09/23/2006 - 9:00 p.m.

New Note as of Sunday: I have changed to a note format because the guestbook was not working. Click on "Sign My Log" to get there.

This entry was written on Friday and today was the first opportunity to post it.


I don’t know when I’ll get this entry posted. I’m rolling across Illinois on a train. I was supposed to be in Galesburg in just a few minutes, helping Kat get a dinner ready for Rosh Hashanah. If all goes well, and that may be too much to ask of Amtrak, I’ll be there for dessert. I certainly hope I’ll be there for dessert. I have three honey-cake loaves in my carry-on and they were a pain to bake. (If God had wanted eggs separated, I suspect that God would have separated them.)

It has been a while since I have been on an Amtrak train going anywhere other than back and forth to Chicago. The Milwaukee-Chicago run is a commuter-type run. It usually is on time and is not very complicated. Seats are not reserved and everyone boards at once. There’s a little snack cart that comes through and a quiet car with no cell phones or other electronics in the back. All-in-all, it’s a dependable train ride.

But today I am on the California Zephyr. It originates from Chicago so I thought I would be okay. Instead, the train pulled out almost 45 minutes late and then sat inside the terminal for another five minutes or so. And all along, most of Amtrak acted as though the problems had never occurred before.

I don’t know what information they had, but, knowing the train was not there, they decided to begin processing seniors and the disabled right when the schedule said it should happen. Amtrak seemed surprised when what that resulted was the rest of the passengers lining up all through the station. Having had all the passengers line up in a winding line all though the station, Amtrak seemed surprised that the line made things difficult in the lounge. Some personnel then moved the line over to the left so people could get through. People then tried to get through on the left so, eventually, they moved the line to the right. Congestion continued and we were moved to the left again. Apparently, they had never had to deal with such a line before (which I find hard to believe.)

Then there was the matter of information. There was none after the initial announcement that, although they were processing the seniors, the train was not in yet. There was no actual admission of delay. Someone asked how long the train would be delayed. The person was ignored. I was standing far enough back in line to be by the information desk. The woman behind me had the same brainstorm I did. She went over there and asked what train was coming in that would be our train. She then asked when they expected that train. “Probably in a few minutes,” was the response. Her next question brought an answer which gave no help but which I had to admire for its honesty. “When do you predict we will leave?” she asked. “I gave up making predictions about our trains by the second day of this job,” the Amtrak staff said.

The woman in front of me was older and clearly was having trouble in line. I told her that they had been “pre-boarding” seniors by having them sit in a separate lounge and urged her to go up there. She was tentative so I stopped a staff person walking by. “Let me see about it,” the staff person said. “Sometimes they do that.” “They are doing it this time,” I said. “And, in any event, please find this woman a seat.” If looks could kill, I’d be dead on the floor of Union Station but the staff member did come through and deal with the situation. Shortly after that, they made another announcement about seniors and “pre-boarding a train which is not here yet.”

The ride itself has been pleasant enough. So far, we’ve gone off to a side track to sit for quite some time but it has only happened once. Apparently, there was freight train congestion ahead. I cannot say all that much for the scenery but I don’t blame Amtrak for the flat and brown of Illinois in the fall.

And I will get to Galesburg eventually. After all, I do not have the ultimate train jinx, Mary, with me. The only question is whether I will get in to Kat’s when they get there. She’s informed me that her locks have been changed and she’s not sure she’ll have time to pick up a new key.

The only thing less efficient than Amtrak may be Kat. (But I love her anyway.)

L’Shanah Tovah (To a good year) to all.

Note: Kat did try to pick up her key. They gave her the wrong key. Apparently her college security is staffed with former Amtrak employees.

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