Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Don't be that guy.

As we pull into Chicago Union station 4 hours late, James (the band, not the brother in law) joins us on our homeward bound lament. The kids want to go home, right now, too. Our train (The Cardinal, heading from Chicago to NYC-- and way less classy than the Empire Builder from which we'd just disembarked) had left town 2 hours ago. We'd known this since ND-- so it was not a surprise to anyone. I will say, while a missed connection is a missed connection, Amtrak's approach is significantly more helpful than United's has ever been. Regardless, getting on a bus with a bunch of selfish folks took the wind out of our traveling sails.

What I appreciated about this experience was Amtrak was a part of the solution to our missed connection. They had a charter bus to take us to meet the train at a further stop. I will say that is gave me some pause that a bus leaving 2-3 hours later can catch up with a train, but perhaps that's part of the problem with these delays. We had to bring a group to Indianapolis (which was their final destination) and then the rest of us to meet the train in Cinncinati. Sounds like an excellent plan, and in truth, it was. Finding Passenger Services in Chicago Union Station was a bit difficult, and then they had their own Line From Hell form. One very pushy elderly gentleman jumped the line and just hollered at the woman who had come to get the group heading to Flint "What about those of us meeting train 50?" She told us to wait 'over there'; we did as we were told. She soon led us towards the waiting bus, and those of us sure we were going to Cinci boarded. Another pushy gentleman started asking the driver about food. He was obviously taken aback-- he was used to people wanting to rush out and make their connection, not planning rest stops. As we waited for the Indy folks plans to get sorted out and for checked luggage to find us, he kept asking. "I have one question. What about food? I haven't had anything since noontime." I kept quiet about the fact that I thought he was carrying enough calories that he'd make it through 'til morning. "We're not just freight here. We're people." The poor beleagured Amtrak lady headed back inside to figure that out, and the nice gentleman next to me who was trying to make his own connection to Charlestown, WV watched his journey lengthen as we waited for Mr. Selfish 2013 to hoard more empty calories for himself.  There are times I am very embarrassed by my fellow citizens.

The bus driver convinced Mr. S that he could go to the vending machines in Indy-- and took off before he had a chance to cause more delays. We went by White Sox park on our way out of Chicago, and I woke up as we drove next to Indiapolis Colts stadium. Dave and the kids got hot dogs off the roller at the bus/train station, but I passed, on multiple principals. I don't eat anything off a convenience store roller, and I wouldn't do anything to make that guy in the front think he was right. We rolled towards I70 and Cincinnati and continued our journey east.

As I type this, both Bono and I are stuck in a moment that we can't get out of. The train is pulled over outside of Hinton, WV for no obvious reason. I'm sure we have to wait for some coal cars to cede the tracks to us. Rail travel in America could be so much better than it is, but we value personal cars over mass transport. The American Dream, with it's personal possessions placed prominently on the pedestal for all to see. With any luck, the 4 hour layover scheduled for DC will be sufficient for us to get a real meal before we hop another train and ride the rails north. I've been thinking about the woman from NJ who was on that first flight of our journey. Her sigh was audible from the other side of the terminal. "This is the worst day of my life. The whole day is wasted on this one flight. I'm never flying to Maine again." She sounded like she could have been neighbors with Tony Soprano. Entitled Americans don't only ride trains.

It's much harder to take pictures around here. We've got to be in the heart of the Appalachians, and tall trees and foliage line the tracks. We passed through the Big Bend Tunnel, built from 1930-32 and near the Grand Bend Tunnel (1870-72). This is the site of the famed showdown between John Henry and the steam engine. There's a statue to good ole JH, although I missed that shot, too. The history here is sadder than out West; John Henry and coal mining towns don't have the happy ending that Lewis and Clark bring. The poverty is here, though. That part is truth in advertising.

I keep comparing flying and train travel. When we landed late in Newark 2 weeks ago, I turned my phone on to get a automated text from United saying we might miss our connection, and if we did we were confirmed on the same flight out the next day. As I ran to try to hold the plane at the gate, no one would help me. "There are monitors for you to check arrivals and departures." We ran through the airport, and slid on by the skin of our teeth. That is as close to The Amazing Race as I ever hope to come (although I'm sure there would be a PA to deal with my luggage, and I'd be dressed for running through airports. Poor Cate was in her flippy floppys-- not good race wear.) Last night, although the help was a bit chaotic, it was there. The conductors were sincere in their apologies-- on both trains. The current conductor apologized to each customer as he checked our tickets, and brought us all a free snack pack and water "I know you didn't get a chance for dinner." I don't know if the poor woman in Chicago contacted him or not, but I did eat that food, and was thankful for the kindness. I don't think it was enough consolation for the poor man behind us, though, who was definitely going to miss his connecting bus. I had the Mike's Hard saved from MT and Dave had the River Bend Ale: we toasted across the isle, and I fell asleep to Ben telling me about how early man learned about planting gardens (strawberries grew out of the latrines, and they figured out that the seeds must be getting placed there), about why stone fruit seeds contain cyanide (the bitterness would cause animals to drop the seeds further from the mother tree), and how horses became domesticated (man took the place of the head female horse). He is absorbing the material in that massive tome.

We passed by Camp Cupcake a few towns back, where Martha Stewart spent some time a few years back. The inmates waved as we passed by them at work in their garden. In White Sulphur Springs, there's a underground fortress and escape route for the President in case DC is attacked. On the other side of the tracks from the famous golf course is a dilapidated shack. I have to wonder if White Sulphur Springs was named to highlight its distinction from plain old Sulphur Springs. I've moved onto reading March, also by Geraldine Brooks, and I'm not sure I'll be able to stomach much of it. Chapter 2 ends with a savage beating of a female slave who asks a young Mr. March (Jo and the other Little Women's father) to break the law and teach a young slave child her letters. We're into Virginia now, and this is a part of our history that makes me sick to my stomach. While my self-absorbed fellow travelers have put their own needs above others, at least they haven't beat anyone bloody. It is small consolation-- on both counts.

The kids are both asleep again-- they couldn't sleep much last night. Readjusting to EDT and getting ready for school will be difficult this year. I may need to have them pull an all-nighter with no daytime naps to get them back on schedule. Air travel messes with my system, but it seems riding the rails isn't as good for them as it is for me. It's hard to look out these windows without getting motion sick, so perhaps it's good their circadian rhythms are a mess. They aren't complaining, which is a testament to who they are as people. They have learned how to be unhappy but not miserable, and how to endure something that is unpleasant but won't destroy them. I am always proud to be seen with them, and to be recognized as their mom. They will never be that sighing woman from NJ, or that selfish guy in Chicago. Fred and Cowboy Mouth have reminded them a lot that nothing ever goes as planed so get your head out of you hands. Oh yes, my kids will never be that guy. And with that knowledge, I can let go of Mr. Selfish, and Mrs. New Jersey, and be glad to be alive.

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