Confusion, Embarrassment and Frustration: An AMTRAK Adventure

Confusion,  Embarrassment,  Frustration:  three suggestions from an instructor who was trying to teach a group of us how to put  a little humor into our memoirs.   We were to write something that included those three emotions.  No problem!  They comprised a perfect description of a train trip my husband talked me into making not too long ago.

He’d been wanting to make a trip through the Rocky Mountains on AMTRAK for some time.  Every time the subject came up,  I over-reacted.  Thinking back to the years of World War ll  when I made so many miserable cross-country trips by train, I was certain I could never step aboard another one.  The arguments flew back and forth;  he was very persuasive.  Three days and two nights from central California to the Midwest, luxury accommodations with a private bath, visits with family and friends, then home again, rested and relaxed, or so he said.  And think of the splendor of traveling through the Rockies without worrying about driving, able to relax in one of the Vista cars with no responsibilities for three whole days.

So away we went, of course.  I’m such an easy touch.  Unfortunately,  CONFUSION set in almost immediately after boarding when we looked around for our luxury accommodations.  AMTRAK  hadn’t had an upgrade since it came into being in 1971 and government penny-pinching was obvious everywhere.  We decided to make the best of things, settle in and enjoy the trip in spite of conditions.

Well, every mishap known to AMTRAK occurred on that trip, including a  (fortunately minor)  accident where we side-swiped a passing freight, spent seven hours stranded in the Great Salt Lake Desert waiting for repairs, had hours of delays at every stop, and traveled through the Rockies during the blackest hours of the night.  What a disappointment!

We spent the first sleepless night being tossed back and forth together in one narrow bottom bunk after realizing the top bunk was just too risky for a couple of octogenarians to reach, even though the bunks did have seat belt-like apparatuses to prevent being thrown out.  The shower was another surprise, you could never fall down in those narrow confines (ever been in a coffin? standing up?) but we soon realized the only way to get a shower was to wait until the train was standing still in a station.

Finally getting ourselves pulled together enough to face the day,  we staggered off to the Dining Car for breakfast.  You don’t walk through a train car when it’s in motion.  You lurch, reel and ricochet back and forth, clutching seat backs, hoping there’s no head full of hair there when you make your grab.

We managed to get to the Dining Car where we were met by smiling stewards  (why don’t they keep getting knocked down?)  and the fragrance of fresh coffee; almost worth the trip. We were escorted to a comfortable looking booth for 4 people.  Two pleasant looking gentleman were already seated across from one another, looking up expectantly.

Just then the train gave an especially violent jerk.  I pivoted  on the arm I was clutching the seat-back with, twirled around in a semi-graceful swivel and landed KERPLUNK! right in the lap of the nearest gentleman. EMBARRASSMENT? You bet!

However, I gave him what I thought was a good-sport-grin, stuck out my right hand and said  “Hi, I’m Joan.”

FRUSTRATION  set in when I realized I was in the perfect  “meet-cute”  situation screenwriters strive for in their movie scripts, and there stood my husband right behind me, laughing his head off.

And by the way, the return trip was not a bit more comfy or promptly timed; however, we did pass through the Rocky Mountains during one long sunny day and we both loved the experience.


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