Tuesday, December 18, 2018

And (hopefully) home

If things are going as they should (this is my first time-embargoed post over my holidays), I should be somewhere across the Mississippi from where I sit as I write this, and close to getting off the train in my parents' town.

In recent years, this has been easier than it might have been: the weather is usually okay when I have to drive to Mineola, and if the weather isn't *great* in Illinois, at least my mother has lots of experience driving in snow (and if worst came to worst, they have a neighbor with a bigger, tougher vehicle who could go out and get me)

But I remember a time, years and years ago now, when it wasn't so easy. When I heard this song during the whole process and almost started crying:

Picture it: December 2000, southern Oklahoma. We had a minor-league ice storm. I don't remember it as being very bad locally; I think campus shut down for a day or two (that may have been the year they planned badly and told us all "Oh, just give your exams the week right before Christmas," totally forgetting some of us had long distances to travel and non-refundable tickets). It was a lot worse in outlying areas.

On top of that, that was the era when they mailed out paper train tickets instead of sending a .pdf file that you can either print out or have on your smartphone. (Well, smartphones were still a few years off then). My tickets didn't arrive when I thought they should.

In fact, a few days before I was supposed to travel, they weren't there. That was back when I left out of Longview (and had coach rather than a sleeper) and I kept calling the station master - a jovial but apparently not tremendously prone to worrying type, he kept telling me it would be fine, I could take my reservation number if I had to and he could print the tickets for me.

But of course, because I am a worrier, I figured I'd get down there and he'd deny having said that, or wouldn't be able to print them, or they'd not be in the system. And I'd be stuck in an ice-storm-decimated Longview, with no way home for Christmas and perhaps no shot even at a hotel to stay in.

I can't remember if the tickets came just in the nick of time, or if I went down there, praying all the while, and of course he was able to print the tickets for me.

But anyway: the train was late getting there. I think I had stopped on the road at a restaurant that was open because I didn't know how bad things were in Longview - I heard reports of power outages and the like. And anyway, riding coach would have meant I might not have got a reservation in the diner, and the lounge-car food was no better than what I could buy on the road.

Got on the train. Managed to sleep a bit. But the train was very, very delayed: first, they had to go slowly through some areas because of the ice storm damage. Then we stopped. And sat, and sat. Eventually word trickled through a freight had derailed ahead of us and they had to clean it up. (It was a Sunday, I guess they had a hard time raising a crew to work on that, it was multiple hours). The guys in the seat behind me had a bottle of Southern Comfort* which they proceeded to empty as the hours passed and they got louder and more "friendly" (Not in the way I like people being friendly. They commented volubly on the socks I was knitting, and made other comments, and eventually I decamped to the lounge car and was fortunately able to get a seat there)

(*Since then Amtrak has banned people from bringing alcohol on board. Well, they wink at it in the sleepers though a good sleeping car attendant will warn sleeper car passengers not to be rowdy)

It was pretty miserable. I also remember a young woman who had been "overserved" in some way sitting on the floor in the lounge car and complaining loudly and volubly that her uncle "owned" CSX and was gonna get all the Amtrak people fired, because....well, some injustice had been visited on her, I think the lounge car guy wouldn't sell her another beer. A couple of conductors came by and told her that she needed to calm down or she'd be put off at the next stop (which, as it turned out, was five hours away. I think she eventually fell asleep).

I saw the dining car staff get off and drive away in vans. A while later they came back, unloaded Piggly Wiggly bags (Odd how I remember little details) and it turned out they cooked a free meal for *everyone*. It was beef stew and frankly I was just grateful to be fed, but the two people who wound up at the table with me complained about the "cheap store bread' and other things.

Day moved into night. Eventually we got moving again....I guess I slept some more back at my seat, I don't know. We pulled in to Bloomington 12 hours late, at 1 am. (Yes, my parents were there to meet me; they had called the number and got the updated time).

But yeah. Getting home that year was hard. It would have been a little less hard if I had been in the sleeper car - no over-friendly drunk guys, no pathetic likely-drunk woman to deal with, I could have probably slept more. In fact, it wasn't long after that I started shelling out for the sleeper and even though it's *expensive* it does save me from a lot of the very-particular-to-me miseries of traveling - too many people, too much noise, not being able to sleep comfortably, having to talk to someone (or being talked at) when I'd just rather be quiet and read....

So here's hoping this year the traveling is easy, and the train is nearly on time...

1 comment:

Roger Owen Green said...

This IS a sad song. I saw a couple do it after explaining the backstory, and I wept.