The front of my train to Chicago.
Day 73. Hard to believe but I was actually worried that I would wake up late for a train that left at 6:45 p.m. And I almost *was* late even though I got up in plenty of time. After doing a bunch of stuff on the net, packing, making some phone calls, writing, and a whole lot of other things it was nearly 6. So I headed downstairs in the hopes of just jumping into a cab and making it over to Union Station in a few minutes. But the hotel people decided this was the time to be bureaucratic and make me wait in a long line of people checking in when all I wanted to do was check out, something I'm usually able to do over the phone or on the TV. I still had enough time not to really be pissed off by this but my patience was beginning to wear thin. I almost lost it completely when the woman at the desk finally got to me and then proceeded to have a lengthy conversation with someone else behind the counter about some personal matter. God how I hate such unnecessary and stupid hassles!
I finally got out of there and grabbed a cab to the station. I thought about how much fun Los Angeles had been this time. I wondered if it was because this was the first time I had been here without a car. I had always been led to believe that you couldn't even survive in Los Angeles without driving. Never believe what you're told.
Now if they can keep improving their transit system at the rate it's been going, it should be pretty decent in a few years. Like maybe they'll keep it open well past midnight so people can actually move around the city more freely. That would be nice.
I got to the station where my train was already boarding. No cause for concern since I still had plenty of time. But as I somehow expected my train was on the last possible track. You would think that maybe they would figure that the train going the longest distance might have people carrying the most luggage and thus move it a little closer to the main entrance. But most everything involving trains in this country is about as illogical as you could possible hope for.
I made it all the way to the platform and saw my train on Track 12. It was called the Southwest Chief. I showed my ticket to one of the agents on the platform and she said to go all the way to the last car. Figures. I made it down to the end and showed my ticket to the agent there. He wrote a number on my ticket and told me to go to that number upstairs. I struggled up the tiny spiral staircase with my bags and found myself in a crowded section with regular coach chairs. What the fuck? $500 for a chair? I was supposed to have a bed. So I went back downstairs and asked the guy where the bed was. "Oh," he said. "You want to be all the way in the front." Christ! Two of their own agents had led me here! So now I had to walk the entire length of the train. And through no fault of my own I now had to hurry. The corridors inside the train were reportedly too narrow for someone to walk down them with bags so walking on the outside was the only way to get there. As I got closer I showed my ticket to other agents and they all had a different answer as to where it was. How hard could it possibly be to know where a car is when it's your job to know precisely that?! No wonder this railroad was in the shape it was in. Finally I found the one guy who knew for sure where my car was and I finally got loaded into my compartment.
It was unlike the other trains I had been on in other parts of the world in various ways. First, this was a "roomette" which I didn't have to share with anyone. OK, that was fine with me. It was a really tiny room you could barely move in and it was extremely easy to hit your head or foot on all sorts of things. I could live with that since I wasn't bumping into another person at least. But I was a little concerned that the bed was parallel to the track. Everywhere else I had been it was perpendicular. Since trains tend to rock from side to side, that could change the lulling back and forth motion into a sickening side to side one. Let's hope not.
Soon after I boarded, a mother and two toddlers got into the cubicle across the aisle. Within five minutes she had smacked the two of them and they were both bawling. God do I miss Japan. In the few hours I've been on this train I've seen some of the worst examples of parenting I could ever have imagined. What the hell is wrong with these people? Screaming at their kids, hitting them, and forcing the rest of us to put up with all the fallout. The thing is they mean well and they really think they're doing the right thing. But all you have to do is step back a little and see how out of control the situation is to realize that there has to be a better way. Why do we so stubbornly insist on continuing to do things in ill-advised ways? I never thought I'd wish I was back on the toddler ferry but at least those screaming kids were happy.
The people running the train are very nice and the train itself is set up fairly well. Surprisingly, there's a shower opposite the bathroom. We'll see if it actually works I guess. Like I mentioned, the roomette is rather counterintuitive but at least it provides some sanctuary even though I can hear the screaming through the door quite easily. I'm not a big fan of doubledecker trains since they tend to be more cramped and they also sway more. I believe the train itself is diesel and not electric which is also hard to understand. Every train I took in Europe all the way through to Siberia was electric with overhead wires. And the track clearly isn't as solid as the track in any of the countries I had been in, even Mongolia. But with all that said, it's still better than I expected.
One of the more pleasant surprises was the food. Apparently by getting a roomette I now qualify as first class for the first time in my life. That means food is free in the dining car. And it's real food too, not the kind of crap you get in the snack car on the Northeast Corridor. The only hassle is having to get it at certain times of the day. But I can adjust. Anyway for dinner they threw me in with a couple from Michigan. I notice that everyone is very sociable in the dining car and people seem to wind up having decent conversations with the strangers they're sitting with. There also seem to be a lot of older people here. I guess retired folks have more time to travel around the country in a train than those working full time. Still, this is a mode of travel well worth taking part in despite the hassle. I only wish it were cheaper and more accessible.
I've made the plans for the final part of my trip. Since the train is so expensive I really just want to get it over with and not add another night's lodging to the mix especially when I have no plans to meet up with anyone in Chicago. It actually works out rather well. This train gets into Chicago on Wednesday afternoon and the one to New York leaves that evening. In between I'll be able to do "Off The Hook" from the train station. In true WBAI tradition the week I'm scheduled to be back looks like the week we'll be preempted again.