The Joys of Amtrak

About a week ago I took Amtrak from Pittsburgh to Washington DC. I woke up early and caught a cab (which I had prearranged) at also early. I got to the Amtrak Station at about a bit past early for a train scheduled to leave at early am. Though the train was very late (we left at not early am) it was one of the most pleasant trips I have taken in a while. If you’ve been reading for a while you may find I have some dislikes for traveling through airports. It took be about a minute to pick up my tickets which I had ordered online from the kiosk. There were no lines. I simple put my debit-card into the kiosk, identified which tickets I wanted to print out and it printed them out. I only needed to sign my name at the top of them, and I was done. I sat in the slightly cool but comfortable waiting area and watched the room slowly fill up while reading the 9/11 report, snacking on the wonderful snacks from the care package (thanks!!!). Though I asked the polite and informative tellers about when the train would come in, I could also have used Amtrak’s novel phone lady. She is designed to take any customer through any routine transition. her voice recognition is exceptional and she will tell you how late your train is going to be. I had called the night before and knew it would be late. I was just being paranoid getting to the train station so early. Next time I will wake up later.

Boarding was a simple affair, with everyone going up one level to get onto one train. As we walked passed the front of the train a conductor looked at our tickets (to see if we’re signed them and our destination), directed each of us to a different car for each city we would stop in to ease egress and tore of the majority of the ticket. Like Southwest airlines, coach seating is unassigned. However all seats has ample leg, arm, head and backpack room. My car was about 1/2 full, with everyone who wanted to lay down and take a nap could on the humongous seats. I’ve sat in armchairs less roomy. I read in peace with no instructional videos, no costly snackboxes hocking and no strangers trying to steal my armrest. It’s mine you know. I also napped. It was less noisy than my dorm, and the view. wow.

The Capitol Limited parallels a river for the first 500 miles of the trip. It was beyond picturesque–it felt historic. I could swear I had just seen George Washington’s boat just disappear into the woods on the far side. We passed behind rural houses with huge lawns (no sprinkler heads! I have never seen lawns without sprinkler heads!) and clothes drying out on the line. I even got to write some.

When I got hungry I went down to the cafe and had some microwaved noddle soup. Not high class fare, but not airplane cardboard.

And they never checked my ID or my bags. I had my ID out any everything, and they never checked it. I felt so, trusted.

The trip back was slightly more regimented (meaning they had a boarding call and were exactly on time). Union Station is a mall. No joke. There’s a movie theater showing half-a-dozen current pictures. There are restaurants, and 3 ice cream shops (including Ben & Jerry’s!) and lots of walking space. And no lines. And armed guards (that were bossing me around). Exactly on time I walked into the lettered boarding area and they checked to make sure my ticket was 1) for this train, 2) signed. And then another read the ticket and told me which car to go to. By the way, the car assignment was not strictly enforced. It just made it easier for the conductors to wake people up so they wouldn’t miss their stops. Once seated, a conductor came by and tore off the necessary bit of my ticket. My ID was out and he never checked it. I slept, I wrote an on the 9/11 report, I read about the establishment clause. I took a cab back to my dorm and was home before I could turn into a pumpkin.

I was impressed by the kindness, the efficiency and the general niceness which all of the Amtrak employees showed.

And their names were obviously located on their apparel at all times.I will be riding the train again in about a week. It was really nice.

Inspirational quote:

“Life is a train of moods like a string of beads; and as we pass through them they prove to be many colored lenses, which paint the world their own hue, and each shows us only what lies in its own focus Ralph Waldo Emerson

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