The Metropolitan Lounge began to fill up, as it inevitably does before the arrivals and
departures of several long-distance trains during the afternoon, some of which come in
and out almost simultaneously. The conductors for our train, 7/27, set up shop around 1:30 PM
to collect tickets from the sleeping car guests. After having my ticket lifted, I attempted
to go into the storage area and grab my duffel bag before the mad rush of passengers to get
their luggage ensues! But the lounge attendant would not let me bring it into the lounge
area, even to set it under the table at which Harris was sitting, which would not have taken
up much space. So, the no luggage rule seems to be strictly enforced. When setting my bag
back in the storage area, I placed it on the floor, just inside the doorway, to make it
easily accessible once the time comes for me to get it.
An early announcement for boarding of the westbound Empire Builder, trains 7 (to Seattle),
27 (to Portland), and 807 (for accounting purposes, the train number on the tickets of
guests detraining at St. Paul-Minneapolis or earlier), was made at 1:55 PM. I was able to
quickly pick up my bag, and split up from Harris, whom I would see later on board the train.
I walked down the long train, which already had its mail & express cars coupled to the end,
to my sleeping car, designated as 0730. I was warmly greeted by my attendant, Thomas Murray,
and walked into the car, 32001, an unrefurbished Superliner sleeper, and upstairs to my room,
Standard Bedroom #8. Thomas had the soothing sounds of jazz master Diana Krall playing on his
stereo at the top of the stairs. The music did a good job at setting the stage for a relaxing
ride to the West Coast. Harris soon called my cell phone from his, at the other end of the
train, to touch base and plan on meeting in the lounge later. Walking through my car, it
appeared that all of the Deluxe Bedrooms were already occupied, while most of the Standard
Bedrooms were empty. Thomas told me that they would almost all eventually fill up.
We departed Chicago at 2:15 PM, five minutes late. Leaving Chicago, the Empire Builder and
Hiawatha trains follow the Chicago River for a few miles, then pass the yards of Metra
commuter rail. The first 20 or so miles of the route are shared with Metra's Milwaukee
District West line, skipping many commuter-only stations. However, Amtrak does make a
station stop at Glenview. About ten minutes after departing from Chicago, I finished my
submarine sandwich. Soon thereafter, I went back to Harris's room to see his sleeping car,
which was refurbished. He then came with me up to my room. It was a long walk between our two
sleeping cars! As you can see from the consist below, there were six cars in between.
- P42DC #179 (CHI-SPK)
- P42DC #177
- Baggage Car #1001 (Phase IV)
- Superliner II Transition Sleeper #390?? (0712)
- Superliner I Sleeper (Refurbished) #32026 (0731)
- Superliner I Sleeper #32001 (0730)
- Superliner I Diner #38011
- Superliner I Coach #34099 (0710)
- Superliner I Coach Smoking (Refurbished) #31592 (0711)
- Superliner I Lounge #33024 (CHI-SPK)
- Superliner I Coach/Baggage #31012 (2710) (CHI-SPK)
- Superliner I Coach #34038 (2711) (CHI-SPK)
- Superliner I Sleeper (Refurbished) #32068 (2730) (CHI-SPK)
- Superliner I Snack Coach #35010 (CHI-MSP)
- <10 Mail, Express, & RoadRailer cars CHI-MSP, 1 Ambox CHI-SPK
Harris brought his scanner along so that he could program all of the AAR channels 2-97 into
it permanently, like I did with mine. We soon arrived into Glenview, and heard over my
scanner that we would have a meet with train 8, the eastbound Empire Builder, to take on
dining car menus. Apparently, our train left Chicago without menus! The train also left
without many copies of Empire Builder magazine. Fortunately, I grabbed a copy of my own in
Chicago so that I could take advantage of its route map & guide. Harris complained about
one of Amtrak's latest cost-cutting measures: eliminating paper fiber headrest covers
seemingly nationwide. He thought it was kind of sick knowing that the heads of everyone
sitting in a given seat were all exposed to each other. I told him he should spray his own
headrest with Lysol, but apparently Harris's car was not equipped with any cans of Lysol!
That was sort
of unacceptable, so I told Harris he should borrow one of the many cans in my car. After a
while, Harris went back to his room, since there was a possibility that he might get to have
a final farewell
with his family at Milwaukee, since his parents had to drive there anyway to pick up his
sister from camp.
At 3:45 PM, we arrived into Milwaukee, which plays home to three gorgeous private rail cars,
whose heritage and ownership I will have to investigate! We departed Milwaukee around 4 PM,
ten minutes late. I soon got into a conversation with my car attendant, Thomas, about the
Diana Krall music that was playing. As it turns out, Thomas's old career was as a jazz
musician, playing horns, until he hired out with Amtrak one summer eighteen years ago. He
never left the job since then! I myself am a great admirer of jazz music, and it always
makes the train travel experience more enjoyable when I am able to relate to those with
whom I will be spending a few days, with common interests such as music.
At 4:20 PM, I put down my bed, shut the curtains, and laid down for a nap, having already
obtained a dinner reservation from the Dining Car Steward, Rick, for 6 PM (Harris's
reservation was for 7, so we would not be eating together at this meal). I woke up an
hour later, refreshed, and made my bed up. I then headed to the lounge car and conversed
with some fellow travelers until my seating for dinner was called shortly after 6 PM. The
Empire Builder seems to have one of the most extensive dining car menus I have ever seen!
There are at least five choices for each of all three meals of the day, which is not all
that common, plus a separate dinner menu for the second night. I had the barbecued ribs for
dinner, which were quite tasty. For dessert, I had the caramel turtle ice cream cake, a
decadent treat which was originally available only on the Coast Starlight. However, it
became so popular that Amtrak began to offer it on all of their western long distance trains.
One of my table mates was a lady who was returning home to
Seattle from Chicago. She said that, on her eastbound trip, she saw both goats and a
bear as the train passed through Glacier National Park in Montana! That definitely made me
look forward to the portion of the train ride which lay 24 hours ahead, in which I would
have my own chance to view the spectacular natural scenery of Glacier Park.
Harris and I figured out that, while all three sleepers on our train were Superliner I, all
three of them were at different levels of refurbishment! The least refurbished sleeping car
was mine, #32001. It was completely unrefurbished in its interior decor, and still sported
the original orange and other earthy colors. The more refurbished sleeping car was Harris's,
#32068. The upholstery was blue, grey, and purple, just like in Superliner II. However, many
surfaces were not covered in carpet at all, but in a corrugated white plastic material. All
the white makes the bedrooms look slightly more empty than they should be. Also, some of the
other plastic surfaces in the car were still orange, brown, or olive green. Then, there was
the really nice sleeping car! The other Seattle sleeper, #32026 looked exactly like a
Superliner II sleeping car, but in some ways was better! Firstly, it was completely
reupholstered into the blue, grey, and purple colors, including all of the carpets in the
rooms, on the floor, and on the walls. Also, the old plastic surfaces were replaced with
ones of matching modern colors. But there are two things about 32026 that make it better
than Superliner II sleepers. In the restrooms, the wash basins are designed extremely well.
They come in one solid piece, and are very deep, so it's actually hard to splash much water
around. Just about any water that is splashed around just rolls right into the wash basin!
What really made that car nice was the shower. The shower door in that car was a real
glass, swing-out door! Almost all showers in Amtrak sleeping cars have curtains which must be
buttoned to the wall, and it is often inconvenient to have to line up the button. Also, water
can often splash onto the floor outside of the shower. But it must be very convenient on all
levels to have that real shower door. Harris asserted that perhaps this car was refurbished in
the early stages of the Superliner refurbishment program, before Amtrak ran into cash flow
problems. That very well may have been the case. All in all, Harris and I were quite jealous
of the guests in the 32026 car.
During the next few hours of the trip, in which the train skirts the Mississippi River, I
went back and forth between my car, Harris's car, and the lounge, spending some time by
myself, some with Harris, and some with other travelers! Going through western Wisconsin and
eastern Minnesota, the time passed rapidly. In the lounge car, the movie "Cast Away" was
shown, but I was not particularly interested in seeing it. Before I knew it, we were in St.
Paul-Minneapolis! The train stopped short of the platform to uncouple the express cars that would
leave the train at that station, then proceeded into St. Paul Midway station at 10:20 PM,
five minutes early. Here, the rear coach on the train also gets cut off, as there are enough
"train 807" passengers to justify having an additional coach between Chicago and St. Paul.
At St. Paul, there was someone waiting for me! Jennifer, a good friend of mine whom I had met
online two and a half years before, decided she would come meet me trainside during my
train's stop in St. Paul, which is near her house. She wasn't sure she would show up, but she
did! We had a lovely time visting in person, until I reboarded at 11:10 PM, in time for our
on-time departure at 11:15 PM. The first few minutes out of St. Paul are slow, as the train
leaves Canadian Pacific's Soo Line and goes onto its original Great Northern route (now
BNSF). I soon thereafter took a shower and went to bed at about 12:30 AM.
Left: Harris Cohen, President & Webmaster, Association of Rail Travel in the US.
Right: Izaak Walton Inn, Essex, MT.
I woke up around 7:30 AM among the signature plains of northern North Dakota. I promptly got
dressed, freshened up, and went to the dining car for breakfast. I ran into Thomas along the
way, and asked him to please make up my bed for the day. I had the french toast for
breakfast, which tasted fine, but would've tasted much better had Amtrak offered real maple
syrup, as opposed to the prepackaged, artifically flavored Heinz syrup. As you might've
gathered, I don't exactly eat with the goal of optimum health while I'm traveling by train.
I view the train as an epicurean oasis, one in which I should be able to do such things as
eat poorly and act lazy, without having to worry about it. I can eat well and exercise once
I'm off the train!
We arrived into Rugby at 7:40 AM, 21 minutes late. After breakfast, I went back to Harris's
room to see if he was awake yet. Indeed, he was, and had just gotten dressed. I asked him
if he wanted to step off the train during the service stop at Minot, but he couldn't
guarantee that he would, since he wanted to take a shower soon. So, I went back to my room
until we arrived into Minot at 8:40 AM, six minutes early, having made up the lost time
through padding. I stepped out onto the platform and got a deep breath of clean Big Sky
country morning air. There is not much to see in Minot, but there are so many people on
the platform at this station that it's fun to mill around with everyone else. Then, out of
nowhere, came a big surprise: A CP Soo Line train crossing the tracks right in front of us!
It turns out the Soo Line, which the Empire Builder takes from north of Glenview to
Minneapolis, crosses the Great Northern again in Minot. The unexpected visitor made for a
good photo-op, passing right in front of our own train. We departed Minot at 9:06 AM,
I finally realized during this trip how little I desire to travel overnight by coach on
Amtrak. Whenever I take a long-distance train trip, I always wait to purchase my tickets
until I can afford sleeping accommodations, since I've known all along that it's nice to
be in a sleeper. But I never completely understood how good sleeping car travel is, and
how bad coach travel can be, until this trip. It started when I was walking through the
train, passing through the Coach/Smoking car. To begin with, it smelled like an ash tray.
Then I walked by a person who kept bad hygeine. Then I soon walked by someone else who
was eating some kind of disgusting smelling food. The three scents simultaneously made me
nauseous, and I wondered, how much fun could three days of that possibly be? How could I
enjoy myself? That leads me to another reason why long-distance coach travel could be no
fun. After a little while, the guests become miserable, realizing they have nothing to do
for days but sit in a chair, watching themselves and everyone around them look and smell
worse as time progresses. The passengers bring the misery upon themselves, curling up in
a ball for days for no good reason except they'd rather be somewhere else. The inherent
problem is, if one person becomes miserable, it slowly but surely will have a snowball
effect on everyone else in the car. If a coach car full of riders had a more optimistic
attitude, it might be a different story. I could actually imagine the guests giving
themselves sponge baths and changing clothes everyday to keep clean. I could imagine them
realizing what beautiful scenery they have in front of them -- America, right out the
window. I could imagine the guests being enthusiastic about the journey, and getting out of
their seats and celebrating the event with their fellow travelers. I could only imagine.
Surely I romanticize too much about a day gone by, in which passengers actually did care
about the train, and themselves while on board the train. By and large, those days in
which the train was respected in that way are gone. Perhaps most coach guests would not
characterize themselves as 'miserable', but certainly when you walk into a coach car after
about a day, the mood could hardly be characterized as festive. More than anything, though,
(and I say this with tongue firmly planted in cheek) I'm probably just drawing from my
delusional little world in which train travel is fun for everyone, and is greatly enjoyed
by all! That, obviously, will never be the case.
However, with one's own sleeping
compartment, the traveler is able to create his or her own mood for the journey, be it
adventurous, festive, romantic, or serene. I just feel blessed that I am able to work to
finance my vacations in sleeping cars. Of course, it may help that I don't spend my money
on much else except for telephone bills and gasoline. I am not a big shopper, and am able to
save my cash for the train trips, a priority for me. And even when I travel in a sleeping
car, I am still able to meet people representing the brilliant socioeconomic, age, gender,
racial, religious, and ideological cross-section of our country that can be found on a train.
Some choose to isolate themselves in their bedrooms for the duration of the journey, but just
because I have a room doesn't mean that I will hide out in there the entire time. I am just
as social as I would be in any other situation. But the difference is, I have my own private
haven to run off to if I feel like it. Train travel in sleeping accommodations is beautiful.
Mostly for the kids on the train, "The Emporer's New Groove" was shown in the lounge car on
this morning. There are even more Amish people on this train than were on the Three Rivers
(including some that were on it, as well). Apparently they are going on vacation to Glacier
Park. Seemingly all of their kids flocked to the lounge to watch the movie! I can only assume
this is because they are afforded a rare opportunity to view what the rest of the country
sees. But, to be honest, the 98% of American households with televisions are not necessarily
better off than the other 2%. Despite some funny moments in the movie, I, for the most part,
tuned it out in my head while I was in the lounge car, playing cards with fellow travelers.
Before long, a call was made for lunch in the diner. By the time I got there, a wait list had
formed, and I put Harris and I on it. We were twelfth in line, and would have to wait about
35 minutes to be seated. At about 1:15 PM, we were seated, across from two other solo
travelers from my sleeping car. I had the Gardenburger with cheese, which sounds contrary to
my epicurean philosophy on dining aboard trains, but it actually tastes very good! Besides,
I'd start to feel disgusting if all of my meals were heavy.
We arrived into the service stop at Havre, Montana, at 3:15 PM, having made up any lost time.
We weren't scheduled to depart until 3:43 PM, so many passengers took advantage of the
opportunity to step off, stretch their legs, view the Great Northern steam locomotive on
display, purchase ice cream in the station, or even walk to the store in town! I stepped off
here to take some photos, as did Harris. I also walked to the front of the train to get a
better look at our train's new P42DC locomotives, which had just rolled off the production
line at General Electric in June, 2001. I then noticed that the station agent was loading
five Flashing Rear-end Devices (FREDs), with the message "RETURN TO AMTRAK 22ND ST. CHICAGO"
stenciled on them, into the baggage car. I don't know how so many of them wound up in Havre!
We departed Havre exactly on-time, at 3:43 PM.
If I am not mistaken, the second day of the trip of the westbound Empire Builder is the
longest day of rail travel one can possibly take in the United States. For starters, the
train is the northernmost east-west train in America. In fact, the only train in the entire
Amtrak system to operate to a more northerly location is the Cascades to Vancouver, BC,
Canada! Thus, during summer, the sun rises very early and sets quite late. Also, the Empire
Builder passes through three time zones on its second day, with
two hours gained. Lastly, the Empire Builder operates on a fairly fast schedule, one of
well over 50 miles per hour on the second day of travel. So, it could be said that, during
the summer months, the westbound Empire Builder has the single longest day of rail travel
in the country! Conversely, during the winter, the eastbound train would have the shortest
day of rail travel.
As the Empire Builder treks westward from Havre, the scenery starts to become more
interesting. Small rolling hills slowly but surely become larger. However, we were still over
one hundred miles from the perimeter of Glacier National Park, where crystal rivers flow and
mountain goats run free. Rick, the Dining Car Steward, came by my room for dinner
reservations. I elected to eat at 6 PM, just like the day before. However, I later found out
that Harris booked his dinner reservation for 7. So, I would not be having dinner with him
Scenery passed, as did the hours, and my seating for dinner was soon called. For this meal
I was seated with a couple from Chicago and their son, all going on vacation to Seattle. I
had the fettucini alfredo. For some reason, I do not eat pasta on trains that often. But the
fettucini was certainly more than satisfactory. For dessert, I again got a slice of caramel
turtle ice cream cake, only this time I got it to-go. I then went to Harris's room to hang
out with him and eat my dessert there. Soon after our on-time departure from East Glacier
Park, Harris's seating was called for dinner. In the meantime, I went to the lounge,
to discover that, as the train got closer to Glacier Park, a crowd of teenagers aboard the
train began to swell in the lower level of the lounge car! It was an interesting scene. The
lounge car attendant, Bill, was telling irreverent jokes. Some kids were playing cards. One
was even showing off a sports car magazine to a young Amish man. After Harris had dinner, he
himself made his way down to the lounge.
Not long after the train departs East Glacier Park, the scenery starts to become quite
spectacular as the train begins to climb steep grades, hugging the hills as it goes deeper
into the park lands. There are also several snow sheds along the route, originally
constructed to protect the trains from potential avalanches during the winter.
Though our train would not have to worry about snow, it was raining for a while, and the
ambient temperature dropped into the low fifties Farenheit. At 7:45 PM, the train made a
brief stop at the dirt platform in Essex, with a connecting van to the famed Izaak Walton
Inn, which is visible just to the north of the railroad .2 mile north of the Essex stop.
Though the sun was not yet down, the movie "61*" (about baseball in the era of Roger Maris
and Mickey Mantle) was shown in the lounge.
Our train stopped in West Glacier (originally called Belton) for a good half-hour-long
service stop, in which many adventurous travelers boarded and alighted with what was clearly
hiking and camping gear strapped to their backs. I guess it takes a certain type of person to
take in what nature has to offer at this location! Shortly after departing West Glacier, the
train passes a small grass airfield accessible only by helicopter or small Cessna or
Beechcraft plane, which I presume is the only place in the area one could fly into or out
of, as the unforgiving terrain does not look suitable to house an airport! The breathtaking
scenery continues for about another hour, until after Whitefish, Montana (where the
vacationing Amish from our train detrained), at which time the
train begins to leave the area of Glacier National Park. Conveniently, during the summer,
the sun does not begin to go down until around that time! It was not completely dark outside
until about 10 PM.
After the sun set, Harris and I chatted for a while with the lounge attendant, Bill, who
continued to crank out the jokes! For example, "How many union mechanics does it take to fix
an engine's ditch light? 22 -- you got a problem with that?!" After Bill closed up shop for
the night, Harris and I went back to my room to converse for the last time before we'd
meet again in Los Angeles, as we'd both be going to bed soon, and when we each wake up in the
morning, the other would be gone, on a different train! I took Harris downstairs in my car
to show him what it's like to ride in an open vestibule window. This practice is not allowed
by Amtrak for safety and insurance reasons, and indeed can be dangerous if done in a careless
manner. But I'll be the first to admit that there is no experience quite like riding in an
open window, letting the fresh air blow in your face! Harris had obeyed the rules ever since
he began to ride trains, but I convinced him to make an exception this time and step up to
the window, as the cool mountain air and fresh pine trees made for an unforgettable scent
that made the open window a worthwhile risk. We did not get caught, but even if we did, I
would not have cared much! We then went back upstairs and said goodbye, and each went to our
own room to retire for the night. I, however, still needed to take a shower and get ready
for bed, which I did. But when it came time to brush my teeth, I could not find my
toothpaste, even after looking seemingly everywhere! I then realized it was still in the
pocket of the sweatpants I was wearing, from the night before. I thought it was kind of
amazing that the tube had not fallen out. I set my watch back an hour, as we would be in the
Pacific time zone before our arrival at the next station, Libby, as well as for the duration
of the trip. Around midnight, I went to bed for the last night of rest for me on my trip.
Left: Thomas Murray, Sleeping Car Attendant & Jazz Musician!
Right: The USS Abraham Lincoln in the Puget Sound.
I was briefly awoken some time after 5 AM during our tardy stop at Ephrata, Washington. I
went back to sleep until about 6:30 AM, when we were 15 minutes outside of Wenatchee. I
understand that, starting this fall, Amtrak will initiate a new express contract with an
apple distributor in Wenatchee, which is the "Apple Capitol of the World." The new service,
dubbed Pacific Fruit Express, would utilize Amtrak's new ExpressTrak refrigerated boxcars,
which are currently being delivered to Amtrak from the manufacturer. These cars would carry
apples eastward from Wenatchee to Chicago on the back of the Empire Builder. I am not sure
how this would complicate the switching procedures with the Portland section of the train in
Spokane, but supposedly this new service is all but guaranteed to start at some point.
I got dressed and went to the diner for breakfast. With no lounge car on the Seattle section
of the Empire Builder, a few tables at the rear end of the dining car are set off for the
sale of lounge car food items, from a limited menu. If guests wish to purchase beverages,
they are served drinks from the dining car kitchen. I sat down for a full breakfast with a
couple heading for Seattle, and had biscuits & gravy. After taking a walk through our now-short
train, I headed back to my car to take some photographs of the scenery, as the train
was passing through the Cascade mountain range. The views were not quite as spectacular as
in Glacier National Park, but are still beautiful nevertheless.
Around Snohomish, we lost about twenty more minutes waiting for an eastbound BNSF freight to
pass. However, thanks to padding in the schedule, we arrived into Everett at about 9:50 AM,
a little more than an hour late. The train then hugged the Puget Sound, where the navy
aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, as well as a smaller vessel, were visible performing
exercises in the sound. About a half hour after our brief stop at Edmonds, the train
slowly passed BNSF's Bayside Yard, then the Space Needle, and soon dove into the Seattle
tunnel leading to King Street Station. We arrived into Seattle's King Street Station at
10:40 AM, twenty minutes late. The weather was immaculate outside, with scattered clouds, a
light breeze, and temperatures in the mid-sixties. I walked into the run-down station (which
should be restored to its original glory sometime in the next few years) to wait for the
baggage to be unloaded from the train and placed on the carousel.
The bags took about ten minutes to be released, and within a few more minutes I had my
suitcase and the iPix camera in hand. Before doing anything else, I had to rearrange all of
my luggage! I had a heavy duffel bag with everything I had needed for the previous four
days, but still plenty of room in my suitcase. So, I took out my messenger bag, which was in
my suitcase, transferred to it the few things I'd need for the day from my duffel bag, then
put the duffel bag and the rest of its contents in the suitcase! The suitcase closed
surprisingly easily, and I checked it and the iPix camera briefcase in the Amtrak parcel
check for the time being. I was left with just my messenger bag, making it easy to explore
Seattle for a few hours on foot. I did not have to be back at the train station until about
a quarter to two in the afternoon, to go to the airport and catch my flight home, so I
simply started walking! I had been to Seattle before, and was somewhat familiar with the
nearby Pioneer Square area. I walked down 1st Street, the so-called main drag of Pioneer
Square, then I decided to turn left on Occidental and catch the Seattle Waterfront Streetcar
(Sound Transit route 99). However, I still did not know where I wanted to go! I caught a
streetcar for the waterfront, and made a spur of the moment decision to exit at Pike Street.
I walked up the hill leading to the back entrance to Seattle's famous Pike Place Market.
After exploring in some of the shops, I went upstairs to have lunch at the Waterfront Grill.
From there, I called America West Airlines to confirm my flight reservation. I then made a
call to Gray Line of Seattle, the company that would be transporting me from Downtown Seattle
to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac), which is several miles south of Seattle,
and is actually closer to Tacoma! While Gray Line is best known for operating tour buses,
every day they operate dozens of buses from Seattle area hotels to Sea-Tac in a service known
as Airport Express. They also offer
reserved connecting vans to and from the buses at several other key destinations in Seattle,
including Amtrak's King Street Station, where I would be picked up. I had ordered my Airport
Express tickets online a few months before my trip, and was advised to call the day of travel
to order my connecting van. I did, and was told to be back at King Street Station by 2 PM in
order to get me to Sea-Tac at 2:55 PM, exactly two hours before my flight. Sound Transit
operates a public bus route to Sea-Tac for just $1.50 each way, but to me it was worth the
$11 to have the peace of mind of a guaranteed ride, especially in a strange town.
After lunch, I walked around a bit more, purchased a cup of coffee from the original
Starbucks store, which was opened in 1971, and began to walk back to King Street Station. The
weather was so beautiful that I had no need to find a ride back to the station! Walking
through Pioneer Square again, I noticed sporadic damage from the February 28 earthquake that
rocked the Seattle area, and hit the brick structures of Pioneer Square particularly hard.
However, the remaining visible damage paled in comparison to what I remember seeing after the
1994 Northridge Quake we suffered in Los Angeles. I was back at King Street Station by
1:25 PM, and walked inside to claim my bags. After resting for a while, I purchased a
Gatorade from one of the vending machines, and went outside to wait for my connecting van.
While I was waiting, Rick, the Dining Car Steward from the Empire Builder, pulled up in a
pickup truck and got out, still in full uniform. He remembered me from the train, and was
surprised to see me there. He asked me what I was doing at the station, and I asked him the
same! At least, it was kind of a shock that he was still in his uniform, name tag and all.
My Gray Line connecting van picked me up promptly at 2 PM, and dropped me off fifteen minutes
later in front of the Westin Hotel, the second to last stop for the Airport Express before
heading to Sea-Tac. The next scheduled bus was supposed to depart at 2:30, but a Gray Line
representative there said it was running slightly tardy. The bus came at 2:45, and the driver
collected everyone's tickets or cash fares at the final stop before the airport, the Warrick
Hotel. During the drive, I dozed off briefly, and we arrived into Sea-Tac at 3:10 PM. I
checked my bags curbside, and walked into the Terminal B building, which was almost
completely refurbished, with some repair still to be completed. I got to the departure gate
so early that the gate agents were not yet set up to check passengers in, and wouldn't be
until 3:55 PM, one hour before departure time. Doubting that I would get any kind of
substantial meal on the flight, I purchased a personal Pizza Hut pizza and drink. Shortly
thereafter, I was able to obtain my boarding pass for my flight. I was then informed that
I would have to make a connection to another plane in Phoenix before I could go on to Los
Angeles. I knew that my flight, America West 37, made a stop in Phoenix, but I was not
told anything about having to change planes! I was assigned the same seat for both segments
of my flight, so the two planes for two legs were supposed to be identical.
Because the inbound flight from Phoenix was running slightly late, the plane that would turn
to serve my flight was not done being serviced until 4:30 PM. Boarding promptly began, and
I was in my seat a few minutes later. The plane was an overhauled Airbus A320-200, with
America West's new paint and attractive seat decor. We departed at 5:10 PM, fifteen minutes
late, and I soon learned that there would be meal service after all on the flight! Passengers
were served turkey wraps with a few small sides. It was nothing substantial, but the parts
of it that I ate complemented my earlier "meal" quite well. The two-hour forty-minute flight
passed rather quickly, as I passed the time chatting with a young lady seated across the
aisle from me, listening to music, and reflecting on my trip. The reflection about my trip
was almost overwhelming; it was close to impossible for me to fathom the incredible
experience I had just had. I traversed the nation, mostly by myself, seeing important aspects
of our nation's history, as well as its present; meeting some of the leaders who set the
course of our nation that will be written in the history books; reuniting with an old friend;
spending time with new ones; and seeing America at see-level, from the windows of many
trains in the still diverse Amtrak system. It had by no means been my longest journey in
time or distance, but it was one for which I had planned for a very long time and worked
hard to make go smoothly.
The trip, however, was still not quite over yet! We arrived into Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport,
the largest hub for America West Airlines, at 7:50 PM, just a few minutes late. Fortunately,
I did not have to walk very far to my connecting plane, as it was just two gates over!
The continuation of flight 37 was scheduled to depart at 8:28 PM, and boarding commenced
just a few minutes after I arrived at the gate. As it was supposed to be, the plane was a
carbon copy of the one from the previous leg: The exact same type of Airbus A320! When I
got to my seat, 18C, it was already occupied. The lady seated in my seat showed me her ticket
stub, on which her seat had been manually changed at check-in to what was supposed to be my
seat! She was acting kind of snippy, so I decided to play it cool. I walked to the aft
galley, where two of the flight attendants were standing. I explained the situation to them,
and remained standing in the galley while one of them sought to fix my problem. Boarding was
complicated by a large school tour group, so I had to wait a few minutes before we could see
where I could be seated. In the end, I was given a better seat, 11E, which was in an exit
row. So, I had more legroom, and was closer to the front of the plane I had planned to be.
The lady who was given my seat got to keep it, and I had no problem with that!
We departed Phoenix at 8:40 PM, twelve minutes late, but would be able to make up the time en
route, as the flight only takes an hour. There was just enough time for one beverage
service, and we arrived into Los Angeles International Airport at exactly 10 PM, three
minutes early. I went downstairs, claimed my baggage, and caught a SuperShuttle back home.
I got home at 11:15 PM, 12 1/2 days after I had left! My long journey had come to a close. I
got to sleep in my own bed that night. I would not let myself be let down just because the
journey was over. In a larger sense, the journey has barely begun, and I know this travelogue
serves as one tiny chapter in my mental book of travels. I had traveled much before this
trip, and would travel much more after it. But this vacation was fulfilling, as it allowed me
to do a number of exciting and memorable things all at once, and, as you can see, come home
with good reason to share the memories of it with the world.
Epilogue: A few days after getting home from my trip, I requested my Service Guarantee
Certificate for the tardy Acela Express I took from Boston to Washington. Upon calling Amtrak
Customer Service to request it, I had expected to be asked questions about exactly what went
wrong with the trip and what, if anything, the crew did to rectify the situation. However,
as soon as the representative with Amtrak found out my sub-par trip was on Acela Express, she
immediately said I'd have my voucher right away, without asking me one question! I actually
had to stop her and express my dissatisfaction with the tardiness of the train. She said she
would pass it on to the appropriate person at the train's product line, as well as send me
my voucher. I indeed received my voucher just two days later, for the full value of my
ticket. I figured out that, for just a little more money, I could use the voucher to take
the Cardinal from Washington to Chicago in a Standard Bedroom! In comparison with my trip
on Acela, that's over twice the distance and three times the length of trip time, but in
much nicer accommodations! Obviously the Acela Express is expensive, while the Cardinal is
one of the more inexpensive Amtrak routes. In any case, I will be returning to Washington,
DC to take this trip on the Cardinal at the end of the year.
Photo sets from this rail journey (Sony Mavica FD-73):
- Set #01 - Jul 20, 2001: NECR, Vermont Railway, and the Champlain Flyer.
- Set #02 - Jul 20, 2001: Champlain Flyer, Amtrak Vermonter.
- Set #03 - Jul 23, 2001: Twilight Shoreliner at NLC, Acela Regional/Express.
- Set #04 - Jul 25, 2001: The White House, Capitol Mall.
- Set #05 - Jul 26, 2001: Senator Feinstein, US Capitol, Rep. Henry Waxman.
- Set #06 - Jul 28, 2001: Amtrak Three Rivers.
- Set #07 - Jul 28, 2001: Amtrak Three Rivers.
- Set #08 - Jul 29, 2001: Amtrak Empire Builder.
- Set #09 - Jul 30, 2001: Empire Builder in Glacier National Park.
- Set #10 - Jul 30, 2001: Empire Builder in Glacier National Park & Cascades.
- Set #11 - Jul 31, 2001: Empire Builder, Seattle.
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