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SUMMER 1997 AMTRAK TRAVELOGUE

PART II - AMTRAK EMPIRE BUILDER

by Carol Larsen

THURSDAY, JUNE 19, 1997

We had good weather during my stay in Chicago, with the temperatures being somewhat cooler than I expected and the humidity down for the most part. One of the many things I didn't like about Chicago when I grew up there was the heat and humidity in the summer. Now it was supposed to become warmer and more humid, so I felt that I was leaving at just the right time. My aunt wasn't scheduled to fly back to California until the next day and was off on her last day's activities.

I planned to arrive at Union Station a little early to take full advantage of my time in the Metropolitan Lounge. I left the Drake at about 11:30 AM. The cab driver made excellent time, arriving at Union Station at 11:50 AM with a fare of only $5.00! I didn't realize we were already there because he pulled up to an entrance I had never seen before. I think it might have been the north end of the building, Adams Street. Inside there were only escalators and a stairway. With all my gear, I chose to wheel my suitcase ahead of me down the stairs. Once in the concourse below, I quickly found the Jackson Street elevator to take me to the train level and the Metropolitan Lounge.

There was a line all the way to the lounge door of people waiting to check in, but there were two attendants and the line moved quickly. The seating area was rather full, with passengers for the California Zephyr as well as the Empire Builder. The attendant checked my tickets and asked me how many pieces of carry-on luggage I had. She gave me yellow number 7 stickers to put on my luggage which was to go in the right hand side of the luggage area. The Zephyr luggage stickers were orange number 3's. She also gave me a blue boarding pass and asked if I would need a Red Cap to help me board. No, thanks to wheeled luggage and shoulder straps! The pass indicated that if I left the lounge, I should return by 12:30 PM.

I parked my luggage, poured a Diet Pepsi at the beverage area, and found a chair that afforded a view of the entire lounge. While people-watching, I overheard a discussion of how the Capitol Ltd. had arrived late because a connecting train from Florida, the Silver Star, had been late. Someone had stalled their pick-up truck on the tracks and they had abandoned it there.

At 12:35 there was an announcement. Would we be boarding soon? No. The same trainset is used for both the City of New Orleans and the Empire Builder. The City of New Orleans, due in at 9:30 AM had been delayed by a freight derailment and was now expected at 1:30 PM. Thus, the Builder wouldn't be leaving at 1:20 as scheduled. To allow time for the train to be cleaned and re-stocked, the departure time was changed to 3:00 PM. I could see that I would be taking very full advantage of the Metropolitan Lounge!

The City of New Orleans finally arrived at 2:00 PM, so I knew our departure would be delayed past 3:00 PM. The Zephyr was called for boarding at 2:20. Additional Zephyr passengers straggled in over the next forty-five minutes, with the Zephyr departing on time at 3:15. The lounge had cleared out considerably, but soon filled again with Builder passengers who had chosen to roam the station and others for later trains.

At 3:35 there was an announcement for all of us "who have been waiting so patiently" that they expected to give the boarding call in about fifteen minutes. True to their word, at 3:50 we were boarding. I went straight to the 2730 car, a Superliner I sleeper, where I was greeted by my attendant, George Current. It seemed amusing that the attendant's name should really be George. All sleeper attendants were called George in the early days of Pullman sleepers because of George Pullman. George took my name and asked if I had ridden in a sleeper on that train before. I must have acted like a seasoned traveler when I checked in with him, because he said he thought I probably had. He put my suitcase in the lower level rack and said he would be up shortly to answer any questions.

I readily located my room number 7 and began to settle in. I prefer the north side of the train on east/west trips for photographic purposes. The sun shines on the subject matter and not on the windows through which I'm shooting. The room was furnished with a vase of red carnations and white chrysanthemums, a packet of Empire Builder note cards, and foil-wrapped chocolate mints. The note cards are suitable for framing, which I did last year.

George came down the hall, asking if anyone had a dime he could borrow to tighten a screw. A man gave him a dime, which apparently didn't do the job. By then I had my screwdriver with extra bits in the handle out of my radio accessories bag to loan him. He seemed pleasantly surprised and upon returning it commented that he would have to buy one like that.

At 4:05 PM we began to move, 2-3/4 hours late to begin with. George made an announcement that he would be coming through the car to tell us about our rooms. There was also another announcement by the lounge car attendant that the lower level of the Sightseer lounge car would not be open for service right away. They were still stocking the supplies due to the short turn- around time.

When George came to my room, he asked if I wanted him to refresh my memory as to how everything worked. I let him do his routine, the better to evaluate his thoroughness. I was surprised that the music channel worked in my room since it didn't the last time I rode the Empire Builder. George even had coffee on right away.

The conductor arrived shortly to collect my ticket. When the dining car steward came to take dinner reservations, I was hoping to have an early dinner since my lunch had consisted only of hotel snacks I had brought with me. With a choice of 7:30, 8:00, or 9:00, I took 7:30 and dug out another package of hotel snacks. I imagine the dinner seatings didn't begin as early as usual due to the late departure.

We made an unscheduled stop at Sturtevant (Racine, WI), which is a Hiawatha stop. I think they either loaded some additional supplies or boarded some crew members, possibly off-duty ones. We arrived in Milwaukee at 5:45, 2 hours and 50 minutes late. In my previous trips on the Empire builder, I have boarded and detrained at Columbus, WI, so it was a different experience to ride any train through the Milwaukee station.

I went downstairs to retrieve some items from the outer zipper compartment of my suitcase. Upon returning to my room, I noticed that I could see out the door at the end of my car. Because I was in one of the Portland cars that are dropped at Spokane, only some single-level MHC and baggage cars were behind. This allowed me a view over their tops, much like in the Heritage dome cars. One other aspect of being near the end of the train is that I'm two cars away from the lounge car and six from the diner. Well, that should give me some exercise before and after meals!

At 6:00 the steward called the first dinner seating and announced the 6:30 reservations at 6:25. I was hoping they would continue to be called early. At about 7:15 I decided it was time to start heading for the diner. I was seated with three other people traveling alone: a man from Vancouver, BC returning from a family visit in Ohio, a young woman from Galesburg, IL going to Seattle, and a man from Seattle returning from visiting his brother in Alexandria, VA. Our waiter was Gary. I ordered the filet mignon (which turned out to be a tasty New York strip steak instead), rice, corn, salad, roll, coffee, and strawberry sundae for dessert. The table conversation was lively, ranging from our present reasons for travel to comparison of U.S. European rail, railroad and interurban modeling, border crossing experiences, etc.

When I had originally selected the 7:30 dinner seating, I was concerned about missing the movie if it was a good one. However, Kathy Talkin (Chief of On- Board Services) announced that there would be both a 7:30 and a 9:30 showing. At 9:10 when I returned to my room through the lounge car, the ending didn't look as though the movie would be very interesting to me. Furthermore, it was freezing cold in the upper level of the lounge car. I thought that if I really wanted to sit there, I would have to take another jacket out of my suitcase to put over my legs! People were wrapped up in blankets and still looked none too warm. I went to the lower level and found it a little warmer there, but there weren't the usual movie crowds on either level. Was that a reflection on the climate, the movie, or both? I never did hear the title of the movie and decided to skip it in favor of enjoying my room and rail transmissions on the radio.

When we rode through Winona, MN I could see lightning flashes in the sky to the north of the train. Shortly after that, we were put on a siding at Tower CK for some freight trains to pass. We were already 3 hours late, but the CP Rail dispatcher dictated this happening, according to an announcement by the conductor. At least he was keeping the passengers informed. It was 10:00 PM and that would be the last announcement of the evening. According to the times I heard on my radio being given to the dispatcher, we lost another half hour.

I decided to stay up long enough to be able to do a platform walk when we made our service stop in St. Paul-Minneapolis, MN. I knew that would be after midnight; George said he figured on 12:30. I also thought I should call home and check my answering machine. I had such a good time in Chicago that I had forgotten all about doing that, which I normally do about every three days when I travel. Then I had a brisk walk up and down the platform, followed by a discussion of MHC's with a couple with three children who were returning to Montana after visiting relatives.

George made up my bed and I turned in while we were leaving the Twin Cities. The report to the dispatcher was that we were in at 12:32 and out at 1:02, with another delay due to late passengers boarding. That was a long day for me, especially since my aunt had arisen at 5:20 AM, precluding my going back to sleep. I never rise until 6:00 AM even when I'm working!

FRIDAY, JUNE 20, 1997

I fell asleep right away and didn't wake up until 5:30 AM when I found the sun shining in my window. When I've ridden in coach, I typically plan to beat the bathroom/dressing room rush by going down just as the sun begins to color the sky. I then have forty more winks before going to breakfast around 7:00. In the sleeper, I can never seem to pry myself out of my cozy nest until later, when I end up having to be assigned a number and wait for breakfast.

We stopped at Fargo, ND while I contemplated getting an earlier start this time. I keep my radio earphone in my ear all night and the next thing I knew I heard something about 7:05. We were stopping at Grand Forks, ND at 7:05 AM, 3 hours and 20 minutes late. I must have fallen back to sleep. Well, now I had six hours of sleep and had better be up and doing.

By the time I made my way to the diner, I was given number 41 and returned to the lounge car to wait while enjoying the pretty morning scenery. The "10 minutes or so" wait turned out to be more "or so." When the steward called my number, she seated me with a couple, Sharon and Dave, and their four-year-old son Aaron with stuffed animal friend "Tigger." They were traveling from New Orleans to visit his parents near Spokane, WA. Our waitress was Polly, whose real name in Polisia, a name she doesn't like. After a delicious breakfast of pancakes, sausage patties, orange juice, and coffee, I decided to spend more time in the Sightseer lounge car until our service stop at Minot, ND. Then I would want to stretch my legs and shake down my breakfast by doing another brisk platform walk. Cartoons began in the lounge car, but I mentally tuned them out.

When we arrived in Minot at 10:25, I detrained through the coach car ahead, noticing the "smoker" on the lower level on my way out. What a barren room-- no upholstery, drapes, or carpet to be permeated with tobacco smoke. At least we wouldn't lose more time with extended "smoking stops." It was warm in the sun on the platform. I hurried back to my sleeper to ditch my jacket and reading materials and find my sunglasses which I had forgotten. Back on the platform, I hiked to the head end for engine photos. I had heard an axle count of 60 that morning from one of the HBD's, down from our original 72. Somewhere we had dropped the three MHC's that were still at the end when we boarded passengers in St. Paul--perhaps when we made a second stop there before "highballing." For those of you who are interested, the consist was as follows:

P42    24
P42    23
F40PH  390
Baggage car  1193
Transition Sleeper  39038
Sleeper  32054
Sleeper  32030
Diner  38032
Coach  34032
Coach (with smoker)  31502
Sightseer Lounge  33023    )
Coach  34012               )
Coach/Baggage  31028       )  to be cut off in Spokane for Portland
Sleeper  32035             )
Baggage  1236              )

We had an operating crew change at Minot as well as the servicing. The new conductor called, "All Aboard," and we were out at 10:44 AM, 3 hours and 9 minutes behind schedule. Back in my room, I felt sleepy and napped for awhile. No wonder--not enough sleep and too much food. I was awakened by the lunch announcement. Time to eat again? The only thing I don't like about going first class is that we're fed too well. Of course, I could pass up some of it. However, I just can't seem to say "no" to good food that I don't have to prepare!

It was 1:20 when I returned to the diner for a number, which was 25. By the time I took a seat in the lounge to wait, the steward was already calling number 24, so I didn't have long to wait. Polly was my waitress again. My table partners were a lady going to Seattle while returning home to the San Joaquin valley from a family visit in the Twin Cities and a young woman and her 11-year-old son from Eau Claire, WI, going to visit friends at Whitefish, MT. I had the soup (minestrone) and salad entree with rolls, iced tea, and vanilla ice cream. I had tentatively planned to stay in the lounge for awhile after lunch, however every seat was taken by movie watchers. I don't recall ever seeing an adult movie (as opposed to cartoons) shown during the day, but "Vegas Vacation" was showing. I had better things to do during the day, such as watching scenery, instead of watching a movie. This must have been Kathy's chosen afternoon entertainment instead of Trivia or some other game. At lunch, the lady from California had mentioned playing a unique game of Trivia on her way east. From her description, I asked if the On-Board Services Chief had been Jaycy, who did a unique version during my trip last summer. Sure enough, she said his name was Jaycy.

Back in the sleeper, I had a new neighbor across the aisle, a lady returning home to Pasco, WA from a family visit in Wolf Point, MT. She had tried to give George her ticket while boarding, but he had told her the conductor would come to her room to take it. Now her ticket and baggage claim checks had mysteriously disappeared. She had looked through her purse and tote bag with George methodically searching her room to no avail. They finally concluded that she must have dropped them on the platform when she hugged her sister one last time. It wasn't to be a problem as they could bring up her reservation in the computer when we had our service stop in Havre, MT. This discussion I heard on my radio. However, shortly afterward, George reappeared with her tickets in hand. He had found them on the bathroom floor.

Next, George came around with the complimentary bottles of wine and glasses. The wine was Chardonnay, a little heavier wine than I normally drink. If I wasn't already overloaded at this start of the trip, I would have gladly taken it to bring home. It's fun to open Amtrak wine for special occasions during the year. Instead, I passed on the wine but not on the glasses. He apologized that they weren't Empire Builder glasses like the four I already have, but were Pioneer glasses instead. I said that was better because they would be more collectible. I had brought padded Arctic Zone thermal lunch bags with me in anticipation of transporting wine glasses around the country. On a previous Empire Builder trip, I had to wrap the glasses in my heavy socks and fortunately had extra room in my suitcase. This time, I had neither room nor heavy socks. I was now concerned that the thermal bags with glasses inside wouldn't fit back in my suitcase and that I might have to carry them in the Eddie Bauer tote with my "train clothes." This would make them more subject to breakage.

I had forgotten to change my watch when we entered Montana, but thought of it when we stopped at Glasgow. It was then 2:10 PM instead of 3:10 PM. I like traveling west better than east because of gaining hours, especially when I need extra time to be hungry again before the next meal. I also think I like being in a sleeper near the end of the train instead of at the head of the train, even though I have to walk through five cars to reach the diner. That's preferable to having to barge through the diner every time I want to go to the lounge car.

It was only 2:55 PM, but already Kathy announced that she would begin taking dinner reservations. I chose 6:30. There was also an announcement of a second showing of "Vegas Vacation." The service stop at Havre, MT around 4:30 allowed me the opportunity to mail a birthday card and an anniversary card that I had pre-addressed at home, also to have a conversation with George about train travel. As a result, I forgot to notice what time we left Havre, but we seemed to have gained about 20 minutes.

George gave me a cardboard grid for my wine glasses before he threw the cardboard away. I ultimately decided that I could use a whole one for each glass and bag, so ended up having to explain to Tom, the conductor, why I was picking in the garbage! He thought I had lost something.

Around 5:30 PM between Havre and Shelby, we passed through an area of rain, although the sky still looked sunny and blue with white clouds. Most of the terrain we traversed had been fields and occasional areas of low, rolling hills. Now I could begin to see some mountains in the distance to the north.

At about 6:05 PM, the dining car steward suddenly called the 6:30 dinner reservations. I hurriedly put away my writing and radio and fell in line with others headed in that direction. This time my table partners were a couple from Dallas, TX who had ridden the Texas Eagle to Chicago and were to fly back from Portland and Roman, a man from Winnipeg, who had boarded in Grand Forks, ND headed for Las Vegas where he has a condo.

Roman had tried to make this trip at the beginning of April, boarding in St. Paul on April 5. On April 6, the train became stuck in a blizzard for two days at Fargo, ND after which it was out of food and returned to St. Paul. I had considered riding the Pioneer during Easter break and returning on the Empire Builder, which would have put me in that area just a few days before the blizzard. I'll have to make a mental note about the weather on this route at that time of year, although it would certainly be a unique experience to write about.

For dinner, I had the steak again. I don't eat much red meat at home other than sometimes when I go out for dinner. The vegetable this time was peas and baby carrots. I decided to try the apple pie for dessert, which was delicious. I frequently find fruit pies to be too sweet. On my return to the sleeper, I stopped in the lower level of the lounge car to pick up a Diet Pepsi from Ben Phillips, the cafe attendant. George had given us free non- alcoholic beverage coupons.

At 7:45, the mountains of Glacier Park began to come into view, with quite a bit of snow still covering dips and crevasses. There are a number of tunnels, snow sheds, and trestles in this area, with the most breathtaking scenery of the whole trip. Glacier Park Lodge is one of my very favorite places to stay. I had one night there last July while on a motor coach tour returning from Alaska. At that time I purchased a framed print of a painting of the lodge, which hangs prominently in my home. While watching the lodge from the train, I remembered that I was wearing the sterling silver turquoise and carnelian pendant that was a souvenir of my first stay there in 1993.

After a large number of passengers detrained and boarded, we left East Glacier at 8:05 PM, 2-3/4 hours late. We soon passed another special place to stay. The Izaak Walton Inn at Essex, MT, is a real railfan's paradise. I spent a week there just a year before with a group from the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay, WI of which I'm a member. Announcements are sometimes made on the Empire Builder to wave at the railfans who are always waiting in front to see the trains go through. Essex is a BNSF headquarters for the helper engines that pull freights through Marias Pass. We made our stop at Essex at 9:00 PM. As we passed the Izaak Walton Inn, there were a couple dozen railfans, some with cameras, waiting for us to pass. Of course, I waved back, remembering how I stood there last year.

When I heard the HBD at Pinnacle, MT, it was only 44 degrees outside and clouds were beginning to hang low in the mountains in places. My favorite HBD's are on the Empire Builder route. They give more information than those on any of the other routes: outdoor temperature, train speed, and total axles in addition to the milepost and defect report. A couple of years ago on the Zephyr, I learned that the opposite of "no defects" is "integrity failure," which caused the engineer to stop the train for this to be investigated.

Late that afternoon, they announced that the evening's movie would be a Whoopie Goldberg flick. I missed the name of it, but didn't particularly plan to watch it anyway. I never heard any further announcement of the movie, unless it came while I was dining. The P.A. announcements aren't heard in the diner.

When we pulled into West Glacier (Belton, MT) at 9:39, what should be "parked" there on a siding but the American Orient Express. This was my first time to see it in person, but it was getting a bit too dark for photos. At the ends of a few cars, people were looking out at our train. An Amtrak P42 and P40 were the engines, but I couldn't see their numbers.

George made an announcement about our breakfast provisions, since the diner would be going to Seattle and the lounge car with us to Portland after the split in Spokane. Then Kathy made a similar announcement for the Seattle passengers, reminding all of us to change our watches to Pacific Daylight time. This would officially take effect during the night at the MT/ID border.

We were stopped longer than normal at Whitefish, MT so I was able to step off the train. Dusk was settling and the air was fresh and sweet with the smell of pine trees. Because we were running so late, there was a change in plans in progress for some passengers who were to have caught the Coast Starlight in Seattle. I haven't been to Seattle yet and would have liked to do that, but there was only one hour on the schedule between trains there. I was surprised that anyone would sell them a ticket with that as a connection. At any rate, they were being transferred from the Seattle section to the Portland section as the split would take place in Spokane during the night.

After things settled down in the lower vestibule and we were underway again, I brought my well-packed wine glasses down and reorganized my suitcase to fit them in. Whew--made it! If I was concerned then about protecting the wine glasses from breakage, they would later in the trip be subjected to even more danger of breakage. Now I was ready to turn in for the night to have an early start to a big day ahead. George opened my bed and I had "lights out" shortly after 10:00 PM. There was a big full moon illuminating the landscape, but I couldn't keep my eyes open.

SATURDAY, JUNE 21, 1997

Around 2:30 AM, I became aware that there was a lot of chat coming from my radio that was plugged into my ear. We must be in Spokane. I peeked out the window and tried to concentrate on the transmissions for awhile, but soon fell back to sleep. The same thing happened the other two times I rode the Empire Builder through Spokane. We now had only 24 axles with a consist as follows:

P42  24
Sightseer Lounge  33023
Coach  34012
Coach/Baggage  31028
Sleeper  32035
Baggage  1236

If you're wondering about my radio being plugged into my ear all night, I have found in the past that interesting things are frequently said or take place during odd hours. Just passing an HBD won't awaken me, but if there's more chat, that's the type of thing I will want to hear and it will wake me up. Having previously worked in transportation, I am most interested in the mechanics of the trip--how passengers are handled and situations resolved.

I next awoke around 4:20 AM and smelled coffee. George must be up and doing. I pulled my jacket on over my nightgown with the idea of sneaking down the hall, but others were already up and doing, too. A young mother began asking me about the breakfast provisions and was surprised when I mentioned it was only 4:30 AM. So much for the announcement to reset our watches.

Back in my room, I put my one discharged radio battery pack into the charger. I decided on a little more shut-eye until 6:00 AM, but only after I photographed the full moon that was now setting, framed by pink and gold- tinged clouds from the sunrise. I did a bit of carry-on reorganization before heading at 6:55 AM to the lower level of the lounge car where our breakfast was to be served. Ben was serving fruit cup, heated bagel with cream cheese, banana-nut muffin, juice, and coffee. I chose an empty table and was soon joined by Roman, who had been at my table during last night's dinner. He didn't want his banana-nut muffin and gave it to me. That would make a nice "light lunch" while I waited for the Coast Starlight in Portland. There would be a number of familiar faces in the Metropolitan Lounge there. I would be the best-informed as to finding it, thanks to Steve Grande and Steve Reynolds preceding me.

I returned to my room for my notebook to do some more report writing in the lounge. George had closed my bed and my battery had finished charging. Since I have three packs and knew I wouldn't have to do any further recharging before Salt Lake City, I decided to cram the desk charger into my suitcase downstairs to lighten the load in my shoulder tote. Soon I was situated in the Sightseer lounge car, with a panoramic view of the Columbia River Gorge, another highlight of the route.

We stopped at Pasco, WA at 6:00 AM, only about 2 hours and 40 minutes off schedule. Either we made up time during the night or some of the schedule padding was starting to take effect. George went by and asked if I was writing a journal of my trip. I told him about TrainWeb, how I could enjoy Amtrak travel vicariously year-round, and how I planned to submit a trip report, too.

Soon Ben made a good news/bad news announcement. The good news was that they had enjoyed serving us and hoped to do it again soon. The bad news was that they had to close both levels of the lounge car to begin restocking and cleaning for the afternoon return trip to Chicago. They weren't going to have as much turn-around time as usual due to running late, so we all had to return to our cars. There was a man and his little boy sitting next to me who had overheard George asking about my trip report. He asked where on the Internet my report might be posted, so I told him about TrainWeb, too.

The rest of the trip I spent enjoying my room. I overheard George telling someone that he's been a sleeper attendant for six years and lives in Chicago. I turned out that he lives not far from where I lived before I moved to Wisconsin twenty-three years ago. About fifteen minutes before we arrived in Portland, George went through the car asking people if there was anything he could take downstairs for them. I let him take my shoulder tote and took advantage of the opportunity to give him his tip before things would become too busy.

It was raining at 10:25 when we arrived at the station in Portland, but the platforms are covered and it wasn't blowing. The man with the little boy was there and asked how long it would be before my report would be on the Internet. I told him I wouldn't be home until July 8 and would be busy getting re-settled, to say nothing of Steve's schedule in posting it, but he should be sure to E-mail me if he reads it. I headed into the station, but before I had a chance to look for the Metropolitan Lounge, Roman came along and pointed to the sign. He was going to the restaurant for lunch, so I was the first passenger in the lounge.

Soon all the people who were to have gone on to Seattle began arriving. Amtrak calls them "misconnects." I commented that I was surprised Amtrak would sell a ticket with a one-hour connection interval. Libby, the Metropolitan Lounge attendant, agreed. It turned out that one couple had purchased their trips through Amtrak Vacations and another couple and a single lady purchased theirs through travel agents. None had been booked on the Internet or on 1-800-USA-RAIL.

Kathy Talkin, our Empire Builder Chief, arrived with an Amtrak manager. They verified with the computer that the people, who would be listed as no-shows on the Coast Starlight in Seattle, would still have their rooms when they boarded in Portland. The Misconnects found that they were entitled to free lunches from the deli in the station in exchange for the coupons they were given on the Builder. This was a substitute for the lunch they were missing on the Coast Starlight. Afterwards, we also learned that they were entitled to refunds on their tickets. I hoped to find how much refund they would receive.

The rain stopped and the sun returned, so I went out to take some photos of the station. I had done that one other time when I was there, but the sun was coming from the wrong direction then. I spent the rest of the wait interval talking with other passengers, drinking the complimentary beverages, and eating Roman's banana-nut muffin he had given me at breakfast. He returned after his lunch, kidding me that he had changed his mind about the muffin. I replied that he was too late!

This Metropolitan Lounge is nicer than the one in Chicago, although not as large. It is decorated more like a living room than a waiting room, although the furniture and artificial fireplace in the Chicago lounge attempt that impression. There are draped windows in the Portland lounge through which you can watch trains if you so desire. A separate room is provided for luggage storage. A number of hand-outs are displayed on a counter, including Amtrak playing cards which are normally sold on the trains. There is also a larger variety of beverages available. Three types of coffee have rail and area-related names including one about Misconnects. Are there frequently misconnects at this location? Other beverages include a variety of fruit drinks and the usual sodas.

I learned that the couple, Betty and Bob, who booked through Amtrak Vacations, would have to apply for their refund through that agency. The other couple (Milton and Esther) and the lady (Coleen) who had booked through travel agents, would have cash refunds. Coleen commented that even if it was only $5.00, she would be satisfied that she received something.

Libby came with Coleen's refund and said that it was four seventy-five. I personally thought that sounded pretty "chintzy"--$4.75. Libby had a lap full of bills and I thought that a lot of people must be getting those refunds. Later, Coleen said she thought the same thing. However, Libby proceeded to count out not one-dollar bills but twenties and tens, apologizing for the small bills all the way to $475.00! That far exceeded Coleen's expectations and would pay for most of the fancy antique glassware she bought in Pennsylvania.

As I waited for my first ride on the northern leg of the Coast Starlight, little did I suspect that the next segment of my trip would include some surprise changes for me, too.

Copyright © 1997 by Carol Larsen

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