Amtrak Lake Shore Limited Travelogue of Douglas Hanz, January 14, 1997.
From: Douglas Hanz Date: 1/24/97 3:35:45PM To: Stephen Grande Subject: Viewliners are SUPER! Hi Steve, I just got back from another trip to Syracuse. What a trip! Tuesday, Jan. 14, 10:15 AM Waseca, MN: The boss just tapped me on the shoulder and told me to go to Syracuse. He then said I was needed there the next morning. The Empire builder goes through La Crosse, WI at 11:05, which meant I couldn't catch it to Chicago. However, American Airlines has a flight from Rochester, MN to Chicago the leaves at 2:30 PM. I called 1-800-USA-RAIL and made reservations on the Lake Shore Limited, and to my surprise they had a Viewliner room available. The room cost $180, which is an increase of $40 over the Heritage rooms I have always had before. I called my wife and told her to throw whatever clothes she could find in a suitcase and I would be by the house to get it. My boss drove me by my house and to Rochester to the airport. As you know from my previous writings, I do not like to fly. My ears do a number on me, along with some nervousness about crashing. Fortunately, I did not have to spend sleepless nights worrying about an upcoming trip. 2:10 PM Rochester, MN Airport I checked my luggage at the counter. I haven't borded a plane in four years. I knew they were asking for picture ID's but wasn't prepared for the questions about strangers giving me things. What the government will do to make citizens feel good! I head upstairs to the gate. The Rochester airport is a small one, and there wasn't much of a crowd for the F-100 plane to take to Chicago. There are usually just as many getting on the Empire Builder at La Crosse. Now there is something that I notice right away about this plane flying crowd. These people are definitely not the same sort of people who ride trains. They do not want to have casual conversation with strangers and they seem to have a wall built up around themselves. I am used to chatting with people on the train and this is definitely new. I learn to keep to myself rather quickly. We board and I sit down in a tight little seat that leaves my rear end sore for several hours after landing. All this for $352, while the fare on rail from La Crosse is around $50. One thing good about the plane, though, is it only takes an hour to get to O'Hare. My ears play a trick on me during takeoff and landing. I get a little dizzy and can't wait to get back on the ground. 3:30 PM Chicago, IL O'Hare Airport I get off the plane, which to me is a great relief. I proceed downstairs to the baggage claim area. After claiming my bags, I started down the escalator to where I thought the CTA station was. I had to go back up and follow the train signs. This led down and through a maze of tunnels. I finally found the turnstiles which I put six quarters into and wrestled my bags over. I got on the CTA train waiting on the far left platform. About four minutes later it started on its way downtown. The CTA train runs part of the way underground, part on the ground, and part elevated above the ground. I was able to see parts of Chicago I had never seen before. It was an interesting experience riding this train. When I lived outside Washington, DC I used to ride the METRO and I think that METRO has a faster and more modern system then Chicago does. It was an easy way to get downtown and certainly a bargain. We passed many traffic jams on the freeways. I got off at the Clinton station downtown. It was a short walk to Union Station, where I went into the Metropolitan Lounge. I helped myself to the free juice and sent some E-mail on the computer they provide there. 6:15 PM The train was a few minutes late getting in from the yard. When I boarded it was a real treat to go into such a modern room. The color tv, music system, lighting controls, and other amenities are a tremendous improvement over the old Heritage cars. The crew is great and I had a delicious dinner of grilled catfish in the dining car that evening. I really enjoy the dining car, not just because of the good food but it is a chance to meet some really interesting people. After dinner I retire to my room to watch a movie and then get to bed. Wednesday, Jan. 15, 7:45 AM We arrive in Syracuse and It looks like they have made up for time. I hurry to the building to catch a cab. I was disappointed to see Charlie the taxi driver helping another passenger into his cab. He then turns to me and invites me to ride along, since the other guy was going to the bus station, which is along the way to the airport. I always like to get Charlie and I keep his card in my wallet when I need a cab there. I get to the airport and rent a car to drive to Oswego. On the way I stop at the Great Northern Mall to buy a toothbrush, hair brush, and some clothes that my wife neglected to pack for me. Monday, Jan. 20 10:15 AM Oswego, NY I approach a traffic light with a large flat bed truck sitting there. There is heavy snow falling and the road hasn't been sanded or salted in awhile. I slide right into the truck, breaking the front grill and scratching up and bending the hood of the rental car. I end up keeping the car to get my work done. Tuesday, Jan 21 10:00 PM Syracuse, NY Airport I turned in the car, spending 30 minutes filling out accident forms. Fortunately there was nobody hurt and I didn't get ticketed. The company I work for has insurance coverage for such things. I called Charlie on his cellular phone and he comes to take me to the Amtrak station. The wait is not so long tonight since I got there so late. Wednesday, Jan 22, 12:01 AM Syracuse, NY The Lake Shore Limited arrives in Syracuse about 15 minutes early. It is this trip that is the most pleasant I have ever had in an Amtrak sleeping car. I have to give the credit to an exceptional sleeping car attendant, Ron Murphy. Never has an attendant been so helpful, pleasant, and efficient. He brought me a 7-up to drink before bed, woke me up for breakfast at the time I asked him to, kept plenty of coffee and juice for us in the sleeping car, made the bed after breakfast in the morning, after asking first, and made sure I was comfortable throughout the entire trip. This guy was super! I had the best night's sleep I ever had on a train. These cars are so quiet and smooth I would much rather sleep in a Viewliner than in a hotel! Wednesday, Jan 22 12:30 PM Chicago, IL We arrive at Union Station. While backing into the station from the yard, I notice a non-Amtrak car at the rear end of the train. The car is a custom sleeping/party/lounge car. It says "West Texas Buffalo Railroad and Steamship Co." on the side. I asked but nobody seemed to know anything about it. After getting off the train I went to the baggage check window to check the two suit cases I was carrying on the Empire Builder. There was a mean old lady in line in front of me who was being hateful to the Amtrak personnel there. She was mad because she had to wait five minutes to get her bags checked. There was only a ticket agent from another window there. It seems that every time I am in Chicago I see something like that in the station. 3:15 PM Empire Builder, Chicago, IL We pull out of Union Station on our way out west. I am sitting in a Superliner II car across the aisle from the car attendant. He is a very nice older gentleman. We had a good conversation on a variety of subjects. I went to the dining car at the 5:30 seating and had lasagna. 8:15 PM La Crosse, WI I got off the train, expecting to see my wife. It is snowing pretty hard and I am worried. Ed, the ticket agent at La Crosse, tells me my wife called and had to turn back due to road closings. It looked like I wasn't going anywhere that night. Ed called the Night Saver Inn and a taxi for me. The Night Saver is a nice motel, very clean and reasonable. Thursday, Jan 23 10:30 AM La Crosse, WI My wife walks into the motel lobby. I am glad to see her. The roads home are clear and dry, with blue sky and sun shining. The weather in Minnesota is very unpredictable. I guess I got home at the wrong time. Next time they had better give me a little more notice before travel. It would sure save a lot of grief! I did amaze the people I work with that I was able to get there so fast on of all things a train! I did admit I cheated and flew part of the way. Still, I think they were impressed, especially since they used to make fun of me for taking the train. The whole trip fare ended up costing $931, about the same as flying all the way from Minneapolis through Detroit to Syracuse. Of course, if somebody was to make their reservations several weeks in advance the plane trip would be a lot cheaper. The train fare was not out of line this time, just the plane ride from Rochester, MN to Chicago. I usually spend around $500-$600 for a round trip, including sleeping car rooms.