If there's a word for this it's probably French, about the feeling you get when you've long anticipated something and then it's behind you.
My 15-year-old daughter and I are just back from a week's vacation in Chicago. That might not be everyone's choice for spring break, but we're urban commandos. When my wife and younger daughter decided last year they'd be flying to Brussels in March with my wife's sister and mother, my first born and I decided we'd hop the midnight train west.
(About these separate vacations: I love all the females in my family. I do. But flying to Europe for a weeklong round of hearing "Isn't this darling?" and "Sooooo cute" and "Just precious" as five girls from three generations compare and contrast Flemish schlock? I'd prefer that be summed up in a postcard, thanks.)
I've long wanted to ride in a sleeper car. As a young man I bought an InterRail pass and hit about eight European countries in two weeks. I still remember the deal -- just $171 for unlimited travel -- but it was strictly second class. If you wanted to ride all night to save a night's lodging, you had to try sleeping across two or three seats until some stranger shoved you awake with words you didn't recognize.
Our Amtrak trip would be better. We would be like Nick and Nora Charles in those "Thin Man" movies from the 1930s, all but the martinis. I booked a Superliner Roomette last November, and we waited four months for our train.
The realization that we'd never be confused with the swells in old movies struck when we boarded. The conductor helped us with our luggage but suggested we store it below. It wouldn't fit in our room.
I should have paid more attention to the room dimensions in the online promo: 3'6" by 6'6". Picture phone booths stacked lengthwise. When we entered -- so to speak -- the reclining seats flanking the picture window already had been converted to a lower bed, with an upper berth set above it. If I turned from the bed my knees were out the door.
It was nonetheless grand having wine in a glass matching the one from which my daughter had black cherry-flavored water, which I'd procured from Giant Eagle's finest stock. We soon were sleeping and, when we awoke around 7, had the complimentary breakfast in the dining car. Our room already had been reconverted to a sitting room with facing chairs when we returned.
We arrived at Chicago's Union Station about two hours after our scheduled 8:45 a.m. arrival because America's freight trains had been so busy clogging the tracks ahead of us, but that only meant our hotel room in Chicago was ready.
We loved our six days and five nights in a city that's essentially Pittsburgh's bigger brother. We rode the El everywhere and did the tourist stuff -- the Art Institute, the Shedd Aquarium, the reflective "Bean" sculpture -- but my girl was mostly interested in the quirky shops. Given a small stipend for this trip, she used it wisely in a lot of vintage stores as I waited in a lot of vintage chairs. (There's a great deal on fake mustaches in the spy-themed Boring Store at 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave., if you're looking.)
We ate like royals. I had the greatest Mexican meal I've ever had -- including ones in Mexico -- at Rick Bayless' Frontera Grill, but our most memorable meal was probably the classic Chicago hot dogs we got from a stand outside the aquarium on a cold, windy Palm Sunday afternoon. Mustard, onions, relish, peppers, tomato wedges and a dill pickle spear surrounded the all-beef frankfurter. We ambled back for seconds.
At night, we watched old movies. On the long train ride home, we had a nice lamb dinner before I taught my girl how to play gin rummy. She beat me before the conductor arrived to turn our beds down.
He had good coffee ready when we awoke, and an extraordinarily good friend was waiting for us in Pittsburgh when the train arrived at 4:35 a.m.
My daughter and I agreed we'd do it again. We also discussed that feeling of long looking forward to something, only to find it behind you. You tend to remember only the best parts. I'm calling ours "Amtrakesia," at least until something better comes rolling down the track.
Brian O'Neill: email@example.com or 412-263-1947.