I wanted to fall in love with Amtrak and train travel. When my amiga Luvvie and I booked train tickets from Chicago to Washington DC, I had these pastoral visions in my head of whizzing through the rolling, scenic countryside during the day, venturing up to an elegantly outfitted dining car by night, and spending much needed time plugged in and working en route.
What was I thinking?
Instead I came to realize – as my homie Craig said — “Riding Amtrak is like riding a Greyhound bus for the cost of an airline ticket.”
I’m sad to agree with him, but it’s true. And while I’m at it let me say something you won’t hear me saying often…my husband was right.
Allow me to share the highlights and the lowlights, the good, the bad and the ugly, and hopefully explain why I will never ever subject myself to an overnight train trip again.
Overnight Amtrak Sounded So Good…
When Luvvie and I booked tickets, we thought we were so clever. An overnight trip with a girlfriend sounded super fun at the time, and I think we both had an impression of train travel based on old time movies or something. My husband was the one who first brought us crashing down to reality with questions like – did you think to get a sleeper car?
I don’t even wanna get into the roasting and clowning I’ve had to endure since this whole trip began. In fact – check Awesomely Luvvie’s recap for complete details via our G Chat pre departure.
I did some online research about train travel before we left, but nothing that truly prepared me for the experience itself. This is the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The Good —
— Traveling with my homegirl! The concept of a ride through the countryside with my amiga Luvvie was too fun to pass up. Preparing for the train ride with our snacks and blankets gave travel a different vibe completely. I appreciated not being separated from my stuff, and not having to worry about packing teeny fun size hair and beauty products (I’m really not the best packer!) As we ventured through the mountains of West Virginia, I had absolutely no regrets about the trip. Train travel can be quite charming, if you’re in a beautiful and relatively undeveloped part of the country.
See? Pretty countryside. All you need is a little Simon and Garfunkel and you’re all set.
— The people! Some of our neighbors en route were awesome, awesome people. The woman who sat across from me on the way up to DC was funny and smart and we had a great conversation about the oil spill, politics, just about anything you can think about. And then when Luvvie let her know that I had this here blog, she was SO excited! “OMG, my friend reads your blog!” Yay! Hello to you and your friend!
The gentleman in front of us had a huge art portfolio with him and upon request, opened it up to reveal some amazingly skillful drawings. People came from all over the train, little kids were peppering him with questions. It was an impromptu art show! And he then proceeded to offer prints for sale for just $5! His name is Manuel Proctor – he’s on Facebook – and he’s a super talented artist. Check him out!
On my way back from DC I wound up next to an amazing, amazing woman named Joyce. We talked about absolutely everything from family to diet, politics and religion….Joyce is in her sixties, lives in Oklahoma, and is absolutely amazing to talk to. I told her I was writing about this and she said PLEASE tell the people one thing on her behalf, and that’s this — in Joyce’s opinion as a former employee of the government who fought for equality throughout her career, boycotting BP makes no sense. “If you boycott them and they go bankrupt, then who’s gonna pay to clean up their mess? The taxpayers!” she argued. And I must say, her perspective really gave me pause. I promised her I’d get her message out, so there you have it.
— Robert, the Amtrak official who works on the 29 train from DC to Chicago – you are a true asset to Amtrak and you deserve a raise just for being awesome. I mean it. Thanks for being a diamond in the rough. And I mean rough.
— It took 26 hours from Chicago to DC. TWENTY SIX HOURS. We were supposed to arrive at 4:30 pm, which would have given us enough time to shower, change and be fabulous for the Sunkissed Mommy rooftop Blogging While Brown pre-party at the W Hotel. As it happened, we arrived at 8 pm. Party was supposed to end at 8:30. We hightailed it to the hotel, got ready at the speed of light, and missed almost all of the fun. Because of Amtrak. Ugh.
— Some of your fellow passengers on a train are cool, laid back, enjoying the ride. Others…not so much. We actually got to see someone take off their earrings and get ready to fight an Amtrak conductor. I didn’t realize people actually did that. And then she goes: “you don’t want me to turn this motha out!” WHAAAAAAT??? Quoting Parliament Funkadelic and ready to rumble? I don’t even know what to do with that!
— They wouldn’t let me and Luvvie sit together on the way back. That sucked!! And it was totally for no reason!! I had an empty seat next to me the whole way back. Luvvie got an old woman who borrowed her blanket when she left her seat. SO not cool. There is NOTHING worse than a person in uniform on a power trip.
— Sleeping on a train is incredibly uncomfortable. There’s no way to make it work. Pillows and blankets only help so much. And if you ever take a train bring a big, thick blanket. They keep trains extra extra cold for some unbeknownst reason.
— the FOOD. I had a hot dog cooked in a sweaty plastic bag for dinner. I had this vision of white tableclothed tables and y’know, REAL FOOD…but not every train has that. The one on the way back did. The one on the way out certainly did not. There was a surly man behind a counter, heating up pepperoni pizzas and hot dogs in a microwave. Boooooo.
— at the end of the DC to Chicago trip I woke up at 5 in the morning because of a super loud PA announcement (the dining car is open!) to discover my awesome new Skullcandy headphones crushed and broken at the foot of my chair. FML.
— Chicago’s Union Station just might be the ninth circle of hell. Insanely crowded, insanely busy, and generally not well laid out. Washington DC’s Union Station is a vision of loveliness, on the other hand.
— En route from Chicago to DC, this one Amtrak employee kept getting on the PA system to admonish everyone on board about things-that-should-be-obvious like bathroom etiquette and wearing shoes when going from one car to the next. I was like lady, if I hear you shriek on the microphone about papers being left all over the bathroom floor and the dangers of flushing paper towels one more time…I may have to turn this motha out myself.
— Then I went to the bathroom. And quickly realized that there’s a reason she kept getting on the mic. What is WRONG with people? It’s a public restroom! UGH.
In summary, Amtrak may be great for a 2 to 4 hour trip, but not a 24 hour trip. Romantic expectations, dashed. I’ll suck it up and pay an airline fee to not have to deal with that ever again!