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Diary of an Escort – Part II in a series January 11, 2010

Posted by Fritz in Travel.
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I have to say I was impressed with the way the Amtrak station personnel treated us. Because we were a group we were afforded a bit more attention but I really felt they went out of their way to make sure we were accommodated. I don’t recall the woman’s name that was working the info desk but I must give her big kudos for the personal attention she gave us. Several times she contacted operations to inquire on the status of the delayed train from Ann Arbor. When it was announced the train was finally arriving, she began regular announcements over the P.A. system urging our missing members to the the info desk to meet the tour.

2010 Rose Bowl Champs

Providence  ended up shining on us when the couple emerged from the mass of humanity disgorging from Track 12 just in time to board our train.

Because we were a group we were allowed to board first—a good thing because several of our group had some serious mobility issues.  One woman was in an electric scooter and another needed a cane and walked v-e-r-y slowly. Amtrak took control and provided an electric cart for the slow walker and had an extra Red Hat available to help with loading the scooter.

We departed Chicago 15 minutes late but were assured we would be able to make up that time over the next 43 hours.  Yes I said 43 hours, the scheduled ride from Chicago to Los Angeles. Nearly two full days aboard a train. Before I left, everyone wanted to know “are  you in a sleeper?”  The answer was no, yes, then no.  I’ll explain. In making the arrangements I was originally ticketed with the group in coach. A small, clerical error by one of the honchos at headquarters accidentally sold my seat (the boss is known for squeezing every opportunity to sell a package!) Not usually a big deal as I could have traveled on a separate ticket…if of course another seat was actually available. Oops. It wasn’t, just a mere day after the snafu was discovered.

Amtrak’s rules state that a group leader must check the group in at departure. Not wanting to burden a member of the paying tour with this I needed to be there. Besides I already had my flight to Chicago. Many calls back and forth to Amtrak over the next week had me either; 1. Leaving Chicago with the group and having to get off in Albuquerque to find another way to get to L.A as my coach seat was now sold from Albuquerque west; 2. Leaving Chicago with the group and moving to a sleeper car in Albuquerque (for an additional $700) or; 3.  Seeing the group off in Chicago and then flying to L.A. missing the entire train ride. Option two was my obvious choice. It was however not my bosses’. At the eleventh hour a cancellation occurred and he booked me in coach, with the group, for the entire trip.

So now the fun begins.

Southwest Chief #3

Our train consisted of two engines pulling nine cars starting with the baggage car, three first class (sleeper) cars, the dining car, the lounge car and finally the three, double-decked coach cars. (Sadly, no caboose.)

I didn’t take a formal count but I would guess each couch car seated close to 60. Each row consisted of two seats on each side of the train with a nice wide aisle between. The seats were quite spacious, reclined with leg support and footrests. In the center of each car to port (left side) was a stairwell that led down to additional reserved seating aft and the bathrooms forward. This is also where we entered and exited the train. Our car had 5 heads. One being designated women only, one a handicap, one with additional room for changing and two unisex. I couldn’t help but think that the ratio of toilet to butts was pretty good, especially compared to an airplane. However, that would change as the trip progressed…

The boarding process was best described as organized chaos. Our car attendant, Oscar, had checked our group ticket on the platform prior to boarding. He had a very outdated looking schematic of the car and after a bit of confusion with the one couple in our group who had purchased a sleeper, scribbled some hieroglyphics on his schematic and told us to take the first 19 seats. He then sent the sleeper couple down the platform forward. I followed, wanting to make sure they were able to board. The sleeper car attendant also had the oddly outdated looking schematic but she also had a list of names. Once checked, my sleepers boarded and I hoofed it back six cars to coach. Getting back to my car, I was surprised to see almost half of our people still not aboard and a very long line of passengers behind them. I barged the line at this point wanting to make sure my immobile folk were ok. Oscar nodded me by and handed me a small strip of paper with 19 scribbled on it as I boarded. Sure enough, my people were the cause of the hold-up. I finally got them seated and with a clear stairwell, the other passengers began to board.

Oscar  was actually assigning seats to each passenger with these little strips of paper with numbers scribbled on them. Some folks settled right in and others drifted around the car fairly helpless. We were told to occupy the first 19 seats but by the time I got aboard there was someone in seat #19. With plenty of empty seats aft I picked a nice window seat in the back and stowed my bag. Silly me.  With everyone finally aboard, Oscar was now marching up and down the aisle directing traffic like a seasoned New York street cop. Once he saw me way back in the car, at least 12 rows away from my brood, he gave me a stern look and asked why I wasn’t in my seat. I shared that there was someone already sitting there. He shook his head with a pained look waving me to follow as he disappeared forward into the still unsettled mass. I arrived at seat 19 in time to watch a brief confrontation, a near altercation and a full eviction. Great, I’ve now made at least one enemy on a very small train.

When the seating confusion was over, I settled in, met my seatmate, (more on her later) and noticed we were late. I can proudly say the Southwest Chief #3 departed Chicago fifteen minutes late due to my little bunch of Buckeyes!

Next: Drama on the rails…

To be continued.

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