When they say “Leave the driving to us,” they intentionally leave out the rest. Or maybe that’s the catchy phrase for the Greyhound bus service, not sure, but it fits nicely to the Amtrak train ride from hell. I can completely relate to the old term, “Hell on wheels.”
I listen to a guitar picker playing “Yes, we have no bananas,” at least 15 times, I lost count after 9. I can’t sit in my seat any longer, the perfume thick as thieves is choking me. So I’m stuck hanging out in the dining car after the bar closed the first night. Hungry, sober, tired and bored, book finished… now what? I plug in my laptop and play Spider Solitaire ‘til my eyes meet the Jack’s, only stopping when I begin to have feelings for him.
Another hour or so until the next cigarette stop. This is where we stop in some deserted town, everyone scrambles outside, to stand in the cold foggy mist at least 30 paces from the doors. I don’t know where, don’t care, just stop…please let me out.
This was only the beginning of the 36 hours of almost continual hell punctuated by two hours of humor and 34 hours of nasty smells. The re-circulated air of 200 people should be illegal. I can’t get comfortable, seats are straight up church pews, for the money I paid to let them drive for me, they should be Lazy-boy recliners.
Fast forward 6 hours and the conductor says over the intercom, “We apologize for the inconvenience, but the dining car bathroom is plugged up,” to which I leave the dining car area and head for the other end of the mile long train. The aroma wafting throughout chases me mercilessly and could kill a bull elephant.
3 minute cigarette break in the middle of Los Angeles, aaah… fresh air.
I purchase a bottle of water for a mere $3.50, then contemplate the same amount for a bag of chips, or $9.00 for a slimy Italian sandwich from a vending machine. I choose the sandwich, much to my dismay. The sideways rocking of the train makes me want to hurl said sandwich within minutes of finishing it.
The view out the window of Honey Boo-Boo houses on one side, or cardboard condominiums and rotting sofa’s upside down for shelter on the other, has me saying a quick prayer to God that we don’t break down. I realize a lot of America is being left behind and ignored.
The sun finally comes up and I watch the poor Mexicans bent over in the fields, picking corn rows of chard and kale for one last paycheck of a whopping $25.00 for a week’s worth of back breaking work in the hot baking sun, and think about how they must be taking all the jobs from hard working Americans before they dare to be added to the welfare line for winter. How dare they do work we, Americans, would never once consider doing. We need to build a taller wall! (That was pure sarcasm in case you didn’t pick up on that!)
I strike up a conversation with a teenage boy who says, “This is nothing like in the movies!” Really? Does he honestly believe life is ever like it is in movies? We need to teach our children better than this, as I watch him dreaming of the cute girl 2 rows up: where’s the magic, he wonders?
I wonder too, until night has come again and I’m getting drunk in the bar car. This hot guy, at least 20 years younger than I am, slides in next to me in my booth and starts groping me. He obviously has a thing for wrinkles… from head to toe. Tells me he wants to rendezvous in the bathroom, right before I accidently spill my drink in his crotch. Damn, now I have to go buy another $10.00 watered down drink. But at least he sets sail for some other hot grandmother.
I end up sitting across from this crazy homeless looking dude, who keeps offering me his peanut butter sandwiches. I realize after 8 more hours, he’s totally cool, even if he is a bit smelly, so I keep to my side of the booth. He is homeless on purpose and is a traveling Minister for his church. He walked from Seattle to San Diego before and is planning on walking back this trip. He spends his time living in a tent and trying to help the homeless find God. We spend hours in the dining car, while he plays beautiful Christian songs on his guitar, which seems to be pretty common on train rides. We get to know each other, talk about everything from God to my adorable sandals, which I stupidly wore not realizing it would still be cold in California in December. Silly me, as my toes are now hypothermic; I thought I was going to hit the beach and catch a tan. I totally forgot I was not in Hawaii when I packed. Also forgot a blanket, a pillow and head phones for my laptop. Not to mention my swimmers nose plug! That would’ve come in handy!
My advice to you, use the same $500.00 you end up spending on the train and fly! Not only do you get back 30 hours of your life, but you might get a friendly pat down and probe from the NSA! All of which would be better than riding the Amtrak!