Archive | July, 2011

Personalities from the Train

18 Jul

Jeremy and I encountered several entertaining and/or annoying personalities while traveling by train from Seattle to Chicago. Here are the highlights – note that the first four were encountered on the same overnight train trip.

Overbearing Grandma: There was an older woman with an Eastern European accent who was travelling with her two teenage grandsons. For most of the trip, the two grandsons sat in front of Jeremy and I, and then the Grandmother sat across the aisle from them. She was CONSTANTLY talking to the boys about something. During the lunch hours, she kept asking them if they wanted milk (an odd beverage to pack when traveling in coach overnight, but whatever) and warning them that she was putting it away at 1:30.

She also kept reminding the younger grandson that he needed to put away his electronics and do some kind of required reading. She would then switch seats with the older grandson who was seated in front of me. Normal people bring their seat back upright by leaning against it, pushing the release button, and slowly straightening up. This woman would lean far forward and then push the release button, catapulting the seat and anything on my tray table into the air. This happened twice, and both times I had a soda on the tray table. The woman didn’t seem to notice the girl behind her frantically trying to mop up and running to get napkins, even after Jeremy gave a loud, sarcastic, “Thanks.”

Throughout the trip she was constantly checking in on the grandsons and telling them when she was packing up food, or when they needed to do this or that.

GPS-man: I met GPS-man when he rudely proclaimed I was in the wrong seat, which I had traded with another passenger so my husband and I could sit together. He insisted after I explained this to him, and then I slowly pointed out how the seat exchange worked and how the same seat would still be the only one available, even if I moved. This issue was that the conductor had accidentally given him the wrong number, and once he realized this, he grunted and sat in the available seat that the conductor obviously meant to give him.

After the train started moving, he pulled out a GPS device and plugged it in running the cable over the young man seated next to him. The GPS stayed on for the entire trip, unless he was sleeping. I don’t know if the volume options were broken, but this was the loudest GPS device I had ever heard. Every time he touched it, there was a LOUD click or beep or other interactive noise. I thought that it would be over when he packed it up to go to sleep, but, of course, he snored as well. Awesome.

Midnight Relationship Discussion Guy: Our first leg was an overnight trip from Seattle to Sacramento, and we were seated in coach. The kind thing to do once it gets dark is to be as quiet as possible – or simply go to sleep yourself. In the seat behind us, however, there was a man who had a two hour conversation with what I can only imagine was a highly irate woman about their relationship. This occurred from roughly midnight to 2am – prime sleeping time. You could tell from the conversation that this woman was PISSED. The man responded with this very condescending, aloof tone. Were I the woman, the tone with which he spoke would only have made me angrier and angrier, so I am assuming that is one of the reasons this conversation lasted so long.

When you are in public places and surrounded by strangers trying to sleep, please do not have two hour state-of-the-relationship conversations. Just don’t.

Flaming Bromancers: There were two men who sat behind us and across the aisle who I think may have made wedding plans before parting ways. One was a tall Irish-looking fellow who had a slight lisp in his tone (in the over-the-top homosexual kind of way), and the other was a Hispanic man. The Irish guy cursed like a sailor. Now, I curse and generally don’t have a problem with it, but this guy spat out profanities as every adjective and non-proper noun in his sentences. It was just a bit over the top for a public place.

But he and the Hispanic man struck up a conversation in Seattle and were inseparable for the entire trip. They disclosed way too much info for a tightly packed public space, but they really hit it off. When they finally parted ways, I half-expected them to hug and cry – I think they only hugged, but I wasn’t looking to closely.

Confused Woman: This lady was just your standard, confused, PITA customer. She had been booted from an earlier train due to some scheduling issue and had been given a ticket for a sleeper room on the same train – the day after ours. When another couple came to her sleeper room, claiming it was theirs, she threw a fit. Eventually, the conductor came along and tried to straighten things out, explaining she could either ride on this train in coach, or catch tomorrow’s train with her existing ticket. That was most of the exchange, but my favorite quote was:

Woman: “I paid over a thousand dollars for these tickets!”

Conductor (without missing a beat): “So did they.”

Grumpy Old Man: I alternated between being extremely annoyed by this man and feeling sorry for him. He was 72 years old, though I never overhead his name, and it seemed as though he might have been in the early stages of dementia as he got confused very easily and took out that frustration on everyone around him. When our train was late in Sacramento, he would angrily vent to anyone who would listen, nearly working himself into a heart attack. Along the 3 day Sacramento to Chicago route, we overheard several of his conversations (we learned early to avoid him and absolutely to not talk to him if possible). He railed about his horrible trip. He had moved sleeper rooms once and railed about that. He talked about how he hated and didn’t trust women. When it was obvious we would arrive in Chicago late and probably have to spend the night in a hotel, he freaked out about the possibility of Amtrak forcing him to share a room with a woman who might kill him or steal his money. He railed about his insurance company (“They wouldn’t even pay for a sandwich while I was at the hospital!”)

He was so loud and obnoxious that at each meal we had, the other travelers we shared our booth with would eventually bring him up. “There’s this guy, I don’t know if you’ve seen him…” “Oh, we’ve seen him.” This happened at every meal! He had become notorious.

*               *              *

There was one interaction which happened at the Sacramento station that does stand out – just for sheer weirdness.

I had walked over to the Pepsi machine to get a drink, and on my way back a young-ish guy, sitting with his wife, asked me if he could ask me a “weird” question. I know now I should have just said no, but I reluctantly agreed.

Guy: “Do you know what the Furry Community is?”

Me: “yes…….”

Guy: “Are you part of it?”

Me: “No……”

No, I was not wearing cat ears or anything that I thought would be an obvious clue that I was a Furry. Apparently, he explained that he had dyed part of his hair blue and went to a Furry-con and then noticed that many people in that community has dyed their hair blue – so apparently my blue bangs were the reason for his curiosity. I informed him that I hadn’t dyed them as part of the community fad and went on my way, seriously weirded-out.

So those were the stand-out personalities we encountered during our brief travels with Amtrak! Fun, indeed!


Taking the Train: Part 2 (Otherwise known as “There is no Part 2”)

15 Jul

So, yeah. My first experience with long-distance train travel was rocky at best.

For our trip back, we were originally scheduled to travel Florida to D.C., D.C. to Chicago, and then Chicago to Seattle.

We were notified shortly before arriving in Florida that our Chicago to Seattle route was cancelled due to flooding still being a major issue in North Dakota. We were re-booked onto 2 trains: Chicago to LA, and then LA to Seattle, but they did not have sleeper rooms available. We were put at the top of the waitlist for a room should one open up.

During the week in Florida, we were on the fence whether to just scrap the train and drive home, but decided to wait and see if we could get a room.

Then, two days before we were scheduled to leave, Amtrak called us. I answered excitedly, thinking they had found a room. Oh, optimistic me. They were calling to tell us that there were issues with the D.C. to Chicago route and we were rescheduled to a train-bus-train variation of the route – no sleeper rooms available since none of the now 3 legs were technically “overnight”.

That was it – we decided to rent a car and make the 50+ hour drive home on our own.

Fortunately, my husband and I have made many road trips together and know that we do very well on long distance drives together. We make a good team, our traveling personalities are about the same, and we find each other highly entertaining. Unfortunately, I caught a cold the day before we left that took the entire trip to run it’s course, and was passed onto Jeremy over the trip, causing him to get sick on our last day of driving.

But we did it. Five days, 50+ hours of driving, four hotels, and 12 states later, we were home.

Over the course of our two trips, I realized we’d covered a lot of ground. Between train travel and driving, we traveled through 22 states in a less than 3 week period! Phew!

Certainly not the leisurely and relaxing trip through the country I was hoping for, but it wasn’t a horrible experience. We did see a lot of the country that one or both of us had not yet seen. Most of the customer service reps I dealt with at Amtrak, Hertz, Budget, and AAA were all very nice and helpful. All of our money was refunded where applicable, though some of it in the form of a voucher.

We also don’t harbor (much) ill-will with Amtrak. The flooding in the Midwest is certainly abnormal, and they were doing the best they could with a bad situation. There is a question of whether or not they are able to routinely handle disruptions well, or if that is an organizational problem, but I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. We still plan on traveling by train to NYC in December, but we will be staying overnight in Chicago to give us the extra buffer should anything like this come up again!

*I will make one more post covering the many interesting personalities we encountered during our train travel from Seattle to Sacramento. Stay tuned!*

Taking the Train: Part 1

3 Jul

“What route did you take?”

So, as most of you know, Jeremy and I decided to take the train to OCON this summer in lieu of flying. Our planned Route was Seattle to Chicago, Chicago to Washington, D.C., and Washington, D.C. to Fort Lauderdale, FL. The trip was scheduled to start on Monday afternoon (June 27th) and end at 6pm on Friday, July 1.

Things did not go according to plan.

First, the Seattle to Chicago route was cancelled. There is a stop in North Dakota that is flooded, so the trains could not pass through. As there were no alternate routes around – either by train or bus – that leg of our trip was simply cancelled.

We were lucky that an alternate trip was available and a sleeper car was also available for the majority of that trip. The new route would start on Sunday morning and take us from Seattle to Sacramento, and then from Sacramento to Chicago, where we would pick up the remaining legs of our trip.

We rode in coach from Seattle to Sacramento, which was just under a day long. Coach is much more comfortable than the airline version, but still not ideal for sleeping. Other than this mild discomfort, the trip went smoothly and we arrived in Sacramento on schedule, with roughly 5 hours to kill before our next train would arrive.

Within 10 minutes of the scheduled arrival time, we learned the train was now scheduled to arrive 4 hours late. As the afternoon wore on, the time was pushed back several times until the train did finally arrive, approximately 6 hours late. Fortunately, there is a certain amount of buffer time built into the route and it looked like we would make up the time over the 3-ish days it would take us to reach Chicago.

After 1 day on this new route, we were only an hour behind schedule. The train we needed to catch in Chicago was scheduled to leave 4 hours after our originally scheduled departure time. I was not worried.

After day 2, we were scheduled to arrive just under 2 hours late. Again, not too worried. Even if we kept steady at adding to the delay, we would be fine.

Then, day 3 happened. We awoke to an estimated 4 hour delay to our arrival in Chicago. Jeremy and I decided rather than taking the day after train to D.C., we could rent a car and drive to D.C. to met the train we were scheduled to catch, and just bypass the Chicago to D.C. leg. This would allow us to still arrive on time at our final destination.

Sadly, as that Day 3 wore on, hours were added to our delay. We were originally scheduled to arrive at 2:50pm. At 11pm, already 7 hours late, we were expected to arrive at 2am. I slept a little, but we didn’t pull down the beds in our car, so the sleep was light. at 2am, we were scheduled to arrive at 4am.

We did arrive shortly after 4am, and decided to look for a hotel. We would sleep for a few hours, turn in the rest of our tickets for a refund, and then rent a car and drive from Chicago to Fort Lauderdale. We went to a nearby hotel that was completely booked. We walked back to the train station and waited approximately 90 minutes for the car rental desk to open, at which point we rented our car and drove for as long as we could before we could not safely drive any longer due to fatigue (I lasted approximately an hour). We then found a hotel and passed out for about 8 hours.

After resting up, we hit the road again, making only one other stop to sleep for a couple of hours along the way. I am happy to say that we arrived at the hotel slightly earlier than we would have if everything on the train had gone according to schedule. We checked in, ordered room service, and promptly slept for approximately 12 hours.

Despite everything above, we still had a good time traveling. I will devote my next few blog posts to the actual experience along the way, but felt it was best to start with this overview of the trip’s evolution. I will also write a post giving a brief explanation of the various factors that caused the delays and why we still plan to take the train to New York in December.