This posting is a bit off track. Way off track since it’s actually a tale about Amtrak. In July, we attended a wedding in Chicago and thought it would be fun to venture by train. Learning that the Capitol Limited had overnight service from Washington, D.C. to Chicago. We checked out the schedule. It turned out we could catch the train in nearby Harpers Ferry, and arrive in Chicago the next morning. There was something alluring about traveling a train with a nostalgic sounding name.
The experience could have turned nasty right from the beginning. As we pulled into the parking lot of the quaint train station at Harpers Ferry, I was expecting the worst. Traffic cones and barriers directed cars to the right. On my approach, I scanned the parking lot and saw the last vacant space off to the left. I madly skirted cones, zipped off in that direction and pulled into an empty space. I wasn’t halfway in when an oncoming car blasted his horn and frightened the bejesus out of Jane, who had nodded off during the drive.
No doubt he didn’t appreciate my direct navigation. He as in front of me and dutifully followed the traffic sings. I can understand why he felt that I cut him off. But since we were about to depart for a few days, I was determined to have a space. When I called Amtrak earlier about the parking situation I was assured that there was free parking available at the station. So much for accurate information.
It was a hot and clear day and we were primed for overnight trip to Chicago to attend a wedding. The Capitol Limited originating in Washington’s Union Station was scheduled to arrive in Harpers Ferry at 5:15. Twenty minutes late the train rumbled through the tunnel under Maryland Heights and traversed the bridge across the Potomac River. All of the dozen or so passengers, including us, were on the wrong side of the tracks. We hurriedly made our way down the underpass to the opposite side of the station. The conductor directed us not the appropriate car where we settled in to the cozy roomette.
The room was outfitted with 2 cushioned seats facing each other parallel to the window. In the evening the roomette is transformed into a sleeping compartment. The seats slide together to form the lower berth and the upper berth floods down from the ceiling. Our porter Cliff asked what time we would like him to arrange our bleeding. We agreed that 9:00 pm would be fine.
Meals are included in the price of the roomette and Cliff informed us that our seating was at 6:00. Our dinner companions were a couple from Pittsburgh. As frequent Amtrak passengers, they earned enough points to receive nights at the Greenbrier resort in Virginia. They were returning home. Their accommodations were in a larger room that had a shower and toilet. They invited us back rot take a look and we were envious of their room. Food on the train was OK, especially considering the limited kitchen space.
At breakfast the next morning we were paired with a couple from Australia. They own a series of pawnshops and were taking a 5-week holiday in the states. They were traveling from D. C. To Chicago, then continuing on to New Orleans. They enjoyed the train experience and spent a few days touring their destination city.
Our conversation naturally got to politics and the outrageous remarks of Donald Trump. We were startled to learn that in Australia there is mandatory voting. Citizens who fail to vote at their polling place or cast an early ballot are finned $100. I wonder what the effect would be in the U. S. If mandatory voting was enacted?
On our return, we arrived about an hour and a half before departure time. The scene at the Chicago station was just shy of bedlam. The drab low-ceiling waiting room was mobbed with people. A shrill voice shrieked over the PA system screaming train numbers and track locations. Her rapid announcements were almost unintelligible. It’s no wonder that people were lined up in the wrong location which only prompted even more frantic messages. We later learned that there’s a comfortable first class waiting room that we could have used and made reservations for dinner aboard the train.
A screechy announcement notified us that our train was delayed due to some equipment problem. Our departure was about 45 minutes late. After sitting in our roomette for about a half hour, our porter Tim asked if we had a dinner reservation. We did not. He said the first available slot was the 10:00 seating, which because if the delay would actually be around 11:00. After some complaining on our part, we were told there was the option of a “to go” order that would be brought to our room. But he didn’t know when it would arrive due to the backlog. We placed our order but also fortified ourselves with some wine we purchased in the cafe car. Our dinner arrived at 10:30 and we made due on the tiny pull out table. When we were finished, Tim removed our trays and prepared the bunks.
All through the evening there were absurd announcements like, “the 8:00 seating will be now be seating at 9:15,” or “the 9:00 seating will be at 10:00.”
Jane awoke around 8:00 the next morning and I lingered in the top cocoon for a little longer. When I shimmied down to the floor the was a beautiful river scene passing by. Mist was rising along the winding creek bottom and hills and farms flashed by.
Although there are showers on board we just freshened up as best we could in the telephone-booth sized bathroom. Then I went to the dining car to catch up with Jane. She was seated with two un-chatty passengers, one from Pittsburgh en route to Florida, the other returning to Glenside just north of Philadelphia. We did manage to get a conversation going about National Parks and the woman engaged in a mild rant about reintroducing wolves.
After breakfast, we spent the morning relaxing in our roomette admiring the scenery and reading.
When we arrived at Harpers Ferry there was a parking ticket on my windshield. My first reaction was to complain, but it was issues by the National Park Service. I decided it write it off as a donation to their 100th anniversary.
All in all, Amtrak was a good experience. It wasn’t the opulent Orient Express we yearned for secretly. Next time we’ll try to get the bigger room. Maybe a ride over the Rockies or into Canada is in our future.