You don't need me to tell you that we suddenly find ourselves living in extraordinary, unprecedented times due to the spread of COVID-19. I've certainly never experienced anything like this, and I've been around a while.
A few weeks back, I was basking in my usual spring ritual: listening to the first baseball games of spring training and eagerly awaiting the regular season, which was due to start on March 26. As of March 13, all spring training activity has ceased and MLB rather optimistically says that opening day will be "delayed." As far as I know, this is the first non-labour suspension of baseball since World War II.
For years now, I've been hoping to pull off a week-long visit to Florida for spring training. (I may be the only Canadian who's never been to Florida.) Thank God I didn't have the means to do it this year, or I'd be stuck in the Sunshine State with no games to see and a 14-day quarantine awaiting me upon return. I'm still quite excited about the trip, which has progressed well beyond dreaming into planning, but my enthusiasm is now tempered. Even if I can afford it, who knows if in a year's time anyone will be able to travel anywhere?
Nevertheless, let's envision a world where COVID-19 has done its business, moved on, and a modicum of normalcy has been reestablished. If I could take in spring training, what might that look like?
The Blue Jays train in Dunedin, a small city in the Tampa-St. Pete-Clearwater metro area. A flight from Toronto to Tampa would get me there in under three hours, and I'd be all set, right? Yes, but I dislike flying, the biggest reason for my disdain being that it's like teleportation. You don't get to see what's between here and there, and to me that's the whole point of travelling.
I don't drive, but I toyed with the idea of simulating the well-worn trek down I-75 popular with snowbirds on Greyhound. Like the road-tripper brigade, I'd take it slow and stop along the way, roughly at the end of a day's drive. I even mapped out a six-day itinerary: Toronto-Detroit-Cincinnati-Chattanooga-Macon-Orlando-Tampa. And for variety, a different route back over five days: Tampa-Jacksonville-Raleigh-Baltimore-Albany-Toronto. All well and good but for one consideration—safety. Greyhound's bus depots are often in spotty if not outright scary parts of town, and I soon realized that my fantasy of walking several blocks, in the dark, to the nearest hotel could result in a mugging or worse. And even if I made it to said inner-city hotel, it might not be the kind of place where I'd want to bed down for a night.
Plan B, which didn't last long, is the no-bed-required option, a continuous 41-hour trip on three Greyhound buses, again getting there one way (Toronto-New York-Orlando-Tampa) and returning another (Tampa-Tallahassee-Cincinnati-Detroit). The way there wasn't too severe in terms of layovers, but on the return trip a five-hour layover in Cincinnati (9:00 p.m-2:00 a.m.) didn't exactly thrill me. In any case, I've done this before, 20 years ago, when I took the Greyhound to San Francisco and back. That trip was even longer, and when I straggled back home I vowed I'd never again sleep on a bus ... because I can't sleep on a bus.
I've now landed on Plan C: Amtrak, the USA's passenger rail system. This entails one compromise: I'd have to return the same way I came, and checking the Silver Star timetable, the same part of the country (NC, SC, GA) is in darkness both ways. Boo, hiss! Also, a continuous trip from Toronto isn't possible by rail; the schedules simply don't hook up. I'd have to take the Maple Leaf to New York, stay overnight, then board the Silver Star in the morning. On the plus side, I'd have only one sleep on the train which, though not a proper bed, is far better than the bus. And if I had the cash, I could splurge for a roomette.
As for getting around the Tampa area, public transit will do the trick, though I can see from researching schedules that PSTA and HART aren't exactly the TTC. But with careful planning, one can make it from A to B. It's also dirt cheap. And lucky me, I'd have three teams' games to choose from in the metro area, with the Phillies training in Clearwater and the Yankees in Tampa proper.
The rather pokey way I like to get to and visit new places now has a name: slow travel. I'm not sure I subscribe to or follow all its tenets, but in both my preferred transportation modes and sightseeing predilections (offbeat, weird stuff), I qualify. Anyway, once COVID-19 has run its course and I've saved up sufficiently, I look forward to getting to know Amtrak, seeing a bit of Florida, and taking in some spring training baseball—something any serious fan really should do at least once in their lives.