The Amtrak Experience – Part 2


I must say that the trip home was pretty peaceful with the exception of a few minor issues. Let’s get started…….

The commuter train from Grand Rapids to Chicago was quite uneventful. We actually had a few hours to wander around Union Station before boarding in Chicago. The first issue came just outside of Chicago. When we got going we realized that we had trouble. We had a lower berth this time. We THOUGHT that was ok. That is, until the banging began. These closets (see Part 1) have a 2 chairs that face each other that fold down into a bed and then an upper bunk that flips down from the ceiling. The upper bunk is the entire length of the closet. This means that it touches both ends. This also means that if things aren’t snug, they bang on the wall by your HEAD!! The bunk in the room behind us was doing just that. If that wasn’t annoying enough the door to the end room (on the other side of us) didn’t stay closed properly. The occupants didn’t latch it and so it would constantly open just enough to rattle against our other wall. Now we have banging on one side and rattling on another. But wait! There’s more! There are 2 drunk, obnoxious guys across the hall who are quite loud and in the rattling door room there is someone playing some sort of wind instrument. Remember when you (or a sibling) were in 4th grade and you had those dumb recorder, tonette blowy things for “music class”????? Yeah, you know the ones! You could stand out on your porch (because no parent let their child blow these obnoxious things in the house!) at 6:30pm on a week night in any suburb in America and hear them tweeting away. It was like that. The odd thing was that the people in that room were all over 40 years old. Huh? But no, we’re not quite finished yet because someone else in that same room had joined in with a stringed instrument of some variety. Yep, we have a regular gypsy band wailing away now!!!! This just isn’t working for me!!!! Pull the call button!

When the car attendant came we asked him if there were any empty rooms above so that we could switch to an upper berth. Of course, we already knew that there were because you should never ask such a question without knowing the answer in advance. I explained the nature of the issue to him and he just glared at me and said, “Ma’am, this is a train. Trains make noise. That’s just the way it is. I have nothing else.” Excuse me? I’m not a TOTAL cretin! I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck! I wanted to look at him and say, “What???? This is a train??? OH NO! OH MY GOSH! I was suppose to be on a plane! How did this happen??????!!!!!!! STOP! STOP!” PLEASE! So, after his incredibly rude outburst he DID make the banging bunk stop. At least that was something.
Now, if you know me at all, you know that I’m very easily annoyed…..sounds, smells…little things that most people would probably be ok with. Not, me. I’m thinking….praying really, “Dear God, whatever I did to deserve this, I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean it…..whatever it was….please, I beg You, have mercy on me!!!!” Moments later the attendant appeared at our door with a whole new attitude. AND AN UPPER BERTH! Hallelujah! We’re saved! Once we moved rooms, things got much happier. Until supper……………
They called our reservation so we mosey’d on down to the dining car. I know, you can’t really “mosey” on a train. It’s really more like stumbling, staggering and careening. At any rate, we arrived. This time, we were seated at a table with a young woman and her brother. Ok, what I THOUGHT was a young woman and her brother. The boy was 11 and the young woman, who I assumed was a sister, looked to be about 15 at first glance. As we sat there it became clear that this was a mother and son. She could have been as much as 30 when you really looked at her. Oh man, I’m getting OLD. People look younger and younger to me every day! So, let me just set the stage….. The mom/sister has limp brown hair pulled back into a ponytail, is wearing a polo shirt and a pair of mens jeans. The boy is 11 with short cropped “summer hair”, large ears, a mass of freckles and the hugest bucked teeth you have ever seen. I see major orthodonics in this poor kid’s future. Big old Chiklet bucked teeth. We’re not talking about a year of braces, we’re talkin’ the full meal deal here…..4 years of braces, the headgear thing, the massive rubber band treatment…….. I know I probably sound like I’m horribly mean, but I’m just trying to give you the full picture here. You know how it is at that age……a kid’s features get all weird on their faces and their teeth seem enormous and out of place. My sisters and I affectionately refer to it as the “ugly stage”. Some kids have to stay there longer than others. They hit it at about 9 and start normalizing again around 14. Most kids completely grow out of it as they mature. I’m pretty sure this kid will not. If this kid had dirty, bare feet and overalls with no shirt he’d be right at home in Arkansas or the mountains of Tennessee. No offense to those from the south, but you all know the stereo type. We, in Idaho, have been dubbed with shaved heads, no indoor plumbing and swastikas and you have moonshine, overalls and bucked teeth. It’s only fair. I’m sorry, that’s just the way of it. I didn’t create the stereo type, I’m just utilizing it to make a point. 🙂 So, we’re sitting at the table with Billy Mack and Ruby Sue and I’m not kidding you, this kid looked at his mom and said, “Mama, do ya think they gots chicken and taters? I want some taters Maw!”. Oh Henry!!! These people were fresh off the porch! We’re talkin’ chicken eatin’, banjo pickin’, porch sittin’ genuine hill folk! Unfortunately, they didn’t have “chicken and taters” on the menu. The closest they had was an herb roasted 1/2 game hen with a baked potato and steamed veggie mix. The meals come with a salad which they bring out first. This kid sticks his hand in his bowl and picks out the 2 cherry tomatoes and shoves them in his mouth and just devours them. Then he ate the ones in his mom’s/sister’s salad. Rodd is allergic to tomatoes so he picked his up with his fork and asked me if I would like it. Billy Mack practically jumped over the table and said, “Aw wunt it!!!”. Oh heavens! Has this child NO manners at all? As we soon found out, that was just the case. No manners whatsoever. He then picked up his half a game hen and proceeded to gnaw on it like some sort of mongrel on a bone. It was absolutely disgusting. I have certainly seen my share of ill mannered children in my day, but this kid tops it all. Dear me……is dinner over yet? Get me out of here!!!!

The next day was pretty quiet. We just lounged around, read and hung out in the closet. Things were hum-drum until after dinner that night. Enter, “the aroma”. “The aroma” was akin to something you would smell wafting up from an outhouse. Now, I’m not talking about a nice, clean April/May sort of outhouse. Not the kind when the weather is cool and they’ve been freshly pumped and all is well. No, no….not that kind of outhouse. I’m talking about the OTHER kind of outhouse. Those of us who travel know it well. It’s the July/August Forest Service/National Park Service outhouse that’s been used all summer and has been baking in the 95 degree heat for the last 2 months. Yep…….the one that’s so full it’s mounding up out of the hole. I’m not making this up………. I’ve actually seen them. It’s not a good thing. I’ve found I can hold it for a REALLY LONG TIME!!!!! The human body is an amazing thing. Anyway, back to “the aroma”. It’s now filling our entire car….. Where is it coming from? It’s not coming directly from the bathrooms because I wandered down there to check it out. Is it seeping from some holding tank? Did someone have a bean and cabbage burrito for supper???? Are the people in the next closet storing dirty diapers in there???? What the????? BUT never fear, we came prepared! Before leaving home we soaked cotton balls with essential oils and put them in plastic bags to haul out on just such an occassion. We also brought a travel sized bottle of Febreeze. Generally I can’t stand the stuff, but if the choice is between flowery smelling poop as opposed to just regular poop, I guess the floral kind is slightly less offensive. At first it helped considerably. We had to “fling them” around a bit to release the scent but you do what you have to. After about a half hour the poopy smell had completely overpowered our scented oils. Oh my, how much farther???? All of a sudden this is the never ending ride home! For the rest of the ride home the smell lessened but then would return in full force. We tried to nap off an on by placing the cotton ball on the bed right next to our noses. This was somewhat effective, but not entirely. At least that didn’t happen until the last half of the last day.
The moral of the story………. If you think you might like to take the train, do it. I really enjoyed it and would do it again in spite of the minor disturbances. It was fun and fairly comfortable. Get the closet. It’s worth the extra money. Don’t go coach. There isn’t enough deoderant in the entire world to combat what we encountered there. DO NOT get a lower berth. If you are assigned a lower berth when you receive your tickets, call Amtrak. Request a change. The lower berth rooms on a Superliner are 11-15. DO NOT get the rooms with the private bathroom right in your closet. A.) The can is right by your head when you lay down. I guess if you get the flu and need to both lie down and vomit at the same time, you’re in business. Unless you plan on that, skip the private toilet. B.) That area of the car smells like poop ALL the time…. Not just at the end of the trip. ALL THE TIME. Bring something to repel the smell….just in case. You never know. It might not stink at all. Our trip east didn’t. It might smell like that August Forest Service outhouse. If it does, you’ll thank me while you’re inhaling through your orange and clove soaked cotton ball.

So, take the train and enjoy your Amtrak Experience!

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One Response to The Amtrak Experience – Part 2

  1. Phil says:

    You write very well. This story had me in stitches! Sorry to laugh at your expense — but I’m betting you think it’s pretty funny now, too — now that it’s well in the past and just a fun story to tell.

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