The Amtrak Experience – Part 1

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything…….. Life just gets away from you sometimes.

Rodd and I just got back from our first “Amtrak Experience”. I had to travel to Michigan on business and we decided it might be fun to take the train. I know, we have warped ideas of fun. Our trip was about 40 hours each way, boarding in Sandpoint, Idaho at 2:30am on Sunday the 18th and ending the eastbound trip in Grand Rapids, Michigan at 10:30pm on Monday night. The eastbound trip was relatively uneventful. We originally had a lower berth but when we boarded they told us that they had needed to move us upstairs. Fine. Whatever. We don’t care.
The food was pretty decent although I can’t say as much for the service. We had breakfast while skirting Glacier National Park. That was pretty cool, but the waitress was horrifying. She was completely demeaning to the other members of the staff and she was less than friendly to the patrons. Other than her, the dining experience was fine. You share a table with 2 other people, which being the recluse that I am, was not fabulous, but hey……it’s the Amtrak Experience.
The “roomette”, which will henceforth be referred to as “the closet”, is about 3 ft wide and 6 ft long. I was a little concerned about claustrophobia, but it really wasn’t bad. The bottom bunk is much less offensive than the top. Remember when you were a kid and you took that summer vacation in the 1960’s camper? And you sat up one too many times in that “over the cab” bed? And you thumped a knot on your melon the size of a large lemon????? It’s not unlike that….. HOWEVER, I have slept in worse places so I’m not complaining. It was MUCH better than being stuck in coach. What IS that smell……..? We’ll get to that in a bit.
The route from Idaho to Michigan is a very northern route and much of it is Montana and North Dakota. It’s a little brown and drab, but I must say they have some fabulous “junk” photo opps. Of course you can’t take advantage of them because you’re stuck in the closet flying by at 70mph. There really were literally 100’s of old rusty cars from the 20’s – 50’s along the edges of the fields by the tracks. There was also an oddly large number of appliances……. Appliances??? Hhhhhm. I don’t just mean 2 or 3 old stoves. I’m talking, like, a LOT of them…..stoves, fridges, hot water heaters….. Not any houses or towns for miles around but appliances…… I don’t get it. How did that happen? I can only imagine….. It must have gone something like this, “Well Henry, it’s too bad about that appliance warehouse goin’ belly up and all. What do you think we should do with all of these left over appliances? There sure are a lot of em’. I know, maybe we could just haul them out to the back 40,000 and scatter them along the railroad tracks. Nah, that ain’t litterin’. No one will even notice if we spread them out a little bit. Yeah, from here to Minnesota would be good.” Huh???
When we finally got clear of the plains and into Minnesota a bit we decided it might be fun to check out the observation car. We were traveling along the Mississippi at this point but it was on the opposite side of the car from our closet. The observation car was about 6 cars back from us. On the way back we had to pass through 2 coach cars. I wasn’t prepared for the sensory assault that met us there! WHOA!!!! I suppose you have to keep in mind that this train originates in Portland. By the time you hit Minnesota these people have been almost 3 days without a shower…….and these cars must seat at least 50-80 people. AND the windows don’t open. You do the math! Wow….hurry through those cars. After braving the stench we didn’t even get to see the river anyway because the only available seats in the observation car were on the same side as our closet. Oh well…..back through the stench!
At LaCrosse, Wisconsin we were delayed for track work for about an hour. By the time we reached Chicago for our transfer we were an hour and a half behind schedule. Guess how much time we had to catch our next train? ………that would be negative 10 minutes. Yep, just missed it. BUT never fear, they’re calling Greyhound!!!! Oh horrors! Now I’ve been on a Greyhound bus and have earned the right to say that. If you’ve “gone Greyhound” you can sympathize. So, they shuffled us off to a little room to wait while they “make arrangements”. Whoohoo!! The bus is waiting on the curb! Let’s go see what we’ve got! You know those nice big fancy tour buses that take the elderly tour group to the casino to lose all of their social security check? Yeah? Well… wasn’t one of those. This one was more like the old hotel shuttle bus that is so dilapidated that the hotel simply can’t duct tape it back together anymore. However, they didn’t want to pay to have it towed away so they donated it to the inner city youth program because “it’s for a good cause”. “Oh yeah, you can HAVE it…Yep, for FREE. Just come and get her!!!”. This thing made Greyhound look like a luxury line! We’re talking black smoke rollin’, fenders flappin’, windows rattling, funky smelling, steaming pile. AND the driver was missing more teeth than is acceptable. I know, I’m awful, but I’m just trying to paint the picture for you here.
We all (there were probably 18 of us) piled into the “charter bus” where we proceeded to wait for another half hour before we could leave. I haven’t a clue what the hold up was. When we got on and sat down I made the mistake of not paying close attention to my seat selection. If I had been paying attention I certainly would not have chosen this particular location. Yes, it had what may have seemed like a redeeming quality at the time. It was next to an emergency window exit so that when this rolling dung heap spontaneously combusted we’d have a means of escape. However, what I didn’t realize was that a.) this exit window was loose in the frame and was going to rattle, bang and leak cold air for the next 3 1/2 hours and b.) I picked the hump over the wheel well!!!! AAHHH! How could I have been so careless? I’m a seasoned traveler and generally speaking I’m very cognizant of such things. What an IDIOT!!! So, here I sit…riding “the hump” from Chicago to Grand Rapids…… holding the emergency window closed for fear it might fall out, freezing my patootie off with my knees wrapped up around my ears. Oh God, please make it go by quickly!!!
There was some poor older woman (she said she was 70) sitting in front of us who was also freezing and had to go to the bathroom since leaving Chicago. Rodd graciously loaned her his jacket, but there wasn’t much we could do for her on the other “issue”. When we finally arrived in Holland, Michigan she mentioned again that she really needed to use the restroom. Rodd had gotten off the bus to stretch his legs a bit while the “Holland” passengers disembarked. He walked away from the bus a few steps and found our semi-toothless driver urinating in the flower beds!!!! How gross!!! What’s up with that??? He can’t stop so that Granny can use the restroom but he’s taking care of business in the tulip bed at the train station!!!!! Amtrak will be hearing from me……. After the driver got back on the bus I asked him if we could make a restroom stop at a gas station for a few minutes. Poor Granny was honestly going to wet herself. He grudgingly conceded, but the lady sitting across the aisle from me absolutely blew a gasket!!! Now, I understand, we’re all tired, we’re hungry, we’re sick of the bus, we’re pissed because we missed the train etc. But come on, this poor 70 year old lady needed to use the restroom!!!! It’ll take all of about 5 minutes! Anyway, we stopped and the few who were going to take advantage of the restroom went inside. Granny went first and headed back to the bus. Next there was a lady traveling with 2 little boys around 5 and 6 who needed to go. I stayed in the gas station to watch her kids so that she could use the restroom. Back at the bus I’m missing all of the fun. “Blew a Gasket” is growing increasingly pissed off. Granny told Rodd, “If she even says ONE THING I don’t like, I’m going to tell her she can mark off a spot and kiss my you know what!!!!” Rodd said that the “blew a gasket” lady started yelling about how long it was taking and hollering for everyone to get their butts back on the bus and blah blah blah. She came off of the bus and headed for the gas station to herd everyone back. Granny was close on her heels telling her she can’t talk to people like that. “Blew a gasket” told her, “I’m not even talking to YOU!!!!”. Granny said, “No, you’re talking to my friends!!!!” (Meaning Rodd and me). They continued to argue until I put my arm around Granny’s shoulder and gently steered her back to the bus. She looked up at me and grinned and said, “Isn’t that funny how we just became fast friends????” I was laughing my butt off. The rest of the ride to Grand Rapids was fairly uneventful, but Granny hinted that she’d like someone to wait with her while her ride came to pick her up. She was a little scared of “Blew a Gasket” now. Of course, we wouldnt have left her standing at the bus station in the dark / cold at midnight anyway.
We finally settled in to our hotel room at around 2:30am Tuesday morning. Whew! What a day!!!!
Stay tuned for Part 2!

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4 Responses to The Amtrak Experience – Part 1

  1. SHELBY says:

    I just thought I’d write and say hi. It’s nice to see another has joined the bloggin photography world. 🙂

  2. Mesa Boogie says:

    Haven’t had a chance to check out your blog yet, but now that I know you have one, I will be keeping an eye on it! 🙂

  3. SLANCE says:

    that’s funny…we took a china town bus to NYC from Baltimore – I know how that goes = )good to see ya on the blog…can’t wait to see more pics!

  4. OMG I am laughing my butt off! I never knew you had such a flare for writing! You are awesome. I love reading your stories! Keep them coming! Love ya! Jen

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