#CCCCO First Leg: Boston and Chicago to Cincinnati

#CCCCO First Leg: Boston and Chicago to Cincinnati

Chronicling the first leg of the 2023 Cross Country Craft Chocolate Odyssey #CCCCO – Boston and Chicago to Cincinnati.

Dateline — Boston, Massachusetts. Monday, April 3rd. The Cross Country Craft Chocolate Odyssey begins in earnest ...

Twenty-seven minutes to train time. This is where it gets really real. Until now, it’s all been theoretical. I could not board train #449 to Chicago and instead board a train ten minutes later back to NYC. I have a USA Rail Pass and the app on my phone. It would only take a minute or three to make the necessary reservation and cancellations.

Not that I am seriously considering not getting on the train to Chicago. But I could. I am interrupted in this reverie by a Red Cap asking me if I want help pre-boarding the train; I have more luggage than I am truly comfortable with. One large rolling bag that I fear is overweight, two small backpacks, and an insulated tote with food and snacks for the journey.

I accept, my bags are loaded on the trolley, and as I follow the red cap I realize that I am fully committed: I am actually going through with leaving the east coast, the part of the US I have called home since 1980.

Amtrak Part 1

Amtrak’s train #449 is the Lake Shore Limited. 22 stops between Boston and Chicago over the course of 21 hours, give or take. There is an extended stop in Albany where train $49 from NYC merges (going west, decouples heading east) with this one. The route reportedly takes us along the Erie Canal but at this time of year it will be dark before I can get a glimpse of the storied waterway.

I am the first aboard my car, a so-called Superliner. I choose a seat where it will be easy to keep an eye on my bags and away from the restrooms to avoid the noise of the doors clanging open and shut as much as possible.

Superliners are the style of cars that ply the rails in the eastern US. Superliners are single-deckers, and while there are are sleeping and business class cars, my rail pass does not buy me those amenities and the upgrade charges are steep. And while there is a café car, there is no dining car. While the windows are large and the seats are spacious and more comfortable than any economy+ airplane seat, I am going to be confined to this tube for about seven times longer than a flight from Logan to O’Hare.

Boredom is not an issue on this leg. I have downloaded most of a season of a video series to watch and I have several new books (on my phone) to read. Given the fact that I was going to be on a train for many hours I had also planned to get some solid writing time in. That goal proved elusive. The one thing I wish I would have arranged for was a pair of noise-canceling earbuds as it turned out that ambient noise is what kept jarring me awake during the night. The seat next to me was empty the entire way so I was able to stretch out and get quasi-comfortable. According to my Fitbit, REM sleep eluded me.


One of the aspects of traveling by rail that I had not thought through completely was layovers and the last time I had spent any time in Chicago was probably 2014 for a short-lived chocolate festival. (At the 2013 edition I sold Dylan Butterbaugh his first continuous tempering machine.)

There are seven hours between the arrival of the Lake Shore Limited into Chicago and the departure of the Cardinal to Cincinnati. In my mind the seven hours would give me time to visit at least one chocolate store – as long as I was going to be able to check two of my bags. This turned out to be the case and after paying the $10/bag fee at the Amtrak parcel check I struck out to find coffee before heading to Old Town to visit Cocoa + C0, which according to online reviews carried the largest selection of craft chocolate brands and had the benefit of making some of the best hot chocolate to be had, not just in Chicago but in the entire country according to Food Network.

Cocoa + Co. | Gourmet Chocolate Café and Coffee Bar | Old Town Chicago
Cocoa + Co. Café and Coffee Shop, located in Chicago, is a celebration of bean to bar chocolate artisans offering gourmet chocolate in all its delectable forms.
One of the images on the home page slider has the phrase, “ Provisions for the Chocolate Life.” I like the place even before I set foot in the place!

It was good to get outside in the fresh air after being in the train overnight. After getting coffee I struck a path that followed the river before crossing over and heading north to Old Town. The walk was invigorating and I hoped that the r/t would provide enough physical exertion to make it easier to get some decent sleep.

After the walk back, lunch was had in at a Rick Bayless joint in the Willis Tower, Tortas Frontera. I’ve been a fan of his cooking for a long time and always try to stop by and see what’s new. (I was not disappointed – simple and satisfying.) Besides, I figured I could get some good Chicago-style deep dish pizza during the Cincinnati/Kansas City layover.

Chicago to Cincinnati

I still don’t know what I was thinking.

The eastbound Cardinal leaves Chicago in the late afternoon, arriving in Cincinnati at 3:30am.

The train from Chicago to Cincinnati was a Superliner and this time open seating was not on offer. Before I could board the train I was handed a ticket with a seat number. I stashed my big bag and headed to my seat – an aisle with the window seat already occupied. I was able to swap seats (my row mate had a traveling companion across the aisle), and so I settled in as best I could.

Despite how tired I was after the lack of solid sleep the previous night and the roughly 17,000 steps I walked in Chicago, solid sleep eluded me again. And so I arrived in Cincinnati a little dazed and quivering from fatigue.

I was jolted out of this state at the sight of main terminal space.

BUT ... I had failed to read the fine print on the schedule or take a close look at the map before I booked my ticket: Folks, Cincinnati Union Terminal is only open from 12:00 midnight to 04:00. Yup. That’s just four hours a day. There is no waiting inside until the terminal opens up for normal business hours. No coffee concession, just some forlorn vending machines.

And when I say there is nothing nearby that is open at that time I kid you not. There’s no 24-hour Waffle House (nearest one is across the river in Kentucky), not one McDonalds or Dunkin’ Donuts ... nothing except a White Castle. {{Shudder}}

But I learned to my chagrin that while the White Castle was actually open all night, from midnight to 06:00 only the drive-thru window is open. The main door was locked tight so there was no place to sit inside nursing a cup of something coffee-like and await the dawn.

Of course I only found this out after rolling two bags, one perched atop the other, and shouldering a third all the way there from the train station. (Call an Uber to go less than a mile to a White Castle? I think not.) And it was 67F at 4:00am. And humid. In the end, I trudged all the way into downtown to wait on a bench outside a coffee shop that opened at 6:30am – the earliest I could find in the maps app on my phone. Coming from NYC I simply could not fathom a city where nothing was open all night downtown.

Previous Post

The Cross Country Craft Chocolate Odyssey: Prelude
In which I leave New York City, my home base for nearly forty years, and covering the week before embarking on the first leg of my journey – Boston to Cincinnati via Chicago.

Next Post

Or, how I spent my time in Cincinnati (and Columbus), then making the connection to Kansas City via ... Chicago (in which we learn whether or not I got that deep dish pizza I mentioned earlier in this post).

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