Originally published 21 July 2021
*Record scratch, freeze frame*
Voice over: “I’m sitting on a train to New York in a full-sized bedroom, neither of which I booked. You may be wondering how I got here. Well, you see, it all started in Sandpoint, Idaho…”
Previously, on GARRT:
“….we were stopped in a siding just outside Sandpoint, ID. As it turns out, we had been sitting there for about two-and-a-half hours (it would be three before were moving again) due to a disabled freight train on single track ahead of us…”
“We are now almost four hours delayed as we zip across North Dakota. For some reason, the app expects us to make up about three hours of time between here and Chicago, arriving only 45 minutes late. We’ll see how true that turns out to be…”
Which brings us up to this morning. I woke up in time for breakfast and reprized the omelet meal I had yesterday. My companions at both breakfast and lunch were Katherine and Jon—no relation to my parents—a United Church of Christ minister and an electrical engineer. I remember that they were lovely company, but I can’t remember for the life of me what we discussed. We had made up maybe half an hour overnight but were still quite behind schedule. I settled down in my room as we wound our way through Minnesota.
The make-or-break moment came at Minneapolis/St. Paul which is built into the schedule as a final buffer before Chicago. My connection was two hours, forty five minutes. Arriving in St. Paul we were three hours and two minutes behind. Leaving the Twin Cities we had cut it down to two hours and fifteen minutes. Victory.
And then we had another station stop, and our delay increased.
Another station, another couple minutes added to the delay.
A smoke stop added five whole minutes.
I watched as station by station we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory until we arrived in Milwaukee. In the Brewery City our conductor told us that because we were now operating in Chicago’s metro area during rush hour, we should expect even more delays since Metra gets priority.
As if to put a final button on the reality that I would not be making my connection, minutes after crossing into Illinois, the train’s emergency brakes engaged and we were left stopped in the middle of a highway grade crossing. In short, one of the train’s safety systems tripped the brakes automatically (I have theories as to why, and none of them are the “for no apparent reason” we were told by the conductor) and required a manual reset before we could move again. My sympathies to those driving on IL State Route 22, but also lol @those who decided to 4×4 over the median to complete a u-turn.
Transiting through the switch yard coming into Chicago, a superliner train passed us going the other way. It was the Capital Limited, the train I was meant to be on. We arrived almost exactly at 7:00pm; only twenty minutes after my train departed, three hours and five minutes late.
Next comes the blur and banality of bureaucracy. I went inside, stood in a line, was handed a new ticket and a partial refund, and directed to the Metropolitan (sleeper passenger) Lounge. I was rebooked for a later train going a different route but that would nonetheless put me in Newark tomorrow evening. All I had left to do was two hours to kill in my least favorite city in America (possibly the world, I haven’t actually traveled much internationally). Did you know that there are no restaurants open at 8:00pm on a Tuesday night within two blocks of Union Station? Yet another reason Chicago is the worst.
Returning to the lounge unfulfilled I had a dinner of two rice crispy treats and a cup of tea. My train was called and most everyone still in the lounge at 9:00pm went out to the track.
And that’s how I find myself on the Lakeshore Limited (Train 48) in the Accessible Bedroom. It is absolutely palatial in here. I have my own private bathroom (with shower), slightly-larger-than-twin sized bed, luggage rack, and windows on both sides. I am beyond pleased with my accommodations.
We should be arriving in New York at about 6:30, giving me around 3.5 hours to futz and putter in NYC. Not quite enough time for a show, sadly. At least I have tickets to the Spokane productions for this year.
I even had the pleasure of having a last drink with Mr. Freelance Gay, who is also on this train on his way to visit his parents. We compared notes on the Metropolitan Lounge, breaking up, and vulnerable fish populations to be protected by responsible catch-and-release fly fishing.
I want to return briefly to the scenery of Minnesota and Wisconsin. I noticed that the towns were all distinctly Michigan-esque, which I suppose it to say I realized today that Michigan-esque is actually just the way Midwest towns look. Relatedly, the rolling, deciduous hills of WI and southern MN reminded me distinctly of rural Pennsylvania along the turnpike. Why they didn’t call me back to Indiana (you know, where I literally taught in and about the outdoors), I do not know.
Lastly I also want to admire Union Station, Chicago. It, truly, is a cathedral of infrastructure, a tabernacle of transportation. The great hall is awe-inspiring and one almost craves to see it in its full hustle-and-bustle of rush hour. Almost. I am still an introvert.
And now it is time to turn out and enjoy my royal suite. I have new great lakes and upstate New York to see in the morning.