Oh God, no! He’s not going to talk about Amtrak again!
Yes, I am, but it’s good. Trust me, it’s good.
Back from three weeks in Chicago visiting family. I had hoped to visit with a couple friends, too – ran out of time.
Overall the trip was wonderful. Tomorrow I’ll write about some of the things I saw and did.
Two of my last three posts were about the rigors of the Amtrak train trip out there. The trip back was much more pleasant though, mostly because the train was never terribly late and arrived on time.
After stepping off the train in Chicago more than six hours late I sent an email to Amtrak’s CEO, Charles Wickliffe “Wick” Moorman IV, suggesting Amtrak do a better job communicating the timeliness of its trains, especially when it was common knowledge to Amtrak that a train would likely be late (on the trip to Chicago I overheard one of the conductor’s mention talk about a 13 mile stretch coming up where the train was going to lose an hour).
In the days just before my return train was to leave I got a couple emails from Amtrak telling me about an area that could cause the train to lose 1 – 2 hours because of track repaired. There was also a notice on the website about the possible loss of time. I thought that was a good effort. Also, while on the train there were a few times the conductor announced a likely delay and why it would occur.
For the most part, the train stayed close to schedule until Albuquerque where we sat for almost an hour. As the train made its way across New Mexico and into Arizona it fell further and further behind schedule so that by the time we reached Needles California we were 90 minutes late. From there on the engineer did a nice job picking up time, but we were still an hour late when we reached San Bernardino.
I had a connecting train to take me from L.A. to Ventura, that I was hoping to catch, but at the current pace I figured we roll into L.A. at 9:13 a.m. and my train to Ventura would leave at 9:14. You can see my dilemma. The next train for me would be at 12:30 p.m. To my delight the engineer managed to cut large chunks off that 60-minute deficit at the next three stops so that we rolled into LA’s Union Station just 20 minutes late and I had more than enough time to catch my connecting train.
All-in-all, the trip restored my faith in Amtrak. However, I will never sit on a train for two days again. Being confined that long in a limited space with a train-full of strangers became painful. It’s also too hard to sleep comfortably in a chair, even if the chair is relatively comfortable. There are only two ways I will ever make such a trip again. I might do it if I could afford a sleeping car (right now $150 or so for the coach, about $700 for the sleeper with a senior discount). Or I might plan a trip three or four stop train trip, go 1/4 – 1/3 of the way each day and spend some time being a tourist at each stop. Otherwise, I’ll fly.
A few things I learned:
- Always bring an extra layer of clothing (sweatshirt or jacket and sweatpants) and maybe a blanket. Also, bring a pillow or at least a towel to roll and use as a pillow. Sometimes the air conditioning is left on and it can get colder than a you-know-what.
- Bring a couple books and/or a Kindle, Nook, or Tablet and headphones or earphones (to while away the time you can read, listen to music, or watch videos, but you’ll need to listen privately.
- You might find a set of earplugs useful, especially if someone nearby is having a conversation you don’t want to overhear or if the person in the aisle seat next to you snores.
- If you can’t sleep in your seat or you become uncomfortable sitting you can walk the train, which I did often, and sit in the lounge car which has a sunny and pleasant view of the passing scenery. At night you might be able to find a place to stretch out a bit more than you can in your seat. The lounge car was my second home on the train.
- Pack some food – sandwiches, bagels, muffins, salads, fruit, snacks, etc. Nothing that needs heating, though. Microwaves are not available for passenger use. Meals on the train, while often fairly good, are expensive. Snacks are also expensive. I bought a six-ounce container of donut holes and a small bag of M & M’s for six dollars. I could have gotten both for $4 or less in a grocery store.
- Take advantage of any opportunity to get off the train. The few minutes of fresh air will do you good and you might see a use for your cell phone camera.
Right now I’m planning one long train trip and a couple shorter ones. First I’ll be spending some time in San Francisco, in January I think I’ll go to Albuquerque. Then in April the long one up to Seattle. Driving up there would take a minimum of 20 hours non-stop, but the train trip is 33 hours. Right now I’m trying to decide the most convenient and interesting place or places somewhere in the middle to stop and spend a day both going up and coming back.
A couple weeks ago I stepped back in time when I saw a ball game at Wrigley Field. The Cubs won 7 – 2, which would have been good news for me if they hadn’t been playing the White Sox.
I went to Chicago to visit my family, but I also got to see three baseball games, two at Sox park, and one at Cubs park. I was only planning to see one game, but a couple generous relatives (thanks, Doug and Dean) I got to see a couple more.
This story isn’t as much about baseball or the Cubs-Sox rivalry as it is about Wrigley Field. I am now in agreement with the White Sox part-time announcer, Hawk Harrelson, I’ll never go back to Wrigley Field again. I hadn’t been to Clark and Addison in more than 20 years and even though Comiskey Park wasn’t much of a ballpark at that time I thought Wrigley Field was even worse – a real dump to say the least. It was old and felt filthy. The scoreboard didn’t offer much information and when I went to the bathroom I felt like I was going to get yelled at for peeing on the wall.
When I was offered the chance to see a Cubs – Sox game at Wrigley I was excited about seeing both my favorite baseball teams, but I was even more excited about seeing Wrigley, especially after having followed all the stories about the renovation. Even in California where I now live there was plenty to read about the work being done to Cubs Park. I read the stories about what was being done, saw the pictures of walls being torn down, dirt and rubble being piled up, and construction workers moving metal and mortar. Based on that I thought Wrigley would no longer be the old, tired, dirty looking place I remembered. I was expecting so much more than I found.
We parked in a lot a couple blocks from Wrigley. That was interesting to me because I’d always taken the L and walked to the park in the past so I never knew where everyone else put their cars when they went to a game. I could hardly wait to get to the ball park because I was truly excited about seeing the improvements. As we approached the park I was quite impressed. We were surrounded by a number of crisp looking brick buildings and a large amount of grass. There was a picnic-like feel to the place.
After we got through security, made our way up the ramps and found our seats I realized whatever had been done to Wrigley was merely cosmetic. There was a huge, modern scoreboard in right field. There were a few other electronic doo-dads scattered about the park, and the seats might have been new, but it was still the junk yard I remembered. There was nothing new and shiny about the parts of the park where the fans spend most of their time. The aisles separating the various sections were still a death trap. Be careful moving about because if you’re not particularly careful (or if you’re someone like me with only one good eye and limited depth perception) the chances you will stumble and fall are greater than winning $10 playing the lottery. I noticed that Cubs fans are particularly rabid, which is great especially if you’ve become accustomed to being a fan of a losing team. Still, an entire row of those fans were still sitting on fold up bingo-hall chairs that made the place look cheap.
Thank God the ball club is finally offering some excitement because the park the Cubs play in is barely serviceable. The place is still a dump. Now that the Cubs have finally won the World Series it’s time for the owners to be realistic and tear the place down. Cubs fans deserve something better. Nostalgia is often a good thing, but that should be limited to the center-field bleachers and scoreboard and maybe take the front of the stadium and attach it to a real ball park. I’ve seen minor league parks that are better than the empty gum wrapper that is Cubs park.
I felt like this had been an evil trick to make me think I’d stepped back in time, a time when the Cubs were still the loveable losers. About the middle of the sixth inning I made my way men’s room and just like the good old days I felt like someone was going to yell at me for peeing on the wall.
I have been documenting my trip to Chicago. So far I have been riding the Southwest chief that left LA Friday, July 14 at least a half hour late and since then has been running 90+ minutes late the entire trip.
Now we are in Albuquerque and have been sitting here more than half an hour without power. That means toilets don’t flush. It means there’s no air conditioning and the temperature is around 90. And it means there are at least 300 very upset passengers who are on their way to Chicago.
The power and air conditioning went on about 20 minutes after I wrote the above paragraph, but it was awhile before the train finally pulled out of Albuquerque – 2:25 late. I sincerely doubt we will arrive in Chicago any better than 90 minutes late.
I think we deserve a full refund for this trip because of the anguish and agony Amtrak has put us through. We purchased tickets in good faith that our train would be on time and we would travel in reasonable comfort. While the staff has worked admirably, #Amtrak has failed us miserably.
Here’s a short video of the ‘dead’ Amtrak Southwest Chief in Albuquerque.
I’m taking the train from L.A. To Chicago. The first leg was from Ventura to L.A.
The train from L.A. To Chicago arrived late. Then five minutes after the train was due to leave they had everyone in the last two cars exit the train.
The reason: they made a mistake the door of the last car is supposed to be sealed, but the sealed door was on the second-last car. So now we’re here and the train is somewhere else getting its last two cars switched.
When it returns we will get back on the cars (now in a different order) we were on before. The train we’ll leave 90 minutes late. This was taken after we’d been waiting 15 minutes for the train to come back.
Here’s a short video of me and the other passengers waiting…. https://youtu.be/LL92k9CzhJE