back.

The house had been built by a free woman of color. In those days, she lived up front on the road, and the servants lived in the rear quarters. Today, the owners live in back, and the rooms on the road have been converted into several quaint, small bed-and-breakfast units.

For those unaware, while low-lying parts of New Orleans are still rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina, the heart of the city's visitor industry was never flooded, and it's fully functioning. Bourbon Street was rollicking, you can ride ancient trolley cars along the waterfront, take a sternwheeler tour of the lower Mississippi, eat fine Cajun and Creole food, tour the “Cities of the Dead” (unique graveyards populated with above-ground graves), listen to superb jazz and walk by centuries of history. The National Park Service provides daily free historical walking tours of the area.

In Burlington, Vermont, we stayed in a three-story brick home dating to roughly the 1880s, which has been restored to a Victorian look and feel. It was on a road filled with classic older homes, with aged oaks and maples out on expansive lawns.

We visited Washington, D.C., and stayed with friends in a house just a couple of decades old and already suffering from its age, though it was located in a high-priced neighborhood.

Impressions: Homes built to last, can last. Our New Orleans abode had been providing shelter for nearly two centuries, and although its function had evolved with time, it stood proud, its aged timbers still carrying the load rather than rotting in some landfill.

In much of the American East we saw a respect for history and a veneration for its value. The West Virginia town of Berkeley Springs, also known as Bath, celebrates warm springs that have drawn visitors since 1750—among them George Washington.

On our tour, we saw folks putting out curbside recycling containers in many cities, towns and villages. Often, city trash cans were designated for different recyclables. And occasionally, they were specialized.

Recycling takes many forms.

In the Washington D.C. Metro station, there were special recycling containers for newspapers. Lots of folks use the metro to commute, and finish their papers during the ride. For those riders, there's a convenient place in the terminal to drop off the papers. It's a fine response to a need.

In Burlington, we wandered through a recycled building materials place, where you could find classic aged doors, delicate paned windows, old glass doorknobs and brass fixtures, claw-foot bathtubs and lots more.

In several communities, we found classic reading material in used book shops and treasures in antiques shops.

On this visit, we also rode the rails. We viewed the nation's eastern edge through spacious Amtrak windows, watching the fall colors flash by, slipping at night through small southern towns, seeing the rivers and bays north and south from the nation's capitol.
Passenger trains aren't always the most fuel-efficient way to get passengers from place to place, but rail as a class of transportation is a remarkable transportation resource and is far more fuel-efficient a way to move cargo than planes, trucks and in some instances even water.

And since a key factor in all transportation is load (Even an automobile is quite efficient if it's full, and quite inefficient when running with just a driver), it has been pleasing to see in recent news that Amtrak's passenger loads are rising.

© 2007 Jan W. TenBruggencate

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