Wednesday, November 4, 2015

We're On a Train!

He's on a train
Our Vacation of Charm, as I mentioned yesterday, had everything we love about travel, including our favorite transportation methods--planes, trains, and automobiles.

We started out on the Silver Chief (which runs between Los Angeles and Chicago via New Mexico), which was scheduled to pull out of the station at 3 a.m. Would it surprise you to learn this is my my least favorite hour of the day to be awake? It's true.

However, there had been a freight train derailment in Gallup, New Mexico, which led to all sorts of scrambling by the Amtrak folks and involved turning trains around and busing passengers around the derailment and I don't know what all except that it meant that at 3 a.m. Husband and I were blissfully asleep at home and we didn't All Aboooooooard! until 10:30 a.m. It also saved Husband from the top bunk in our sleeper compartment, which he described after the last trip we took as closely resembling an MRI without sedation.

So we were quite late and that was wonderful! It meant that we got to see the best parts of our route, including Kansas, in the daylight. It was spectacularly beautiful, and all you doubters who think that Kansas is flat or boring or colorless have never seen my state in the fall, from a train track. Being on a train is like slipping through the margins of the world, traveling on the thin lines drawn between fields and behind storefronts, while a giant hand gently rocks you in a cradle. (And that is exactly the kind of florid prose a train provokes in me, which leads me to think maybe Amtrak knew what it was doing when it did not select me for its writers' residency program.)

Unfortunately, my love of the train was not being shared by everyone with whom we were sharing the rails. Our schedule, which was seven hours behind when boarded, slipped even more. Husband and I had no connections to make, no schedules depending on our timely arrival, so you couldn't have wiped the smile off my face with Magic Eraser. The other folks on the train? Not so much. Apparently a good way to provoke the cranking up of the crankiness for an entire trainful of passengers is to force the train that is already running seven hours late to pull off a siding for 45 minutes to let another train go by.


And then they served supper, which clearly was dumped out of cans the chef found in the back of the pantry. That's not totally Amtrak's fault, since they had thought all of us were going to be disembarking by mid-afternoon and by 7 p.m. the crew would be sitting around eating the last of the leftover cheesecake from lunch. Instead, the chef was pouring what appeared to be Dinty Moore Beef Stew over...well, it wasn't immediately apparent what it was poured over.

"Is this rice or mashed potatoes?" I asked Husband, poking the lumpy white mound with my fork. People, I have the most nondiscriminating palate in the world but that was a plateful of ick. (It was rice, but rice cooked until individual grains were indistinguishable. So wallpaper paste?)

So, to sum up, it was a day that started late, found us surrounded by grumpy passengers, ending with our evening meal being one Our Dog Pepper would have refused and her preferred cuisine included dirty Kleenexes. And still, when we finally pulled into Chicago's Union Station at 11:30 p.m., I wasn't hating my life. I was trying to figure out the next time I could get back on a train.

A pretty good start to a vacation.

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