Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

Worldcon Trip Day 1: Hot Rails From Oregon

The first leg of our Worldcon trip involved taking the train south from Salem, Oregon. It was a very hot day in this part of Oregon. I composed most of it on board the train and posted it later when I got to my office.

14:30: Lisa's father brought us to the Salem OR train station -- way too early, but it's better than being late. The northbound #14 Coast Starlight was arriving as we got to station. We stood in the shade and watched the train make its station stop. An elderly gentleman who hadn't heard (or more likely was unable to understand -- the speakers were terrible) the station announcements walked down the train trying door handles on the diner, lounge, and other non-passenger cars, and the train pulled out without him. The man was understandably grumpy.

15:00: Announcements that due to heat-related slow orders (due to potential "sun kinks" in the rails), trains are limited to 50 mph. This translates into delay for our train.

16:15: Our train boards. We're the only people boarding our car (1131). Our car attendant gives us bottles of sparkling cider and makes us welcome.

Our train makes its sedate way southward in the heat at 50 instead of the normal 79 mph. Our sleeping car is cool enough, but I keep the curtains pulled part-way to keep out the sun. We can't be a good advertisement for trains when the track parallels I-5 and the cars go zipping by us.

After getting settled in, we headed down to the Pacific Parlor Car. It's nice having the special extra lounge for the sleeping car passengers – unique to this train – but they've made a (presumably budgetary) change: soft drinks, formerly complimentary, are now $2. While we sat and drank our expensive sodas, we could see a problem that other passengers were complaining about – the Parlor Car was developing a slight haze, like light cigarette smoke without the odor. We couldn't smell smoke, but there clearly was something in the air. Lisa and I decided to return to our sleeper.

This is the only leg of the trip where we actually paid for a sleeper, so it's a roomette, which is all we could afford. (The other legs will be on points.) Roomettes are a little snug, so we put most of our bags downstairs in the luggage rack. I could fit my computer bag under the seat, though. I did get the computer out and fired it up, but it's not the most comfortable table for this sort of work. Lisa suggested I go work in the parlor car where there is more space (and more power outlets – there is but one in our compartment); however, I stuck it out with Kuma Bear looking across at me from his seat.

Just north of Albany station, we here held for something like 30 minutes for signals. I forgot to bring my timetable book and don't remember the railroad frequencies here, so I couldn't tune in to listen to what was actually going on between the dispatcher and the engineer. I suggested that it might be a heat-related signal failure.

17:38: Lv Albany OR, almost 90 minutes late. They won't make up time, but I am not totally heartbroken to be running late because it means we won't be so badly rushed tomorrow morning. Instead of an 8:10 arrival, we probably won't be there until closer to 10:00, so we'll have time for breakfast before having to get off the train. It's also more likely that the hotel might let us check in early. We'll see. And again on the brighter side, the traffic driving to my office tomorrow morning ought to be lighter.

17:45: Lisa and I are relatively seasoned train travelers. We find ourselves helping other passengers, many of whom have never ridden a train before. For instance, Lisa explained to a passenger waiting to use the single toilet mid-car that there are a bunch of toilets (and a shower) downstairs. The woman – who didn’t have any obvious mobility problems – was reluctant to go back downstairs after having made the arduous climb up from ground level when she boarded. *rolls eyes*

We told our car attendant when we boarded that we were on the first leg of a trip to Montreal, and described our trip. The Amtrak crewmember is probably a West Coaster, because she asked our advice on how to get to Syracuse NY via Washington DC by rail. That one we wouldn’t have known without checking the route guides ourselves. I didn’t know about the song-and-dance at Schenectady until I did a bunch of research, since Amtrak’s computer won’t give you the route unless you lie to it.

17:50: Lisa found one of our route timetables and therefore was able to find the radio frequencies used in this area, which will help us know more about what’s happening with our train than you get from the public announcements.

18:00: The smoke in lounge car was apparently due to a malfunctioning air conditioning unit. (Probably overloaded by the excessive heat.) They shut off the AC in that car and the smoke cleared, but the car immediately turned into a greenhouse and they had to close down service, which is a pity. It may be more tolerable late at night if it radiates all of that heat away, except that with the ventilation shut off, the place is likely to be stuffy. Too bad!

18:10 Dinner in the diner (included in our tickets): I had crab cakes; Lisa had the steak. My crab cakes were quite nice, but Lisa’s steak had not been completely re-heated. Due to budget cutbacks, Amtrak meals are now mostly prepared off-train and simply heated, rather than cooked to order, and sometimes you get a misfire like that. In the diner you share tables: we had a pleasant chat with a woman from Southern California who was returning from Seattle on her first ever long-distance train trip. (She can't fly for medical reasons.)

19:40: Heading back to our compartment after dinner, as we passed through the over-heated Pacific Parlor Car, Lisa suggested having a look in the downstairs "movie theatre" to see how it had handled the heat. Entering the theatre (there was no active movie at the time), we were surprised to find it was quite cool in there and rather nice. There appears to be a different AC unit for just that compartment. After pacing up and down in a likely to be futile attempt to walk off the cheesecake I had for dessert, we returned to our compartment.

19:50 Oakridge: Now we're starting to head up into the Cascades for real, and the train had to slow, not because of heat, but because of curves. The speed limit here in the mountains won't get above 35 mph most of the way up.

20:20: Lisa gave me the photos we've taken so far and I processed them for uploading. Now the computer just needs an internet connection.

20:40: Sweet food and no place to exercise makes for an 185 blood sugar reading. Had it been above 200, Lisa would have sent me on a hike to the opposite end of the train, although that would have earned me the ire of the dining car crew.

About an hour after finishing the above entry, Lisa made down the beds rather than having the car attendant do it -- that way Lisa didn't have to worry about meeting the attendant's schedule -- and we turned in for the night. Lisa managed to rig extension cords for the single outlet in the car so that she could have her radio (generates white noise against her tinnitus) and I could have my CPAP so I could breath more easily. Both devices help us sleep better.
Tags: #14, kuma bear, lisa, train, travel, worldcon

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