There are several train trips in Another Sunday; the first one takes place in 1902. The couple leaves from Camden Station in Baltimore, a sleeping car on the B&O. I was lucky enough to see one of these cars when I visited the B&O Train Museum last year. Very plush, just the thing for a honeymoon, I’d say.
If we fast-forward 113 years, one might think that train travel would be even more luxurious. Well, only one who had not been in the United States, ever. Amtrak, our national passenger carrier, has its challenges. From rail that is owned by the freight rail companies, to schedules that give freight trains the right-of-way while the passenger cars idle on a siding, passenger travel takes an uncomfortable back seat.
Our cross-country trip included six different trains, and, by far, the service was lovely and caring. One notable exception was the Lakeshore Limited, the second leg of our journey. I envisioned a romantic evening excursion, from New York’s Pennsylvania Station to our arrival at Union Station in Chicago the next morning. Fueled by fantasies of Mad Men, of Don Draper relaxing in the bar car, cigarette in one hand, Martini in the other, I anticipated the Hudson River to be our dinner companion, followed by a comfy night in our bedroom. (I might add here that the cost of said bedroom equated to airfare and a night at the Ritz.)
My fantasy started unraveling when we lugged our luggage to our room (WHERE were the porters?), only to find that there was no air. I do not mean that there was no air conditioning, I mean that there was NO AIR.
“Yeah, that’s been broken a while, and the room next door. I don’t want to fiddle with it because that might break the air in the whole car.” When we asked if there was another bedroom available, you guessed it. Not a chance. Well, we reasoned, this was an adventure, and navigated our way to the dining car, threading our way down the narrow corridors, rocked mightily by the train’s motion on track decades past its prime. I will spare you the details of the meal, only to say that it is the first time that I have been served a baked potato that was rotten in the middle.
Still, travel is an adventure, right? That is what I told myself, repeatedly that evening, as I climbed to the upper berth. The stability straps made the ascent even trickier, although, as the night wore on, and the train rocked its way through Ohio, I was grateful that they were there, as I clung to them to make sure that I didn’t tumble unwittingly and unwillingly to the lower berth. I worked hard to settle into the less-than-gentle rocking motion, sounds of Arlo singing Riding on The City of New Orleans playing in my head. That, however, was interrupted by a voice on the loud speaker announcing. “Toilets on this car are broken. Please do not flush.” Sometimes you just have to laugh.
Our train pulled into Chicago, on time. Breakfast was fine, I think. I was simply thankful that I hadn’t suffered a heat stroke. I was doubly grateful that we were met by friends who loved me no matter how shiny my face, how wrinkled my clothes, how matted my hair.
Welcome to Chicago, and air conditioning!
I must add that after a “respectful complaint” to Amtrak, they provided us with a voucher for our fare our Lakeshore Limited experience. Not a refund, but a voucher, so we will again venture on the rails.
I’ll write about our further train adventures over the next few weeks. Hope that you are enjoying these tales, ensconced in your air-conditioned retreat.
Incidentally, my fictional characters fare much better on their train journeys, and theirs is quite a different story from mine. Another Sunday will be available later this year. Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to announce it!