Saturday, April 22, 2017

Train Trip, Part The Second

I'll tell the truth - I am regretting my decision a week ago to wait until the end of the trip to blog about it. Because, really, I am seriously overwhelmed now. But, boy, was I tired, plus it was harder to experience the trip if I was constantly processing it via writing about it, if that makes any sense. So I decided to experience it and THEN write about it.

Beautiful, right? No idea where it is. Utah, maybe?
Naturally, the entire trip I had a list of travel tips running through my head, alongside amusing anecdotes of people met along the way, all of which I jotted down on the notekeeping app on my phone, confident that I would turn it all into a brilliant recounting of my travels. Unfortunately, what this means is, I'm sitting here staring at cryptic notes such as "Scottish twins" and "Cheeseburger lady" and wondering what the hell I was talking about.

I bet this never happened to Mark Twain.

Why is "Mark Twain" the only travel writer I can come up with at this point? My brain is completely addled. The trip, which I envisioned as being a super-easy jaunt across the country by rail, actually required quite a bit of energy. I am tapped out. I went to bed early last night (my bed! My beautiful bed!) and headed out to yoga this morning, where it turned out that a 2-week train ride can really mess with your balance. I came home and slept 2 more hours.

This all supports my "I'm not 20-something anymore" discovery that I talked about earlier.

Oh, my Lord, stop gabbing and write already. How about a list?

Train Travel Tips

1. Comfort

Luckily, Susie and I were smart enough to bring blankets - some lightweight down throws that pack down small - but what we also needed were a couple of those goofy-looking U-shaped neck pillows whose purpose I never understood before. All the cool travelers had them. We didn't, so we settled for bunching up our sweatshirts and stuffing those under our heads. This didn't work well. So buy the weird-looking pillows - you'll be glad you did.

2. Irritation

Not a hospitable environment...
Apparently, there is an Amtrak rule that there must be one weird guy who ALWAYS sits in a corner of the sightseer lounge and talks loudly enough that you know WAY too much about his life. Every single train, this happened. It's enough to make you (well, me, anyway) start hating humanity. The first train, it was the guitar guy. The second train (the one from Salt Lake to San Francisco), we had a guy who reminded me of the obnoxious up-and-comer on Scrooged - you know, the one after Bill Murray's job? The one who says, "There's no I in T-E-A-M" in an irritating voice? In addition, he was remarkably self-centered - he believed (in a car FULL of people using earbuds) that there was no problem setting up a small speaker to listen to his music with.

We didn't have to ride with him long to realize he had obvious personality issues - to the extent that, if there had been a sudden train breakdown high in the snowy Sierra Nevadas, he would have been the first passenger to freak out and try to get rid of all the old people - you know, in order to make the food last. And I would definitely have been one of those old people, particularly after I told him to use earbuds so I could hear the train's Park Service ranger give his spiel. The one about the Donner Party, ironically enough...

The regular coach cars had their issues, too. Mostly - MOSTLY - people talked in undertones, so all you would hear was a low murmur all around. Because that's what people DO in public, unless they are unsocialized cretins who have never been told by anyone that they are obnoxious individuals who should never consort with other human beings.

I mean, not to put too fine a point on it or anything...

In our coach from Seattle to Spokane, the entire car had to listen to someone of this ilk discuss finances with his seatmate, then endure his talking LOUDLY on his cellphone to some other victim. The entire car was thinking, "Dear Lord, please let this guy fall asleep. Please, please..." Which he finally did, around 10:00, and we all drew a sigh of relief - until he started snoring. I mean, these were Richter-scale snores. If his seat ticket hadn't indicated that he would be getting off in a couple of hours, there may have occurred a scene reminiscent of the Orient Express.

Suitable for knitting AND garrotting, I'd bet...
This is what extended train travel can do to you, people - it can turn you into someone who wonders how effective a murder weapon her 47" circular knitting needles would be.

3. Food

These taste heavenly on a train.
As noted here before, it took only a day and a half for Susie and I to become heartily sick of granola bars and dried fruit. For some reason, train travel makes you crave fresh food. So, on our second morning, we threw our budget out the window and took breakfast in the dining car (omelettes - yum!). On the train, they seat you with strangers, so they can keep all the tables full. That day we were seated with 2 gentlemen who hailed from Scotland, who happened to be twins, which made me feel as if we were about to be part of a weird Monty Python skit.

I literally couldn't understand what one of them was saying, so thick was his brogue. His brother, who had lived 20 years in England, was more intelligible, to my American ears anyway. I asked them how they were enjoying Brexit (politics at breakfast - what a great idea!) and he said, "Not so much - but you folks aren't doing much better here." So we got along, is what I'm saying, and it wasn't nearly as awkward as you might think dining with perfect strangers at a tiny table would be.

We did this again on our last morning, because we had been living on cheese and crackers for over 24 hours at that point, and sat with an older couple from Indiana. No, Wisconsin, they got on the train in Indiana. No, wait, Michigan - Michigan is above Indiana.

See? Train travel is excellent for learning geography.

These people were dedicated train travelers. I met quite a few of that type on the trip, actually, and it is interesting to note that they all paid the extra money for the roomettes. I would mention that we were traveling coach, and they would say, "Oh, yes, we traveled coach - ONCE." I would like to be rich enough one day to be one of these people.

Was this category about food or people? I'm terrible at staying on topic.

4. Conductors

She earned these.
People, if you are on a train, conductors are gods. They hold all power. You DO NOT want to irritate them. We had one conductor from Seattle to St. Paul who felt sorry for me (I told you I looked haggard) and said, "Grab those 2 empty seats tonight - I won't let anyone else sit there." And I was able to lie horizontally and actually get some sleep. That lady earned herself a pair of homemade fingerless mitts, I'll tell you.

But woe to the people they don't like. One conductor regaled us with the story of a roomette-dweller who buzzed her at 2:30 in the morning because he wanted a cheeseburger. "A cheeseburger!" she said. "I told him, I said, 'Don't you be asking me for no cheeseburger in the middle of the night!' and then I turned off my buzzer so he couldn't bother me. I said, 'You buzz me again, I'll have you meet my 2 brothers - Smith and Wesson!" At this point the other conductor was practically falling on the floor, laughing. "Girl," he said. "You go too far!" And she said, "Hey, I'm very assertive. People think I'm being rude."

We loved that woman.

Okay, enough about the train. Tomorrow (or Monday), we'll talk about the places we visited, once I can decipher some more of these notes. I mean, if anyone is even still reading this...


  1. Hey, I'm still reading and feel as if I am right there with you. Thanks.

  2. I can't imagine how you didn't pull a 'throw mama from the train' on the loud talker. Loud conversations drive me crazy on an airplane and that is a shorter duration compared to your train adventure. Coach and I once took a train from Buffalo to Chicago as newlyweds. It was xmas and my folks lived out there for a few years. We were unprepared for the freezing temps on the train on our way home. Fortunately someone gave us a fluffy bathroom throw rug off of our registry for xmas. We used it to keep hypothermia at bay.

  3. This is wonderful! As someone who is about to embark on a sightseeing train from Vancouver to Calgary next week, I am glad you mentioned the neck pillow. I wouldn't have thought to bring it.

    I am with you on the food. When traveling, I'm good for about 24 hours with fast food and travel food, and then I need something that is less disturbing.

  4. What memories you have! And I know what you mean about irritating people. Two years ago I took a five-hour bus trip, my first in many decades. The bus was close to empty, but of course, there was one man who talked on his cell phone to a prospective girlfriend the entire five hours. I hope she realized that forewarned is fore-armed and declined the opportunity to be his gf.
    Can't wait for part two of your journey!

  5. We took the Auto Train from Washington DC down to Orlando Fl one year when my 2 older kids were 6 & 3 and I was pregnant with my youngest. It's only an overnight and part of the next day (maybe 24 hrs total) but it made me heartily skeptical of train travel. We had a "family bedroom", so 2 short bunks and a double bed when set up, but I don't think I slept at all either going there or coming back. Amazing how many times the train slowed down or sped up - and I woke up for every single one.

  6. I'm loving your trip re-cap. Why is it that there is ALWAYS at least one obnoxious, thoughtless person?! They must be raised by wolves.

  7. Yes, I'd say Utah and you can't do much better than Mark Twain -- I think you went straight to the top! "How are you enjoying Brexit?" That's one way to start an interesting conversation!
    The Richter-scale snoring... I think that's what I do when I'm not on my CPAP... for example, when camping in Utah. I was in the closed-up van and my husband still heard me in the tent 20 feet away. This is why he is becoming convinced to buy a trailer, so it's not all bad.
    I do wish I could have met up with you. Now you probably think all Richter-scale snorers live in Spokane!

  8. Hell is other people. You should write a parody of No Exit, but set it in a train.

  9. So glad to see part two! I have been checking - I was just wondering if something bad happened to you. Yes that looks like Utah to me :) . My husband always says life is good except for the other people in it. Sigh. Reading this just makes me think I probably irritate a ton of other people when I'm in public. We've all got our idiosyncrasies I suppose.

  10. I would love to have breakfast with Scottish twins!

  11. Beth RiddickApril 24, 2017

    I've wanted to do a cross-country train trip for years. Andre and Sarah make it look romantic and fun. You, on the other hand...

  12. Sounds like my days at work with all the annoying people.