Do you have dreams of traveling across the United States by train? Where would you go and how long would you stay? Amtrak has many destinations available with plenty of options to make it worth your time and money. Amtrak provides all the details so you can plan ahead. Get ready for a new exciting adventure aboard The Coast-Starlight-Train.
Down At The Station, Early in The Morning
My son dropped me off at the Union Station in Los Angeles on May 19. This was my first adult experience on a train. I traveled in a sleeper car when I was very young, maybe 4, as my family traveled from Erie, PA to NYC (at least that’s what I’ve been told). On this trip, I was traveling to Portland, OR on what was to be a 29 hour ride.
As I dreamed of what the station would look like, my thoughts took me to the scene in My Best Friend’s Wedding when the groom was sitting in the train station thinking his bride-to-be had just hopped on the train. As I walked into the building, I was slightly disappointed – no rows of pews, and Julia Roberts was no where to be seen either.
I glanced in every direction trying to figure out where to check my bags. Realizing the time was slipping away, I hesitantly put on my ‘big girl panties’ and asked for directions. It turned out to be a good thing because apparently I had five minutes to spare to check-in my bags and get an assigned seat.
According to the website, it states this:
Please arrive at the station at least 30 minutes before your train is scheduled to depart
I would recommend a minimum of sixty minutes! After I got my seat assignment, I walked back to the trolley line. The young woman whom I had talked to was now in front with many more behind her. I felt like there wasn’t enough time to stand in line, so I walked down the long hallway to platform #10.
I wanted a window seat, but it wasn’t meant to be. As I watched people board, I saw the young woman who was in the trolley line. She was having trouble climbing up the steps, needing her cane for balance. She was overweight, more than myself and my first thought after she sat down by my window was ‘this is going to be uncomfortable ride.’
Then it dawned on me, my hips might be the ones that make her uncomfortable.
That was the last negative thought I had toward her. As it was, she was young enough to be my daughter. Several times during our trip, she would say she was sorry (for taking up much of the seat), and I replied, no need to say sorry. She said that’s what her life has been like. Then I felt worse about the thoughts I had earlier. I shared with her some things I learned about weight – such as the verse in the Bible that says ‘man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at your heart’. And that the number on a scale is just a number – and doesn’t show your value or what you’re worth. I learned several lessons including not to prejudge anyone, and to always show kindness and compassion towards others.
Save Money, Bring Your Own Food Aboard The Train
Several other passengers were equipped with containers of fruit and sandwiches. I hadn’t planned on bringing any food, so I endured the prices on the train. For lunch at the cafe’, I got a hot dog, a bag of chips and a bottle of water for less than $15. A bit pricey, but I enjoyed sitting by the window to watch the waves roll in.
For supper, I opted for the dining car. The menu was somewhat limited with prices between $12.50-27.50. I didn’t want to embarrass anyone by leaving, so I stayed and ordered the 6oz sirloin and baked potato. If nothing else, I could volunteer to wash the dishes, oh I mean the forks. Everything else was plastic.
I enjoyed the company of an older man and woman, who had just met on the train. We were talking about eating healthy and the man looked over and said, “I should take the advice of you senior ladies.” I almost spit out my water. He thinks I’m a senior? Time to dye my hair. I didn’t correct him, I let it go and paid the $25 for my meal. Seriously, it was a good conversation even though they were at least 15 years older than me.
Don’t Assume The Coach Seats Are Comfortable; Upgrade To A Sleeper Car
This is where I fell short. I was saving money by ordering the coach seat instead of a sleeper. Although the seat reclined a little, it still made it uncomfortable for my neck. Yeah, I should have bought one of those travel pillow to keep my head from bobbing. By the time I fell asleep, the train came to a halting stop. And it took me several hours before I could fall back asleep again.
A perk for those in business coach or sleepers was the option to enjoy the wine tasting sessions. Of course, I don’t drink, but having a place to stretch out my legs or lay down to sleep would have been worth it.
Be Prepared For When Trains Run Late
No train nor bus is on time every time. There were unforeseen circumstances that made our train six hours late. And because we were so far behind, at one stop they transferred several passengers to a bus so they wouldn’t miss their connecting train in Portland.
One of those situations came when the train came to a halting stop. Apparently there was a ten year old boy was sleeping with his legs on the tracks. It was in the middle of the night. The train didn’t see him in time and ran him over, amputating his legs. Last I heard, he was still alive.
Another time, the train had to stop to repair a track. Wouldn’t that scare you? Other times, it was so the freight trains could keep their schedules.
Then the final delay was due to a passenger who caused one too many scenes and was kicked off the train at the same stop as the bus pickup. Not only was she smoking illegally, but also drinking vodka (I saw the bottle), and bragging about being on LSD. She was loud and obnoxious, shouting at children and their parents. I stepped out and complained about her to the authorities. I didn’t know they would kick her off, but knew some type of discipline was needed. The remainder of the trip was quiet and peaceful.
So 35 hours later, I exited the train in Portland, OR to meet my editor, MJ Schwader, in person. We had been skyping for several months and were now ready to do the final editing of my latest book.
Although this wasn’t the experience I had thought it would be, I did have fun and met two new friends (seat mates Amber and June). I know Amtrak has given wonderful experiences to others as well. Next time, I’ll just be better prepared by arriving at least 60 minutes ahead of time, bringing snacks to save money, and upgrading to a sleeper car (or at least business coach – the seating areas are wider), so I can stretch out and rest.
America is rich in land and beauty from sea to shining sea. So perhaps I will give Amtrak another chance to wow me.
Have you traveled by train? Where did you go? Share in the comments below.