When we got to Shelby, Montana, we found that it was a “port” and there were quite a number of tracks and trains and cars. We drove through the town, never seeing an Amtrak sign, but finally finding the station. I parked and went in to get my ticket and find out what I needed to know. The Amtrak agent had that quality of intentionally disregarding you that bordered on surly. She finally gave me my ticket and told me where to go and I went back to the truck to get my stuff. My sister hopped out to use the bathroom before she started back and I found that there was an open router. I checked my email and then Susan and I said goodbye.
The Amtrak agent announced that the train was inbound so I went out to my designated spot to board. While waiting for the train, I chatted with the crew that was boarding at the next spot down. We saw some people run across the tracks to the station and marveled at their stupidity.
When the train came, it was a double-decker, and I was topside. However, when I got to my room, there was already someone in there. I asked her if she was getting off at the next stop. She said no. So I went looking for a conductor to find out where I was going to sleep that night. They finally decided to put me in the crew quarters. They made up one of the rooms for me and there I put my stuff before heading to lunch. I had a nice lunch with a grandmother, her granddaughter, and another older woman. I found out from them that there was going to be a wine and cheese tasting at 3:00 pm. (I think that, outside of the Boston-NYC-DC corridor, Amtrak is the province of retirees, starving artists/students, families, and those who don’t like to fly.) I went to the tasting, tried four wines, tried three cheeses, chatted w/ the girl and the couple who sat with me, and chuckled at my attendant’s description of the cheeses and wines. He didn’t know how to say tannins or what tannins were. I explored a bit of the car and tried to arrange my room to my liking.
I went to dinner and had the spicy meatloaf. The meatloaf was okay, but the sauce was tasty and it made the whole meal quite nice. I got to dinner early, but I wasn’t the first one there. The first was an older woman named Lucy to whom the attendant had taken a liking. She would call her Luuuucy like Ricky Ricardo would say it. The attendant sat me with Lucy and then the woman I had sat with from lunch sat with us as did a girl who was going to Pace (I think), a small liberal arts school. We all had a nice time chatting. The girl and the woman left after they were done, but Lucy and I stayed and chatted some more with the attendant. She had lost her husband a few years earlier and was dating a “prominent citizen” from her town. Eventually we said good night and I went to find my car’s attendant to have my bed made. I found him and he had already prepared my bedding. He just put the two seats down to make the support and then went and got the mattress and laid it down. A roomette is a tight squeeze generally speaking and even more so when the bed is down. But I got ready for bed and slipped under the covers, leaving the blinds open to watch the countryside roll by.
Around 4:00 am I woke up to a crossing bell dinging, being a bit chilly, only the emergency lights working, and the car as quiet as a tomb. I was worried that there had been a change of trains and being a passenger in the crew car, I’d been forgotten. Looking outside, I saw I was in Fargo. I closed the blinds, got dressed, and went looking to see what the situation was. Eventually I heard people stirring, so I knew I wasn’t alone. I found an attendant, but not mine, in the following car. I asked him what was going on. He said that he thought we were “waiting on people,” but the way he said it made me think that he had no clue what was going on. So I asked him for another blanket, went back to my room, got undressed, and back into bed.
Being in the crew quarters, I got to hear a lot of the goings-on, and I eventually heard that they were having trouble with the electrical system. They got it fixed, seemingly, we were off again, and I went back to sleep. I woke up briefly again to the same issue, but I fell back asleep and don’t know where that stop was. I finally woke up to the announcement that the power was out again and that they weren’t going to be able to serve breakfast. Shortly after that, they announced that we were coming into Minneapolis and that they were going to try, once again, to fix the electrical issue, but if they couldn’t we were going to be bused to Chicago. I stayed wrapped up in bed. The blankets were thin, but warm! After a while, they told us to gather our belongings and head into the station. I thought about staying onboard, but decided against it. (I later met a woman who did stay onboard and traveled to Chicago on the train instead of the bus like I did.) I plugged my cell phone up to try and get as much of a charge as I could for the bus trip or possibly getting back on the train.
As it turned out, they put us on buses and they took the people first who were trying to make connections in Chicago, like me. I don’t know how I managed it, but I got a seat to myself on the bus. The driver asked us if we wanted to get something to eat now or later. The loudest of us wanted to go straight to Chicago, but he said he would need to stop to go to the bathroom. (My thought to that was, “Isn’t there a bathroom in the back of the bus?”) He drove about three and a half hours and then stopped at a truck stop for thirty minutes. If we hadn’t stopped, we would have made our connection in Chicago!
The closer we got, the more I checked how close we were, calling Amtrak to get updates. They never knew anything until they knew the train had left w/o us. Once we got to Union Station, I got in line to find out what my options were. The lady behind the counter was pleasant, but not friendly. She put me on train 48, The Lake Shore Limited to NYC and the 8:00 pm Regional to DC. I figured that she would put me in business class on the Regional since I was riding sleeper on the Limited, but I noticed later that she had booked me as coach class. I’d fix that later.
We, the sleeper passengers, were supposed to board at 8:15 pm for the wine and cheese tasting before the 9:00 pm departure. But again, that time came and went w/o an announcement. Finally around 9:00 pm, they announced that there was a problem with the engine that they were working on–it was the cold again. A couple of hours later, they either got it fixed, or they got a new engine, not sure which, but now the dining car wasn’t working and they needed a new dining car.
I called Amtrak (because the attendant working the desk left w/o telling us she was leaving or what the status was) around 12:30 am and the lady I spoke with told me that her computer was saying that we were suppose to leave at 12:30 am. Obviously that wasn’t going to happen. Finally, around 1:15 am, they came to get us. As we were boarding, one of the conductors said that they were still going to have the wine and cheese tasting. I wasn’t feeling especially sleepy, so I went. The guy that was going to give it told me that I could take a plate and a bottle of wine back to my room if I wished. I asked him if there were enough bottles for everyone. He said there weren’t, but he was sure that few were actually going to come to the tasting. So I took a bottle and the cheese, grapes, and crackers back to my room. We pulled out and got about twenty minutes out of the station when, holy mackerel, the engine died. It took awhile, at least an hour, but eventually an engine came along and pushed us back into the station. We sat there for about ten minutes or so when we got a new engine and took off. Originally, we were supposed to get into NYC around 6:00 pm on Monday. After all this, we were going to get into NYC around 5:00 am Tuesday.
We ended up getting into NYC around 3:30 am. The train wasn’t suppose to have served dinner Monday night because we were suppose to get into NYC at 6:00 pm, but since that wasn’t going to happen, they served us dinner. However, they weren’t really ready for it, so there were no vegetables. I ordered a flat iron steak, but got a small piece of a roast. It was tasty and tender, but small and not what I ordered. I also got a double helping of mashed potatoes, I guess because they were out of veggies. My lunch had been nice. I sat with an acting student named Amanda who was half Filipino and half Italian. She and I had a nice chat and a good time. We both got the Angus burger, but she pulled a lot of the breading out of the bun.
When we got into NYC at 3:00 am on Tuesday, I went straight to the Amtrak customer service office. They were waiting for us, but didn’t want to hear my story. They changed my Regional ticket from 8:00 pm Monday night to 4:40 am Tuesday morning and upgraded it to business class. They also gave me a phone number to call and I guess someone on the other end would listen to my story and compensate me. I finally got back into DC around 8:30 am Tuesday morning, around 19 or 20 hours later that I was supposed to get into DC. All in all it was a fun adventure and I would do it again, but not in the winter, unless Amtrak fixes their engines to run in the cold.