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NOTE: For the Photo Essay, click the link in the main header (above) or HERE.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not complaining when I say that Amtrak trains are stuffy, smell a bit funky-industrial, whoosh lint into the air like a miniature snow factory, provide average meals (to be generous), are less than informative about where the train is and what’s happening with it, and offer things for the passengers’ convenience which might have been really super in the 1980’s but are less than convenient now.

As I said on Twitter, caught between what it once was and what it could be is Amtrak, an inconvenient convenience…and a convenient inconvenience. Like I said, I’m not complaining. This is a fine way to travel. It’s just that when I think about what could be, it hurts just a bit to deal with the reality.

Electrical outlets, for instance. There’s one in my compartment…into which I can’t put anything other than my phone charger. There’s stuff around the socket which makes it impossible for me to jam in the battery-unit for my camera or even the square-ish thingy for my Macbook Pro. (Silly me for not choosing to lug around its 3-pronged extension cord.)

There are a few outlets in the Lounge Car (which I used yesterday) but it’s hit-or-miss whether I get a seat near them, and at night when I could really use them, I’m too bleary to want to deal with socializing with any of the—honestly—incredibly nice people on board. I know that makes me horrible, but there it is.

The bathrooms and upstairs hall also have some outlets, but I worry that someone will decide my camera battery looks like a cool thing to have–and no way am I leaving my computer unattended. If I keep my computer mostly in its case, though, what are the chances of disaster if I attempt to charge it while I shower? Low…Moderate…High

Hmm. Yeah, I think I’ll wait till tomorrow and the Lounge. Or maybe the next train will be better (assuming I make it on time).

Finally, some of the chaos I was expecting. The train never recovered any of the 2.5 hours it lost in New Mexico, which cut my Chicago time down from 3.5 hours to 1. And which, given the fact that I couldn’t find the Amtrak Lounge (thank you, newly minted friends from Dinner Seating Night 1, for the directional help) resulted in being more like 40 minutes. A mere fraction of an hour in which to remember what it was like to not move, either voluntarily or involuntarily. (US trains remind me of those 1950’s weight-loss machines–you know, the ones with those “jiggle straps,” where pounds supposedly drop off via crazed shaking? Wouldn’t that be great, given Amtrak’s menu selections.)

I found a relatively quiet area to sit and promptly began talking on my cell phone.

One of the many benefits of being a passenger in a sleeping car is the use of the Amtrak Lounge—the only place in any of the terminals so far that offers WiFi.

This one was quiet, had softer lighting, and a surprise in the stalls of the women’s bathroom.

The Ridiculous, Amazing Protecto-Toilet

It was a surprise to me, anyway: a toilet-seat which is wrapped in a plastic covering. When the toilet flushes, the covering shifts, giving the next user fresh plastic.

(Or at least I assume it’s fresh. It’s different, I can say that at least, than the portion that was there immediately before.)

I find I remain caught somewhere between horror and bemusement.

When it came time to board—sleeper passengers going before coach—we were herded at a door and then escorted through several dingy passages. I caught a glimpse of the Chicago River at that point, but we were moving too fast (and I was too anxious to get to something I could claim as personal space) to enjoy it.

I should have lingered, since when we got to the entrance to the track platforms, we were brought to a halt and told we needed to wait. It seemed that our train was just then coming in. So, we waited, caught in a fluorescently illuminated limbo and listening to repeated automated announcements of “This is Track 24,” “This is Track 26,” “This is Track 28.” I don’t think even the blind man in our group appreciated the information at that point.

I tried not to watch a baggage handler throw suitcases—one with its pulley-arm still extended—into the back of a cart.

Once in my compartment (nearly identical to the one on the other train), I saw my hopes for a useful power outlet dashed. Again, my phone charger would work; everything else would not. In future, I’d be wise to bring along some sort of “tiny extension cord,” if there is such a thing. I went to the Viewing Car to charge my camera battery and enjoy wondrous vistas of Chicago and Lake Michigan.

This was not to be. I’ve posted the photos of the cityscape and my one glimpse of Lake Michigan on Crazy Trip Photos, but here they are again.

Ooh, is that Chicago?

What is that, Lake Michigan?

Yep. That’s it. Though I did see the baseball stadium and many residential neighborhoods. This seemed to be the evening women went out to mow the lawns.

In consolation, there was this:

Just Say No

While trying to see Chicago and then Lake Michigan, I listened to a fight almost break out over what I understood to be “someone touching someone else’s unattended stuff by a seat.” One guy involved (Caucasian—and the Touch-er of the African American woman’s electronic device) was reading “To Kill a Mockingbird,” so it was ironic…or perhaps inevitable…that he brought “race relations” into the whole deal. The Conductor had to be called in to diffuse the tension while other conversations went loudly on, a group of children alternately yelled and whined, and a man (too close for comfort) made horrible and strange cough-like noises. The men nearest to me, two brothers in their 60’s or later, spoke of “working the old flesh.”

I don’t know if they believed I couldn’t hear them, being all of two feet away, or if they just didn’t care.

At 8:40, the 8:00 diner seating was finally called, and I took my camera battery and left the craziness behind.

Or so I’d hoped. My salad took forever. The meal took even longer. Though, nicely enough, I had an enjoyable time with my dinner companions, a family on their way back from a vacation in Yellowstone.

At 11pm, when dinner finished, I returned to my compartment. No bed. Twenty minutes later, the attendant arrived. Bed at last.

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