Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

Day 5: Over the River and Through the Plains

Getting to bed around midnight (accounting for having to add one hour going into Central Time), I slept pretty well, I think, although I did wake up for the station stops at McCook and Holdrege NE, and also Omaha, where there's a longer servicing stop. (And yes, I thought briefly of garyomaha before falling back asleep.)

I woke up three minutes before my 7 AM alarm and unhurriedly showered and dressed, letting Lisa sleep in as long as she could. As with yesterday, we answered Second Call for Breakfast, and, our choices for yesterday having worked well for us, we had them again.

Our car attendant had asked us to pull the call button when we went to breakfast so he could re-make the room, but he hadn't had time to do so by the time we returned, it wasn't finished. After a while, he came by and asked if we could give him 15 minutes to do the bedding changes, and we were fine with that. Going to the lower level of the car, I got the urge to find out how fast we were traveling and used my stopwatch to time mileposts. Two miles in two minutes – 60 mph – was about what I thought we were doing.

10:00: Returning to the room, Kuma Bear and I settled in to watch the rural Iowa countryside. Huge corn fields punctuated by herds of cows are a big contrast with antelope, buffalo, and coal mines across Wyoming. That is one of the reasons I like traveling by rail when possible: you get to see lots of different things at ground level, rather than flying over them. And someone else is doing the driving, so you don't have to keep your eyes on the road instead of watching the scenery.

10:15: Lisa wasn't really in a sit-and-watch mood, and went off to explore, leaving Kuma Bear to my care. I promised to go no further than the coffee stand at the middle of the car.

10:45: Because I didn't want to forget during the bustle of detraining at Chicago, went and tipped our car attendant $20 – guides I have read suggest that $10/day is a good figure for good service – and, because Lisa was curious, asked if we could go have a look in the Transition Dorm car forward of our sleeper. He said, "It's just like this car, but go ahead if you like." Lisa hadn't really taken to our attendant, but I tipped him the $20 for having let us have our way about making down the beds ourselves. Lisa is openly scorful of the car attendants being so fussy about this. She says, with some justification, that making down the beds is easy. Personally, I think it's an excessive expectation of liability lawsuits that has Amtrak leaning on crews to not let passengers do things that they used to routinely do themselves. And there's some justification in that, as I guess lots of people today assume that the world must have every corner blunted, and if they managed to pinch their finger in the seat mechanism, would sue Amtrak for $millions. If I had done so, I would have cursed myself for my clumsiness.

The Dorm car was originally only for the on-board crew, but in an attempt to generate more revenue, Amtrak began selling space in the rear half of the car some time ago to revenue passengers, relegating the crew to only the forward half of the car. Lisa managed to get to the far forward end, down the transition stairs to the entrance to the baggage car, take some video, then get back to the upper level before a crew member noticed her "going the wrong way" and sent her back to passenger country.

11:05: Ottumwa IA. This was a "smoke stop" because it's a crew change point.

I admired the handsome brown stone station, which apparently also now includes a museum according to the signs.

I reckon this must be the last crew change before Chicago. With a few minutes available, Lisa walked down to the head end of the train and for the first time on this trip got good photos of the locomotives that have been pulling us from California, AMTK 99, with AMTK 11 following "elephant-style." (Lisa adds, "Obviously, when they turn this train, they turn the whole train including the locomotives.")

Lisa spotted this on the nose of AMTK 99. The engineer climbing down from the locomotive told Lisa "That's my mascot." Apparently the poor thing was caught somewhere between Omaha and Ottumwa. Lisa engaged the engineer in a discussion of the pros and cons of various locomotive types. The engineer said that the "Genesis" AMD103 locomotives hauling our train are more comfortable to ride and have more overall power than the F40PH locomotives they replaced some years ago, but, as we've heard from many others, the F40 had far better acceleration and throttle response, and is much more suitable for commuter-train service with its many stops and starts. The Genesis is okay for long-haul, few-stops service like this. The engineer told Lisa, "You have to be thinking at least fifteen seconds ahead of where you want the throttle to be on this thing."

I saw the assistant conductor light a pipe, and figured we therefore must have at least five more minutes of platform time remaining, so I figured that I'd walk down to the head end myself; however, just as I was nearing the baggage car, the locomotive sounded two loud blasts of the horn, which is the "train ready to depart" signal. Lisa and the others who had been gathered at the locomotive began making their way quickly back my way, and I turned and hot-footed it to the first open door, that being the entrance to car 0640, the crew/dorm I mentioned earlier. As Lisa boarded behind me, she told the car attendant there, "Any door in a storm!" and we went back to our room.

Lisa had filled up the memory stick she had been using since the start of this trip for photos and video, so she changed sticks – she has a bunch of them – just before Ottumwa. After we pulled out of the station, she had me use my computer to copy the contents of the now-full stick to the 16GB memory stick she bought but cannot use in the camera because the DSC-H2 won't address more than 4GB of memory. She also asked me to make a backup copy on my hard drive.

11:50: Mount Pleasant IA. Although we're now an hour behind, a perusal of the recovery time built in between Naperville and Chicago suggest that we'll be nearly on time arriving there unless we get any more surprises. The only trains that take an hour from Naperville to Chicago are all-stops Metra locals.

13:15: Galesburg IL. We had our final lunch on the train for this segment of the trip, and, as we generally have done on our previous meals, told the people with whom we are dining that we're on the way to the World Science Fiction Convention. As we were getting up to leave, a man in the booth behind us introduced himself: Brian Herbert, returning from a book-tour stop at Comic-Con. Although he apparently is going to Toronto in a couple of weeks on the book tour, they aren't sending him to Worldcon, which is rather sad. He knows about Worldcon – he's been nominated for a Hugo Award himself – but had no idea that this year's Worldcon was in Montreal, or for that matter where the next one will be. As I said, it's sad that what should be our premier event is sometimes a secret within our own field, let alone anywhere else. Not that I'm faulting Tor's publicity person for picking Comic-Con over Worldcon for Herbert's tour– if I were doing publicity and had to pick one or the other, I'd pick CC every time if trying to increase sales was my main goal.

Lisa says she's been a good girl and not said it out loud, she has had a pet name of "George" for the man with whom we sat on the first morning. As I mentioned then, "George" seems welded to his phone, and Lisa observed him this afternoon at lunch fondling two phones. In my opinion, someone who has to be that much in touch shouldn't be taking the train anyway. If you cannot be offline for more than an hour or two, stick to planes. Lisa says she compliments me for my staunch fortitude in dealing with e-mail withdrawal.

We would have been close to on time into Chicago Union Station, but there's a bunch of weekend track work on the BNSF line from Aurora, and the resulting congestion delayed us for roughly an hour. We fought our way out of Union Station. I'm glad Lisa was wearing her compass because I was completely turned around coming out of the station, even though I've been here before. I managed to get us on the wrong side of Canal Street for the three-block walk to the hotel, resulting in us having to wrestle our heavy bags up and down stairs, but we managed to get there. We then got into the room and crashed for a little while.

After recovering slightly, we went for a bit of a walk back up to Union Station, around which I showed Lisa under more relaxed circumstances. I originally thought we might go to a nice restaurant, but we were both pretty zonked out, and we both concluded that we just wanted some milk and a quiet dinner in our room. It helps that there is a pizza restaurant in the lobby of our hotel. We found a Walgreens in Greektown where we could buy a half-gallon of milk -- all of the stores near Union Station appear to be closed on Sunday -- went back to the hotel, ordered pizza, and relaxed. I posted all of the queued-up LJ entries.

I'd write more, but I'm really tired. Although we do want to get to the Museum of Science and Industry tomorrow, and we do have to re-pack for the next train stage and check out in the morning, we're not going to rush.
Tags: chicago, lisa, train, travel

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