Chicago – AmTrak
Ever travel across the country on a train? Nah, me either. Really who in this century would consider a bumpy train ride for 20 hours when you can simply get onto an airplane and end up on the other coast in less than 6 hours? Well, freaks like me would definitely do something like that. Indeed, I jumped the train in Albany, NY – slightly out of the way considering it took me a few hours to get to the station – and ended up in Chicago, Ill. Yes, the Windy City, or is it the City of Brotherly Love? I forget, but I am here sitting on my ass waiting for my “connection” to St. Louis, MO. Honestly, I do not even have a clue what the motto of St. Louis, MO is, but I imagine it’s rich in some midwester dialogue.
So the train…yes, it is just as one might imagine it, except there are some fun extra perks and minor inconviences. Let me start with the beginning and work my way though to this waiting room.
I arrive in Albany around 5:30 p.m. which is 1.5 hours earlier than my scheduled departure. Being slightly used to the strip search NSA airport model I was mildly nervous that I would be too late – of course this is coming from the boy that arrived only 15 minutes prior to his last flight and still managed to get on the plan – but I wasn’t. In fact I had tons of time to chill out, drink coffee, do the People magazine crossword puzzle and wish I was later than in reality. The good news was that I could board earlier than expected, so that was sweet. I had to walk all the way to the front of the train where my sleeper car sat on the tracks. Yes, I ordered up the sleeper car, not the delux bedroom rather the standard sleeper with two cots, a sink, a toilet and a nearby shower.
The sleeper is pretty swank and comes with my very own timeshared steward. He could do all my dirty work for me like lowering the bunk and brewing me coffee. As it turns out I received free meals because I paid extra for the sleeper. Not a bad perk considering I would probably spend about $30 on food while aboard. I quickly called my mom and Gene telling them about the exciting “room.” I had to pee, but I wasn’t ready for that scary thing quite yet. First I needed to eat and drink some Jack. So off I went to the dining cart.
The dining cart was actually nicer than some chain restaurants I have eaten at in the past few years. There was silverware (no longer allowed on planes), a table cloth and an actual menu with options. Plus it had something that airlines long since lost – human interaction. Strangers sitting together at a table talking about their trip, their lives and whatever else they felt comfortable discussing with each other. I even tried my hand at stranger interaction with my tablemate a middle aged black woman who was off to Chicago to take care of a newborn child. She told me about her trip to Israel and suggested I go there sometime. “It is especially poignant if you are a student of the bible,” she said. Oddly enough these were essentially her last words to me – either she noticed I ordered a Jack and Coke or she noticed I did not bow my head in prayer before ravenously devouring my cheese ravioli.
Feeling slightly giddy from the Jack I went back to the room. Now I had to use the toilet which was conviently located next to my bed… After fighting with the stupid curtain that was my only privacy from the hallway and while humming gently to mask the sounds of people walking not 2 inches from my bathroom sanctuary I managed to pee. Excellent. This sleeper room is officially mine. I played on my computer a bit and decided it was time to hit the hay. Plus that overhead pulldown bed thing was really calling my name. What an adventure.
Okay, I lasted about 5 minutes in the cot from hell. Really it seems cool, but it isn’t at all. It is tiny and every time the train takes a corner I felt my body lunge towards the edge and the fall that certainly would result in pain. Anyone who knows me knows that I am the most fitfull sleeper on the earth. I roll, kick, talk, snore, stand, dance and sing in my sleep. A 18 inch wide cot was not going to save me from a 5 foot fall to a broken leg. So I make the chairs into a bed, pull down the other bedroll and settle in for the night. I slept. I woke up somewhere in Illinous to scenes of horses in fields and pototoe (hee hee hee) farmers.
Realizing that sleep was not going to be an option I decided to get coffee, take a trucker shower and hang out a bit longer. Trucker shower didn’t cut it because I knew that while in coach I would probably start to smell. So off to the shower room… Ever take a shower on a moving object? You know, get all soapy, wet and then thrown against the walls? It is just as much fun as it sounds, and it gets even better when the hot water dies midshower. But at least I got clean and my bodily odors will not offend any neighbors in the coach sardine can trip from Chicago to St. Louis.
Amazingly enough I even have cell service. Excellent cell service. There I was halfway across the country with nothing I would call civilization around me and for some reason I am rocking 5 bars. So I spend the next few hours on my phone, doing crossword puzzles and eating my free breakfast. The train rocks.