I am hurriedly getting the last bit of equipment and instructions at the office here. I tell the secretary I am leaving a bit early because there are horrible winds blowing outside. I jump in my pickup truck and start driving toward the train station in LaCrosse, WI. On the east side of Waseca there is a lake that the highway curves around. Unbeknownst to me the water has splashed all over the highway and froze. My truck went into a high speed spin. Fortunately I didn't land in the water like some other poor drivers did that day and managed to continue on my way. The next thing that happened to me was my engine started overheating. I stopped in Owatonna and put more antifreeze in. Already flustered by these events I continued down the highway towards Wisconsin.
I arrive at the station safely, though shook up a bit. The LaCrosse station is a homey kind of place. The station agent's is a nice gentleman named Ed. There are three railfans in the station, all waiting to see the train pass through. I have seen some of them before. One of them has a mountain bike. He got in trouble once for riding side the train as it pulled out. Another one has a scanner. On Wednesdays the train comes from St. Paul, as opposed to Seattle. It is a small train, one locomotive, a snack/lounge car, and I think three or four coaches. Both trips I have taken before were in the big train from Seattle.
It is now 11:05 AM and we are underway. Most of the beautiful fall foliage that I saw on the last trip is gone now. I was getting hungry about noon and headed to the lounge car. The attendant there was very friendly. I bought a tuna salad sandwich. I had one of these before and they are quite good. A bottle of Snapple finishes things off and I am back to my seat. There is a man from India sitting next to me. He was traveling to Trenton, NJ from LaCrosse. I have been listening to the train crew on my hand held radio. It is a dual band ham transceiver that also covers railroad frequencies. After stopping in Milwaukee, they seem to change to another frequency and I haven't been able to find it in my three trips yet.
I get off the train and head for the street. My destination is a Mexican restaurant on the North side of the river called the Frontera Grill. I am a bit worried as the restaurant guide says there are usually two hour waits for a table. I get there are 4:45 and there are already some people lined up in the cold wind for the door to open at five. I am the third party in line and when they do open the door we have to wait 20 minutes for a table. When I finally got a table and they brought the food I found out why this is one of the most popular restaurants in Chicago. It was heavenly. Being from New Mexico originally I have really missed good Mexican food. This place is fabulous. After eating I walked back to the station, getting there at 7:15. I had checked a suitcase in LaCrosse with things I would need during the night on the train and went to the baggage claim area to get it. There was no attendant there. There was a courtesy phone which I used but nobody answered the number I was instructed to dial. I walked to the counter down by the Metropolitan Lounge and explained to the lady that I needed by bag. She paged someone and told me to go back. I went back and waited five minutes and nobody showed up. Again I called the number for assistance. This time a woman answered. I told her my train would soon be leaving and I needed my bag. This time they finally showed up to unlock the glassed room.
I proceeded to the Metropolitan Lounge. They were just about ready to board so they dispensed with giving me the boarding pass and told me to put my bags in that roped off area and sit down. No sooner than I sat down did they start boarding the train. My first trip I did not know about the Metropolitan Lounge. I went to the coach boarding area. The crew was confused when I told them I had a sleeper and had to contend with rude pushy people. I will never understand why people want to be the very first on a train. Don't they know that the train will not get to its destination any sooner? I think the greatest thing about the Metropolitan Lounge is the early boarding.
They have just announced that the departure is delayed so they can receive connecting passengers from train number 6, which was late arriving. The dining car attendant came to my room to tell me that dinner was being served. I told him that thank you I just had a huge dinner and would be retiring early for the night. I am afraid that the poor man was insulted. The sleeping car in front on the Lake Shore Limited is an old one. There are two brand new ones in the back but I think they are reserved for passengers to places east of Syracuse, where I always get off. At least it is relatively clean and the mattress isn't too bad. We finally get underway about 30 minutes late.
On the leg from Chicago to Syracuse I usually put the bed down early and go to sleep. I wake up a few times during the night, usually in Cleveland.
I go to the dining car for breakfast. The dining car crew is very polite and brings breakfast fairly quick. I sat at table with two ladies from NY. I returned to my room and got my things in order. This is the first time I have been on the left side of the train going east. I saw the Eastman Kodak building in Rochester. When we reached the sewer plant in Syracuse I took my suitcase out of the room and went to the exit. The attended was waiting there to help me off. We passed the Carousel Mall. I asked her if she knew about the rumor that they might move the Amtrak station to that mall. She said there are a lot of rumors about station closings and relocations and usually it pays not to pay attention to them. The train arrives at the station in East Syracuse 30 minutes late. I took a taxi to the airport to get a rental car. The cab ride cost $22. I drove the car to Oswego and went to work.
I am done with work and now must find something to do for the over six hours I have before the train comes. I stopped at the Great Northern Mall. This is one of those big regional malls which looks to be located out in the country. They were having a craft fair there and I bought some things for my wife and kids. The mall was about to close and I left to take the car to the airport. After dropping the car off I took a $23 taxi ride to the train station. It was about 10:00 pm and over two hours until the train would arrive. There is a seat over in the corner next to an electrical outlet. I plugged my laptop in and proceeded to do data analysis of the field measurements I had made all day. I got through the initial processing by the time the train arrived.
The sleeping car attendant speaks to me by name, he is the friendliest attendant I have had yet. The bed was all made and I proceeded to get to sleep. I had some trouble getting to sleep, though. I remember stopping in Rochester before I finally got to sleep.
I am awakened as the train stops here. This is the first trip I have taken since daylight savings time ended and so it is the first time I have seen Cleveland by light. It is just getting light. I try to go back to sleep but with little luck. After dressing I head to the dining car around 8:00 AM. They seat me with a couple and older man from England. When the attended comes and asks us if we have sleepers, we all say yes. She then gruffly demands to see our tickets. I said, "I'm sorry, but I left it in my jacket in my room, I'll go get it." She said, "Sit down and I'll look for you on the list". This is the first time they have ever asked to see my ticket. I have always brought it before but because they didn't ask to see it I neglected to this time. She did find my name on the list and proceeded to take our orders.
In previous trips it seemed that sleeping car passengers could order almost anything they wanted. You could get extras and there was not any charge. This seems to have changed, at least with this dining car crew. I ordered an omelette. The lady ordered the light fruit plate (I have had that before and I thought this time they were awfully skimpy on the serving size). The two British men asked for cereal and eggs. The lady got somewhat rude and told them that they would have to pay for extras. They agreed to pay but she continued to make a big deal about it. I am under the impression that they had some sort of a food shortage on this train. When we completed our meals we were enjoying very good conversation. This is one of the finest things about train travel, the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. They lady came back and threw us out of the dining car promptly at 9:00 am. She said the crew had to eat but there were many empty tables. I hope I don't run into her again. I have never seen her on any of my other trips.
I returned to my room and worked on the computer, set up in the room with an oscilloscope. I was playing back audio recordings and measuring the difference between channels. I would like to see someone try it on an airplane. You would be meeting the FBI real quick!
We were a little late but not as much as I feared. The weather is lousy so I decide not to go out in it. I ate lunch at Biff's in the station. I called home to check in and casually went over to the racks of literature near the boarding gates. All at once I heard a commotion out in the lobby. A Metra conductor had just bumped into an Eastern woman. He started cursing at her, telling her to get the @#$%^ out of the way. He almost appeared to be slightly intoxicated. I felt real sorry for that poor woman. I boarded the Empire Builder and we departed Chicago at 3:15 pm.
The final leg of my trip was fairly uneventful. The conductor, who I have seen before on that train, was friendly. I told him I worked for EF Johnson. He said they used to have EF Johnson radios but bought new ones a few years ago from GE. He had a relative who lives in Waseca. I told him that this was the third trip I had taken in two months on Amtrak to Syracuse and he thanked me for riding the train. I got off the train in LaCrosse. It is now 8:30 and one of the railfans, the one with the mountain bike is there. He comes up and talks to me a bit. It is cold but fortunately not raining, snowing, or blowing. I get in my truck and head home.