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Diary of an Escort – Part IV in a series January 13, 2010

Posted by Fritz in Travel.
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2010 Rose Bowl Champs

Between the excitement of the arrest and the new drama developing in Pat’s life, I ended up spending only another hour in the seat before I escaped to the Lounge car with a few magazines and my phone/Ipod. I figured the sun would be up in 3 hours and Greg announced the night before he would be selling coffee in the snack bar by 5:30.

I wasn’t the only one who found the Lounge a more hospitable sanctuary. There were at least a half dozen other souls in various stages of consciousness scattered about. I settled into a booth and actually dozed. When I awoke I could see the beginning cracks of light rising above the silhouetted mountains behind us. On this morning I would be treated to a beautiful Colorado sunrise.

Colorado Sunrise

After two cups of Greg’s coffee I was feeling fairly spry and was really enjoying the scenery. The sun was now up and Persephone had joined me in the Lounge. We shared some conversation and delved a bit deeper into our personal lives. I shared with him I had a sixteen year-old daughter and thought she would like him. I discovered he was an only child and his Dad had left when he was three. His mom, 35, who I had yet to meet, was traveling with him. When, at last we finally met, I would have been able to make her as Persephone’s mom in any line-up.

Ally Sheedy

She was an Ally Sheedy look-alike straight from the character in The Breakfast Club. Complete with wooly ski hat pulled down over her ears, floppy long sleeve sweatshirt—two sizes too big and a beautiful smile that lit up her face. She joined us briefly that morning and I discovered she was a vegetarian (no surprise) and very proud of her son.

Another hour of conversation passed when the Conductors voice announced our stop in La Junta, Colorado. This would be a ‘smoke break’ stop or one long enough for passengers to get off, stretch their legs and get some fresh air. Little did we know this was going to be a bit longer than usual.  I was eager to get off the train and get some air so I was back at my seat donning my fleece and jacket when the lights in the car suddenly went out.  I didn’t think much of it assuming they turned off everything since the engines had stopped too.

Station La Junta, CO

This was anything but standard operating procedure.

Once outside I started to overhear rumblings that something was amiss. They had originally announced our stop to be no longer than 20 minutes. I was back aboard by the prescribed time only to hear that the train was officially broken down. The second engine, the one that supplied electricity to the train, had died. Without it we had no power, lights or heat. Not to mention the fact we needed it to get us through the continental divide later in the day.

Early on I figured out most of the older folk liked to use the heads when the train wasn’t moving. There was always a rush when the train came to a stop. This stop was no different and there was a steady line heading for the john during our La Junta stop. The heads on the train were similar to the vacu-flush heads on a plane. An electric motor used a strong vacuum to evacuate the bowl while water was pumped to rinse. The key word here being…electric. With no power we had no flush. For the first people to use the heads during the power outage it wasn’t an issue. They left their issue for the next and they in turn left theirs to the next. Things got quickly out of hand and soon the heads were unusable. I decided to use the bathroom in the station figuring it would be a far better alternative, Ha! La Junta Colorado is a very small town, tiny actually. The station was barely big enough to be manned yet alone handle 400 passengers seeking toilet privileges. To top it off, when I got to the bathroom one of the two urinals was inop and there wasn’t any toilet paper in the two stalls. Luckily a station employee wandered in with a single roll of what was surely to become a roll of gold before the day was over.

We ended up stuck in La Junta for 3 1/2 hours before they were able to get the second engine fired off. At one point things were looking so bleak they started moving another engine into place off a siding to hook onto us and push us to L.A.

The Conductor came over the PA and informed us we would try to make up the lost time by increased speed and shorter stops at the stations with built in stop time. I was just happy to be moving again. Unfortunately, even after some attention, the heads were disgusting the rest of the trip. The power outage had really made a mess.

The rest of the afternoon was the climb towards the Continental Divide.

Crazy rocks

The trip passed through beautiful Arizona high desert complete with elk, buffalo, antelope and lots of cattle and sheep. The approach to the actual Divide was a bit anticlimactic. The grade is not as steep as I had imagined. Obviously the railroad chose the easiest approach for obvious reasons. It was however steep enough to realize when we had reached the summit and started our decent down the other side and it was at that very moment we lost power again.

Too be continued…

Next: Dining aboard the Southwest Chief


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