Sunday, April 06, 2008

Ridin' the Rails

I have just returned from a trip to Texas on Amtrak. Though it was a very long journey, let me say, that if you have the chance to ride the rails, and are not in a hurry, do it. At least once!

I departed from a small station in northern Indiana, and railed into Union Station in Chicago. I didn't know anything about train travel. (The last time I rode on the train was a long time ago. I was maybe 10.) I stepped off the train in Chicago and immediately had to walk what seemed miles to the terminal for Amtrak. I did not have a bag on wheels, so I toted this heavy duffle over one shoulder while carrying a cooler and a carry-on bag in my hands.(the first purchase I made in Texas was a new piece of luggage with wheels!)
One nice thing about traveling by train, and being over 62, I got to board first. I found a good aisle seat, stashed my bags and got comfy and also acquainted with the people around me. Riding the rails was fun. The crew on the way to Texas was a good crew, very congenial, and fun to be around. The guy running the bar in the lounge car was a riot. I met several friendly people, and yes, I actually talked, and in some cases, even struck up conversations around me. It is easy to get a conversation started when you are traveling, because you have that in common with the people around you. Prof and Lil Bro both told me to not be shy and at least talk to people.

We were very late getting into Dallas, my destination, but we found out a few things about Amtrak that none of us knew. Amtrak leases the railroad space from Union Pacific Railroads. Part of the leasing agreement is that Amtrak has to give right-of-way to all freight trains. This means that we had to pull 0ver on sidings and let freight trains pass, or if there was double tracks, we slowed way down because of the closeness of the railcars and the sway of them. We could actually bump, but we were the ones always slowing or stopping. Which made us late. Then only 12 miles out of Dallas, we sat for almost 2 hours because Union Pacific was doing track work. But, all in all the trip down there was fun. I had motion sickness the second day out, so I didn't eat, which probably made it worse rather than better. I got some drammine for the trip home, and that stuff really works.
The trip home was even longer. I was disappointed in the train I was on. It wasn't very clean and the crew was fussier. Our car attendant, Morgana, was a real witch. She acted like she didn't like her job, didn't want to be there, and that everything she did for us was a real effort. She was not helpful at all, and when someone complained that it was too cold in the car, she did something to the heaters, and it got up over 90 in there. Finally after complaining to her about it without results, one of the passengers went to the conductor, complained about Morgana and her attitude and the heat, and he made it right.
We were over 6 hours late getting into Chicago on the return trip, making scads of people miss their connections. Amtrak offered to put us up in motels, pay us cash for meals and cab fares and get us going the next day. I just wanted to go home. Fortunately, there is a train that leaves Chicago at 10 PM nightly heading for NYC, and it stops at my station where Lil Bro was to pick me up. The nice lady at the Amtrak info center got me on it. Yeah rah! You go girl!
Not being a seasoned traveler like so many, I was nervous. I have not traveled anywhere for a long time, so I was lost when it came to finding out what I needed to know. The nicest thing was that the young man in the seat next to mine sensed how nervous I was, so when we got into the station, he took it upon himself to make sure I found someone to help me, then helped me find my gate and even found my train and departure time. Then he shook my hand, wished me well and disappeared to go his own way. I didn't even get his name, but I will never forget him. A young person helping an older, confused, tired adult. Living proof that there really are angels walking among us.
I arrived at my little Indiana station at the same time Lil Bro did. Perfect timing. I had a good time while I was gone, fodder for another blog, but was glad to get home. My shower and bed felt really good!

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