Lenzie Hedrick was right about the Metropolitan Lounge. The attendant at the counter said I could indeed use the lounge, since I had been a First Class passenger on the Southwest Chief, even though I was waiting for a coach-only train. She looked at my tickets, wrote my train number 339 on three stickers for the bags I would put in the holding area, and gave me a pass to show when I took my bags out to catch the Hiawatha.
After awhile, I saw Lenzie and thanked him for the tip about the lounge. It was much nicer waiting there than in the Hiawatha waiting room by the north tracks. I again enjoyed a soda and soft chair, while I listened to "Jeopardy" on the TV. The lounge was fairly crowded, but cleared out considerably when the westbound Southwest Chief was called.
I thought back to sitting there almost three weeks before, waiting to board the Empire Builder. I felt a bit sad that my trip was almost over, but recalled all the experiences I had, sights I saw, and people I met. Those, after all, are the main reasons for me to travel. I live in a beautiful, scenic area and could otherwise be well satisfied with enjoying my home, yard, friends, and local activities. It's just a shame that so far none of my friends have been interested in riding trains with me!
The time passed quickly and soon came the Hiawatha boarding call. Collecting my luggage, I showed the pass to the attendant. It was a straight shot down the hall to the right from the lounge door, bringing me to Gate B for the Hiawatha. I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't as crowded as sometimes on a summer weekday. I supposed most people were settled at home again after the 4th of July weekend.
The conductor, Mr. Hildebaugh, lifted my suitcase up the steps behind me and I placed it in a large luggage/wheelchair area behind the last seats. There were only aisle seats available, but there was a vacant one for me just ahead of my luggage. Looking around the car, I noticed something that I hadn't observed before on the Hiawatha. Half of the seats faced one way and half faced the other way, all facing toward the center of the car. Since the Hiawatha operates in a push/pull mode, this arrangement allowed half of the passengers in the car to face the same direction in which the train was traveling. As it turned out, I was riding facing backwards. This doesn't bother me and it was to my advantage to stay there, close to my suitcase and the door that would open when we arrived in Milwaukee.
The Hiawatha seldom experiences delays in its 1-1/2 hour run. It has no connections in Milwaukee and doesn't have to wait in Chicago for late connections because there are other Hiawatha runs after the connections come in. Consequently, it generally leaves Chicago on time and arrives in Milwaukee on time. We left Chicago at 5:08 PM and arrived in Milwaukee at 6:45 PM.
Shortly before arriving at the station in Milwaukee, I had my first ever view of the circus train from Baraboo, WI. There is always much publicity in the summer about the circus train coming to Milwaukee and about the circus parade while the circus is in town. Whatever mental picture I had of the circus train was conservative, to say the least. I have no idea how many multi-colored circus wagons on parked flatbed rail cars we passed in the railroad yard. It was like a freight train that seems to never end.
When the train stopped in the station in Milwaukee, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself detraining directly opposite the doors into the station. Most other times when I returned from a trip, the train has pulled in on the other track. That meant I had to haul my luggage down the platform and a ramp, through a passageway under the tracks, and up another ramp on the other side before entering the station. This time I was in the station in short order.
I expected to find my ride, Gary, standing back further, out of the bulk of waiting friends and relatives. Suddenly I heard a female voice calling, "Carol!" It was my friend Susan, who rode down with Gary to surprise me. The three of us had an enjoyable ride home, discussing my adventures, filling me in on the latest happenings in my absence, and stopping for ice cream along the way. Even with the ice cream stop, I was home by 10:00 PM. The best culmination of the long trip was coming home to pleasantly cool temperatures and a yard that was still green and thriving from adequate rain.
When I began this trip in June, I didn't know what to expect regarding equipment quality, service, and crew morale, due to Amtrak's continuing problems over funding and the recent route cuts. In evaluating the entire trip, I have nothing but praise for the operating and service crews on all the routes on which I traveled. If anything, the level of service and quality in equipment, meals, and amenities I encountered was at an all-time high.
For comparison, the itinerary of the trip as it actually progressed:
CITY TIME DAY DATE CARRIER SVC. CLASS DEPART: MILWAUKEE 12:35 PM SAT 06-14 HIAWATHA UNRESERVED ARRIVE: CHICAGO 2:07 PM SAT 06-14 AUNT COMING FROM CALIFORNIA DRAKE HOTEL 140 E. WALTON PLACE CHICAGO, IL 60610 DEPART: CHICAGO 4:05 PM THU 06-19 EMPIRE BUILDER STD BEDRM ARRIVE: PORTLAND 10:25 AM SAT 06-21 2730-07 DEPART: PORTLAND 3:00 PM SAT 06-21 COAST STARLIGHT STD BEDRM ARRIVE: SACRAMENTO 8:30 PM SUN 06-22 1132-03 VAGABOND INN SACRAMENTO, CA DEPART: SACRAMENTO 6:50 AM MON 06-23 AMERICA WEST AIR. COACH ARRIVE: PHOENIX, AZ 8:44 AM MON 06-23 FLIGHT 2546 20F DEPART: PHOENIX 11:49 AM MON 06-23 AMERICA WEST AIR. COACH ARRIVE: SALT LAKE 2:21 PM MON 06-23 FLIGHT 2805 16D NATIONAL RAILWAY HISTORICAL SOCIETY CONVENTION LITTLE AMERICA HOTEL & TOWERS 500 S. MAIN STREET SALT LAKE CITY, UT 84101 DEPART: SALT LAKE 1:05 AM SUN 06-29 CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR STD BEDRM ARRIVE: EMERYVILLE 6:00 PM SUN 06-29 0533-05 DEPART: EMERYVILLE 6:25 PM SUN 06-29 THRUWAY BUS ARRIVE: SAN FRAN. 6:45 PM SUN 06-29 WESTIN ST. FRANCIS HOTEL 335 POWELL STREET SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94102 BEGIN: SAN FRAN. 8:15 AM MON 06-30 GLOBUS TOURS - CALIFORNIA END: SAN DIEGO BRKFAST SUN 07-06 COAST VACATION TOUR # AD0628 DEPART: SAN DIEGO 12:30 PM SUN 07-06 RIDE FROM BRUCE, A FRIEND ARRIVE: OCEANSIDE 1:30 PM SUN 07-06 VISIT WITH AUNT AT HER HOME DEPART: OCEANSIDE 6:25 PM SUN 07-06 SAN DIEGANS UNRESERVED ARRIVE: FULLERTON 7:51 PM SUN 07-06 DEPART: FULLERTON 9:23 PM SUN 07-06 SOUTHWEST CHIEF STD BEDRM ARRIVE: CHICAGO 3:15 PM TUE 07-08 0430-10 DEPART: CHICAGO 5:08 PM TUE 07-08 HIAWATHA UNRESERVED ARRIVE: MILWAUKEE 6:45 PM TUE 07-08
Copyright 1997 by Carol Larsen