Postcard From The Grand Canyon

It was early morning in Flagstaff, Arizona and I was sitting on an old, weather beaten picnic table in front of the Howard Johnson motel on Route 66 waiting on a guy from Enterprise to pick me up to take possession of a rental car. The next leg of our vacation would be via car to the Grand Canyon. It was already hot and traffic on the road in front of me was very light so I was just sitting there working my brain the way bored guys do, in other words, not thinking anything at all, when a car pulled to the curb and stopped. I looked over and saw it was driven by a stunningly beautiful young lady. The driver's window was down and she was looking right at me. She smiled, casually flipped her blond hair behind her ear and said, "Hi, there." Confused, I looked over my shoulder to see if there was someone behind me. There wasn't. When I looked back at her, she laughed and started to drive away. I really wasn't sure what to think, but guessed it was just some good looking young woman who saw some poor, old guy sitting by himself and decided to have some fun at his expense. I didn't mind. But then she pulled into the hotel parking lot and drove up, stopping right beside me and gave me a big smile. "Hey, how are you doing?" she asked. Oh, now I get it - she's a fallen dove looking to make some money the old fashioned way. She laughed again and said, "Are you Ken? Cause if you're not, I'm going to be really embarrassed. I'm Denise, with Enterprise. I'm here to give you a ride to the office."

The Momma-woman and Youngest-daughter
at the park entrance
At the Enterprise office Denise gave me a choice of three vehicles - I chose the Nissan Rogue with only 3,000 miles on it. After going back to the Howard Johnson to pick up the Momma-woman and Youngest-daughter, we started on the 80 mile drive to the Grand Canyon. Getting on the interstate, shortcomings of the car became immediately apparent. Merging into interstate traffic was an adventure as pressing the accelerator didn't do much except make the little 4-cylander engine wind-up and scream in protest. When you go up a modest hill and have to keep you foot down almost to the floor and an 18-wheeler truck still passes you, the car is woefully underpowered. The most annoying thing though was the constant floating from side to side. The car would not stay going straight. It would float to the left and with just the slightest little touch of the steering wheel, it would then float to the right. Constant attention was required to keep it within the lane. The good part though was the great gas mileage. We put a good number of miles on that thing and only filled up once and topped off the tank when we returned it. Maybe the issues were because it was a rental, had not been treated kindly by other renters and needed adjustments, but with just 3,000 miles on her, I'll just say the experience ensured a Nissan Rogue is not in our future.

After several little side trips and a stop to eat, we made it to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The entry fee per car is $30, but I showed my National Park Senior Pass and the friendly park ranger smiled, handed us maps and info booklets and wished us a good visit. I bought my senior pass four years ago for $10 and consider the purchase to be one of the wisest and best I've ever made. We love visiting the national parks and it has saved us hundreds of dollars in entrance fees and other discounts over the years.

This young elk was outside our room
every morning eating breakfast
We had reservations inside the park at Yavapai Lodge, but we arrived at 2:00 and signs indicated no check-ins before 3:00. We looked around in the gift shop for a few minutes and the Momma-woman bought a summer Cowboy hat. She didn't think I would like it, but she was wrong - I think she looks sexy in it! I went back to the reservation desk to ask where we could buy stamps and after she gave directions to the post office, she asked if we were checking in. I said yes and even though it was just 2:20, she said our room had just been released by the service staff and we could check in now. Great!

Yavapai Lodge East consists of six individual 2-story buildings and Yavapai West is ten 1-story buildings in a totally separate location. We got a room in one of the East buildings as it had air conditioning whereas the West rooms do not. I'm sure having no A/C is fine in the fall/spring/winter, but it was summer and we were grateful for it. Nice room, not fancy, but clean and comfortable. There is no Wi-Fi in any of the rooms (it is available at the Lodge) and the satellite TV kept cutting in and out, but we didn't stay in the room much except to sleep so that wasn't a big deal. The room had a big picture window looking out into the forest and I spent a good bit of time looking out of that window watching squirrels scamper about playing and elk grazing as I waited for my two girls to finish showers and get ready for the day. It was a really nice way to start the day.

Our visit to Grand Canyon was thoroughly enjoyable. It had been 20 years since the Momma-woman and I had been and it was Youngest-daughter's first time. The biggest change we noted, other than the free buses which you can now take to anywhere in the park, was the crowds. According to our memory, there seemed to be at least twice or 3 times as many visitors and there were many, many more foreign tourists - especially European, Japanese, Chinese and people from India. With a few exceptions, the vast majority of folks were friendly and courteous. The most inconsiderate we encountered during our 3 days there were three youngish Americans.

Youngest-daughter admiring the view

We had made special effort to be at Hopi Point to see the sunset. It is in an area where you have to take the red route "Hermit's Rest" shuttle as auto's are not allowed. We arrived early enough to get a good viewing spot and were patiently waiting as the sun was edging down toward the horizon when one of the world's most beat up, ugliest, dirtiest diesel pickup trucks came into the empty parking area spewing diesel smoke and fumes. It was covered in bumper stickers and hand-made signs declaring "Save the Trees," "No Fracking," "Clean Air" and "Water is life!" I especially liked the "Clean Air" one as we had to wait for the air to clear of diesel exhaust before it could be read. The bed was filled with camping items, a generator, and a number of other mystery items which had tarps over them, all dirty. It had been outfitted with a handmade, iron balcony sort of thing over the bed. I have no idea how they got there since autos were supposedly not allowed. Three people got out, two guys and a woman. There had been a pretty large crowd at the viewing point, but until these people arrived, everyone had been real subdued, talking almost in whispers while watching an awesome sunset. A sight like that in that setting just naturally makes one look on in quiet awe at nature's beauty and power and have thoughts of how small you really are. Just before the colors turned to gold and bright red and orange, the older guy (he reminded me of Wavy Gravy from way back in the days of flowers, peace and love) climbed up on the top of their truck and started shouting at the top of his lungs, "My name is Johnny!" "My name is Johnny!" "My name is Johnny!" "Water is life!" "Agua es vida!" Gee, thanks a lot, Johnny. Way to break the mood.

Now that he had everyone looking at him, he brought out a drum and began loudly chanting, Indian-style, and banging that drum like he is a Native-American shaman or something. After a few minutes of this, the younger guy brought a guitar out, climbed up and joined him in chanting. The woman walked around shouting, "Water is life!" "Water is life!" This went on until the sun had set and it was dark.

Long lines formed to wait for the bus. We were in line for almost an hour because there were only two buses running and only about 20 people could get on each time. The line snaked beside Johnny's truck and I glanced in as I slowly passed. It was just as filthy inside as out and it obviously had been serving as living quarters for them for a long time. The woman was telling everyone that passed, "Water is life!" I was upset that they had basically ruined everyone's enjoyment of a beautiful sunset, a beautiful moment. As she looked at me and said for the hundredth time, "Water is life" I wanted to say water is also for bathing, you should try it sometime, but it had been a long day, I was really tired and I doubted she would get it so I walked on without a word.

Inconsiderate, self-centered Johnny
We left the next morning and other than Johnny and company's inconsiderate chanting and proclamations, we had a wonderful time. I would definitely recommend staying in one of the "inside the park" accommodations. They are all close to a shuttle stop and the buses run every few minutes. Cost for a room is around $200 - $250 per night and worth it. We had a car so we drove the routes some of the time, but even though we never had much trouble finding a parking spot at an overlook or other site, we found it easy and convenient to take a shuttle. We spent three full days in the park and that was enough to see everything along the southern rim. If you plan on taking a hike or two, you will need to plan more time. I hiked several trails here years ago and recommend you do too. (It was on one of those hikes that I first encountered Ponderosa pine trees - their bark smells like vanilla!) Unfortunately, hiking at the 7,000+ foot elevation and in the heat was not possible this time and I regret it. Oh well, it was still most enjoyable and the visit gets 2 thumbs up from all of us!

Feeling small at Grand Canyon
This big fella was on the side of the road and didn't
mind his picture being taken at all

This picture of Youngest-daughter perfectly sums up
our trip to the Grand Canyon - awesome!

The Great Plane, Train, Car and Bus Adventure - (Part 3)

The Southwest Chief (stock photo)
The Southwest Chief, the Amtrak train which would be carrying us from Kansas City, Missouri to Flagstaff, Arizona arrived only 5 minutes late at 10:40PM and we departed at 10:55PM, about ten minutes late. Since we would be on board for over 24 hours, we had reserved a sleeper room. It cost an extra $510 (with senior discount), but you get private quarters, fairly comfortable beds, three toilet rooms shared only by six sleeper rooms, a shared shower room and free meals. Oh, and 2 bottles of water - can't forget that freebie! Unfortunately, a sleeper only has room for two people and there were three of us. Youngest-daughter has a food allergy and picky tastes so, according to the menu I previewed, the "free" meals would have gone largely uneaten by her. I decided to not spend the extra $600 on a room for one person for just 1 day/night so I reserved the sleeper car in mine and the Momma-woman's name and just got a coach seat in Youngest-daughter's name. 

The tickets have your name on them, but I had noticed that not once did an agent look at the names so I let the girls board for the sleeper car with Youngest-daughter using my ticket and I used hers for the coach seat. I would spend another long, mostly sleepless night in a single seat while they slept in the bunks, but I wanted them to be comfortable. At meal time, I would use my sleeper ticket to get my meal free and Youngest-daughter could get what she wanted from the snack car or the food we brought for her. Very happy to report this worked exactly as planned! All three of us spent most of the next day together in the sleeper - it was a bit crowded with two of us laying beside each other in the bottom bunk, but doable. I strongly recommend if you will be traveling for 24 or more hours, by all means, pay the extra for the sleeper car! It is definitely worth it. Trust me on this.

Shortly after we left the station, I became aware of a nuisance problem. There was a rhythmic clunk, clunk, clunk accompanied by a very irritating little jerk as we rolled along. Other folks noticed it too and we all began looking around at each other with questioning looks on faces. We started talking amongst ourselves and finally concluded one of the wheels must have a flat spot on it. A lady sitting behind us said she had been traveling Amtrak for years and she has noticed in the last couple that maintenance has been severely lacking and service has really gone downhill. She thinks it's because Amtrak has been cutting expenses to the bone by not replacing workers who leave and delaying all maintenance not absolutely required. She thinks that's also why there have been a number of Amtrak derailments in the last couple of years. We sure had issues on our trip and since this was our first, I had no previous experience to compare or not take her word for it.

We had not left until almost 11:00PM so the car's lights had been dimmed and most of the occupants soon covered up in their blankets (the cars were always refreshingly coldish, especially at night) and tried to get some shuteye. There was a sliver of a moon, but not near enough light to see anything but shadows darker than the night as we sped along. We came to Lawrence and then Topeka, stopping for just a couple of minutes in both. Next came Newton where we slowed, but didn't stop. By then it was dark-thirty and the town had long since closed up for the night - just a few street lights and security lamps shining. As far as I could tell, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. Before we came to Dodge City, the soft, haunting sound of the horn in the dark and the gentle swaying lulled me to asleep in spite of that infernal clunk, clunk, clunk. I missed Garden City and crossing the state line into Colorado.

We stopped in Lamar, Colorado at 7:00AM, which woke me up. I had managed to sleep a goodly part of 4 hours and needed to walk around to get the kinks and folds out of my poor old abused body. I made my way to a working toilet room and then to the snack car for a cup of morning coffee to sip as I watched the world go by through the big windows. Now this was what I was expecting when we decided to travel by train!

At 7:45, I made my way to the sleeper car to wake up the Momma-woman and retrieve my ticket from Youngest-daughter so we could eat breakfast at our 8:00 reservation time. When the announcement came over the speaker system, we made our way to the dining car and were promptly escorted to a table for four where we were seated across from another couple. All of the white-cloth-covered tables seat 4 and if there are not 4 in your party, they seat another couple with you. This was one of the things I wasn't sure about at first, but turned out to be most enjoyable.

Our breakfast companions were a really interesting couple in their mid to late 50's. As we sat down, we shook hands and introduced ourselves. We learned the man lives in California and the woman lives outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico on a remote, mountain-top ranch. They never did say whether they are married or what, but they don't live together. They do, however, visit each other several times a year plus they travel together several times each year and they've been doing it this way "for years." Whatever works for you is good and this arrangement obviously works for them. Since Momma-woman and I both like Santa Fe, we discussed that and when they found out we're from Texas, they said they have plans to go to Big Bend National Park next year. That's one of my all-time favorite places and we've been numerous times so we gave travel advice and answered their questions. The meal, the usual breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, toast, juice and coffee, was about the same quality as a good IHOP or Denny's, and the conversation with friendly people was interesting and very enjoyable. All too soon, they were rushing us out as they needed the table for the next scheduled group of people.

3 human sardines crammed in the
lower bunk
We went back to the sleeper and I tried to get Youngest-daughter to go to the seat I had tried to sleep in the night before so I could actually lay down and take a nap and digest breakfast. Somehow all three of us ended up sardined together in the lower bunk. This lasted for about 3 minutes of laughing and saying, "Go away!" "No, I want to stay here!" "Get off me!" "But I'm cute and I'm your daughter! You would kick your poor daughter out?" "Yes, go! Come back when you're rich and can support us in the manner to which we would like to become accustomed!" I finally decided I would crawl into the upper bunk for my well-deserved rest. Youngest-daughter didn't think I could get up there because to her, I'm, you know, old and decrepit. Much to her surprise, this decrepit, old man made it up there lickety-split. OK, maybe not lickety-split, but I did wiggle my way up there after only a few grunts and groans of effort. Then they decided both of them would go to the coach seats. Great. After all of that and NOW you girls decide to leave me in peace. You people are not funny.

I crawled back out of that top bunk because there's no window up there like there is in the lower and I wanted to see what I was missing. I took a Colorado picture, I believe it was around La Junta, but I'm not sure. Amtrak doesn't announce where you are so it's hard to figure out until you arrive in a town and see the name on a sign. If you like knowing where you are between towns, I suggest you bring a portable GPS. When I woke up a short time later as we were coming into Trinidad, the scenery had changed to forested. For the rest of the trip, the scenery would be wonderful and very enjoyable to watch. However, we were only about halfway to our destination and the scenery and our meal-time companions would prove to be the only enjoyable part.

Trinidad, Colorado
Watching the scenery was really pleasant so I decided to make my way to the lounge car to watch from its big windows. Coming into the car, I found my way blocked by a large group of Mennonites. I admit I don't know much about this particular group of religious people except I think they are a tight community group, family oriented, and against violence. What I now know about them for sure is they are not adverse to taking over a train car that is supposed to be for everyone to enjoy. There were dozens of them taking up every seat and standing in the aisle. They had board games spread out on all of the tables with people standing looking on and totally blocking the aisle. Women were sitting and standing everywhere sewing and embroidering. OK, so I wouldn't be sitting in the lounge car, but I needed to get through to reach the car where my wife and daughter were. I could see several people on the opposite end of the car trying to get through also. When seeing that somebody needed to pass by them in the aisle, instead of moving to the side a little, they would ignore you, pretend they didn't see you and refuse to move. After saying excuse me a couple of times with no response, I gently put my hand on one guy's shoulder, gave a very slight push and said excuse me again. Most people would say sorry or something like that and move over, but not these people. It was like they had no idea you were there. I finally gave the guy a firmer push and he looked at me like I was disturbing him, but he did move over enough that I could get by. I had to do this 4 or 5 times to get by everyone. I thought there might be a fight brewing because one of the guys coming through on the opposite side began pushing harder than I was, but nothing came of it except we all finally got to the other side.

Church along the tracks outside Trinidad
When it came time for lunch, the Momma-woman and I had to navigate our way back through the lounge car. I guess some of the Mennonites had gone to the snack car for lunch as there wasn't as many of them, but they had left their board games and sewing set up on every table and jackets and shoes on every chair with a number of the adults sitting guard. Someone said that didn't surprise them because Mennonites as a group think they are better than anyone else. I don't know about that, but I know their actions sure were not appreciated by other travelers.

Lunch was again enjoyable. The food was tasty and we were seated with a young married couple from Germany visiting America for the first time. They had been to New York City and Chicago and were now traveling across country by train to see the Grand Canyon and then on to Los Angeles. They said they had been very pleasantly surprised by how friendly and helpful all Americans are. We gave them some travel tips, invited them to come to Texas the next time and found out about their little town and living in Germany. We left looking forward to supper to see who we would meet.

Old mine
We negotiated the Mennonite gauntlet through the lounge car, collected Youngest-daughter and all three of us went back to our sleeper for a short siesta. The rest of the afternoon went fine with a little reading, a little internet browsing, and a lot of scenery watching through our window. During that time, three announcements were made - the first informed us that several of the toilets were broken and wouldn't be fixed until we stopped in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This prompted a rush by us to the sleeper car toilets, but all of them worked. The 2nd announcement informed everyone that for safety purposes, shoes must be worn when walking around the train and that the lounge car was intended for all passengers and seats could not be taken up with personal items in order to reserve them for extended periods of time. Anyone not adhering to the rules were subject to being removed from the train at the next stop. (We heard later there had been many complaints about the Mennonites who had homesteaded the lounge car.) The last announcement came as we left Albuquerque letting us know the toilets had been fixed.

Supper was once again good and we had a nice chat with an older couple who were headed to Los Angeles. They were friendly enough, but seemed to be more food focused so there wasn't as much talking this time. Certainly not unenjoyable, but not as memorable as our previous meal companions. Afterwards, I let the girls head back to the sleeper and I went to the coach seat for what was supposed to be just a couple more hours until we reached our departure at Flagstaff, Arizona. As I passed through the lounge car, I noticed the Mennonites all had their shoes on and they only took up about half of the car.

We were somewhere between Gallup, New Mexico and Winslow, Arizona when the train slowed down, pulled onto a side track and stopped. After a few minutes of everyone wondering what the heck was going on, an announcement came that we had to wait for a train coming from the other way to pass and that it should be just a few minutes delay. We waited. And waited. And waited.

Watching the scenery go by on this leg
of the trip never got old
Almost two hours later, still sitting in the same spot, a "lady" sitting three rows ahead of me, in a loud voice, said, "I could have walked there by now!" Everyone chuckled. That was the wrong thing to do as it only encouraged her. In a louder voice, she really began complaining and, much to everyone's shock, began peppering her complaints with a few choice adult language words. Then she proceeded to complain about how parents can't discipline children today because of the G*d government and kids are growing up to be f*king wimps. I couldn't believe nobody was saying anything to her. I don't claim to be anywhere near a saint and am not fervently religious, but there were a few children in our car and a number of older folks and there was no need for them to be exposed to such vitriol so I got up, walked to her seat, asked her to please watch her language and went back to my seat. She was quiet for a couple of minutes, but started up again saying the G*d government had no business telling people what they could and couldn't do and "they can kiss my ass." About then the conductor came up the aisle from behind us, walked straight to that woman and told her if she didn't stop using foul language she would be removed from the train. And that was the last word we heard from her.

New Mexico
After almost three hours of not going anywhere, a train finally came past us and we proceeded on our way. We stopped in Winslow for 30 minutes and knowing Flagstaff would be the next stop, I went to join my wife and daughter in the sleeper car. After pulling out, the train seemed to be going very slow, but there was no announcement as to why. We had been told our attendant would come by about 30 minutes before our stop to ensure we were packed and ready to depart, but she never showed. By now it was 1:00AM. 6 sleeper car passengers other than us were getting off in Flagstaff so we all kind of took care of ourselves, looking at the little paper tags above the doors to make sure all Flagstaff people were up. The 9 of us gathered by the door as the train pulled into the station and waited for our attendant or someone to open the door for us to get off. The train stopped, but nobody came to open the door. We saw other people getting off and walking by so we started trying to figure out how to open the door ourselves. About that time, our attendant arrived. One side of her hair was pushed flat and her clothes were rather disheveled so it was obvious she had been sleeping. So much for the "porter to attend to your needs" advertisement. She opened the door (there's a metal bar at the top to pull over) and let us off.

I don't know if it is like this at all stations, but there were 5 or 6 cabs available and waiting. Our little group had gotten off later than the others due to our sleeping attendant, but we managed to grab the last-but-one. After the cabbie and I stowed our luggage in the car's trunk and the girls had seated themselves in the back seat, I stood for a few seconds watching the train pull out as it headed on down the dark tracks, fading into the distance.

The cabbie was nice and as he drove us to the Howard Johnson hotel, he informed us the reason we had been almost 4 hours behind schedule was because some poor drunk woman had wandered onto the tracks and had been hit and killed by the train that had passed us going the other way. The police had closed the tracks until they completed their investigation. I wondered if that rude and crude woman would feel bad about her statements if she knew about the dead woman being the cause of our delay, but I figured, no, probably not. It was a very short ride, the cabbie didn't try to cheat us by taking a long, winding route and it was the middle of the night so I gave him a twenty for the $8 fare.

Sunset picture taken by Youngest-daughter Katie
We checked into the Howard Johnson and got a downstairs room. It was older and there were a few minor things that needed attention, but it was clean, everything worked, the A/C quickly got the room nice and chilly for sleeping and the two queen beds were comfortable. Not the height of luxury, but it was reasonable in price and we would be leaving about 8:00 the next morning so it served our purpose just fine. I was the last one in bed and as I drifted off to sleep, my last thought was that my fantasy of train travel would never be the same.

The Great Plane, Train, Car and Bus Adventure - (Part 2)

Combination Amtrak and Greyhound station
in St. Louis
After arriving at the St. Louis Amtrak/Greyhound "Gateway" station and after the mad dash to the restrooms by most of the passengers that had been on the Texas Eagle for the last seven hours with no bathrooms, things changed. For the better, thank goodness. We made it inside the building which, strangely, appeared to be older and dingier on the inside than it did on the outside.

With almost 8 hours to kill before our next train arrived, we thought we would see about checking our 8 suitcases and gym bags in storage and take a cab to visit the St. Louis Arch (Youngest-daughter and I had been there during our Route 66 road trip, but the Momma-woman has never been) and maybe a few other sites. I asked the nice ticket agent if there was a safe place to leave our luggage and after finding out our plans, she said it was pretty expensive to store the luggage there for such a short time and besides, there's not a lot to see and do in St. Louis without a car. She then looked up our itinerary and said there's more to do in Kansas City, our next scheduled stop. Then she informed us there's a train leaving in 45 minutes and she can get us on it if we'd like. Being the now wise, veteran train traveler I was, I knew "3 guaranteed seats" doesn't mean 3 seats together so I asked and she assured me there would be space so we could sit together. That sounded better than spending 8 hours sitting on a hard wooden bench in St. Louis, plus we would get to travel the whole way during daylight hours and be able to see any good scenery, so we switched to the earlier train. Good decision.

At the St. Louis station, you have to go up
and over the tracks to get into the station
Calling once again on our hard-won train travel knowledge, we took the few minutes available before we could board the Missouri River Runner and ate breakfast at a little deli inside the station. I started to get a banana nut muffin, but decided to go with the sausage-egg breakfast burrito and quickly received confirmation that my ability to make bad decisions had not deserted me. The egg part was ok, but something bad happened in my mouth with the sausage part. I wanted to scrape my tongue off with my fingernails. I opened it up and pulled out the sausage bits so I could eat the thing. I was jealous of the Momma-woman's egg & ham and Youngest-daughter's bagel, which they said was "not bad." We grabbed bags of chips and Bugles for snacks later. A quick "just in case" trip to the restroom was barely completed when we heard the call in a bored, monotone voice, "now boarding" for our train. Sadly, I guess it's just in the movies they call, "All aboard!"

On board the Missouri River Runner
Boarding this time was much easier than in Longview the day before as there were not as many people and virtually no line. This time we knew enough to store our bags in the lower storage bins of our car so we only had our backpacks (containing our laptops, cameras and a few other essential items), blankets and pillows to carry with us up those ridiculously narrow stairs to the upper seating. We were pleasantly surprised to find the car appeared to be very clean and only a few other riders scattered around. The seats were pretty much the same as before, but the windows were cleaner and the whole thing just seemed to be much better. Shortly after boarding, the 2nd leg of our journey began and we were on our way to Kansas City.

The train that runs between St. Louis and Kansas City is named the Missouri River Runner because it follows the Missouri River for most of its route. Via road, it is only 250 miles between the two cities, but via train, it takes almost 6 hours due to the meandering route and the many stops in small towns all along the way. It didn't seem that long though as the scenery and towns we passed were interesting. Youngest-daughter was thrilled because this one had Wi-Fi and thankfully, all of the restrooms worked during the whole trip!

Hermann, Missouri and two characters in my
novel - the tough-as-nails, cigar smoking female
that nobody in town messes with and her friend
who is actually an undercover KGB spy.
I found it almost strangely fascinating to see the towns we passed through and to watch the people in those towns. I wondered what it was like to live there and as people got on and people got off, I wondered about their lives. Some boarded in one small town only to get off in another small town shortly and I wondered why. I began writing a novel in my head about people I saw. Of course, it was mostly about me, the retired super spy turned hero private eye, saver of damsels in distress, and all the pretty girls I saw would fall for my charms and into my arms. Some people were just peripheral, but interesting players - the owners of the local mom-and-pop store, the kindly grandma who bakes cookies for the neighborhood children, the weary travelling salesman who shows up one day and is gone the next, the bored housewife cheating on her husband with the school bus driver who takes her children to school. A few people, for one arbitrary reason or another, I didn't like the looks of so it doesn't take long before they are killed off. One of these days, somebody should make a movie of the stuff that goes on inside my head.

The cheating housewife and her "friend" the
school bus driver meeting up in downtown
Jefferson City.
Arriving at the Kansas City station within just a few minutes of the 2:55 PM scheduled time, we retrieved our luggage and were immediately impressed as we entered the building. It reminded me of Grand Central Station in New York. It was huge, it was impressive and either a very well maintained or very well renovated building. Our footsteps echoed as we walked to the information booth.

Inquiring about nearby things to do and places to eat, we were told it would be $5 per bag to store them in a luggage room for the next 7 hours. Big luggage or small bags, it would still be $5 each. The fiscally-minded part of me (my wife shortens the terminology to "cheap") rebelled at spending $40 to be bag free for 7 hours. Just about the time I was going to give in and fork over the cash, the gentleman informed us there were restaurants and lots of shopping places within a few blocks if we didn't mind walking around in the hot weather. I used to love summer, but now in my dotage, I no longer like being hot and sweaty and due to a recently developed physical issue, I have a bit of difficulty walking long distances. Put it all together and I chose to save that $40 and stay in the station guarding our luggage and reading my book while the wife and daughter went out exploring. Bring me back a burger and fries and I'll be good I told them. Since you'll probably be gone for at least several hours, hold on a minute and let me take a few pictures and go powder my nose (the experience on the first train of 7 hours with no bathroom available has probably scarred me for life!).

The KGB spy in Washington, Missouri handing
over stolen secret documents to his contact
who is actually an undercover agent for
the good guys.
Coming back from the restroom, I spied an ice cream shop and couldn't resist. Inside, there was a rather small sign on the wall - "Sale! 2 scoop cone, $2" it said. Hey, I just saved $40 so sure, sounds good to me! Walking up to the counter was a hand-lettered sign on an erasable board - "Today's special - cone with 2 scoops just $2." A teenage girl with cornrowed hair looking like there were a million places she would rather be asked what I wanted. "Hi. I'll have 2 scoops of chocolate in a sugar cone, please."
"We're out of sugar cones."
"Oh, ok. Then I'll take a waffle cone."
"We're out of waffle cones."
"OK, then what kind of cones do you have?"
"The regular kind."
"Well, I guess I'll have 2 scoops of chocolate in a regular kind."
At the cash register, she rang it up and said, "$3.08." Wow, that's a lot of taxes, I thought. "Is that right?" I asked. "I thought it was on sale for $2."
"The sugar and waffle cones are on sale, not the regular cones. 2 scoops in a regular cone is $2.75."
"What? Where does it say that?"
"The small print on the poster," she replied and pointed to the poster hanging on the wall a good 10 feet behind her. Not having my glasses with me, all I saw was some teeny tiny squiggly lines at the bottom of said poster.
"I don't think that's legal. You said you are out of sugar and waffle cones and forced me to get the regular cone. That's bait and switch."
"It's what?"
"Bait and switch. Haven't you ever heard of that? It's illegal."
Total incomprehension. "Never heard of it. That will be $3.08."
"I'd like to talk to the manager, please."
"She's already gone. That will be $3.08."
It was just a dollar difference, but the whole situation and her attitude upset me. I started to refuse and just hand the damn cone back, but by then I really had a hankering for that ice cream so I forked over another dollar. It wasn't Bluebell, but it was pretty good. It would have been better for a dollar less though.

Inside the Kansas City train station
Taking over the luggage guard duty, I found a nice, hard-wood bench to spend a few hours sitting on as the girls hurried off in search of shopping opportunities. A couple of hours later, I looked up from my book as I noticed it was really quiet. I looked around this big, open room and found I was the only one in it. Not scary as it was still light, but kind of strange and a little eerie. It was like that for about 20 minutes and then a few people started coming in the doors and walking around. I was people-watching when three people came in with musical instruments. Oh, cool, maybe they'll set up and start playing, I thought. Then a couple more musicians showed up. I was watching them set up about 20 feet from me when two nicely dressed ladies walked up to me and said, "Hi. How are you?"
"I'm doing fine, thanks. How are you?"
"We're wonderful because we're bathed in the blood of the lamb."
Oh, crap. Here I am stuck with all of this luggage against a wall. Escape is impossible. Trapped like a rat.
"We'd like to share the word of The Lord with you. Do you know Jesus?"
"Yes I do and I don't mean to be rude, but I would really rather not be preached to. I'm just sitting here reading a book, minding my own business and I'd like to continue like that so if you don't mind, good luck and happy hunting somewhere else."
"You're traveling and we'd like to pray over you for God to protect and shed his grace on you."
"No, really, thanks, but no thanks." Just at that moment, the Momma-woman and Youngest-daughter walked up holding a sack containing my food. The ladies saw her and said hi. I tried to warn her off with subtle hand gestures and a negative shake of my head, but my wife, unlike me, is very nice, friendly and outgoing. She said hi back and that's all it took. It was like hungry ticks on a hound dog. By the time I insisted they leave so I could eat my food, we had been blessed and put on a prayer list.
In the front part of the Kansas City station where
the majority of the religious accosts would
later take place

Before I could finish my burger, 2 more faithful members of the flock walked up, interrupted the girls telling me about the stores they had visited and stopped me in mid-bite of a French fry wanting to tell us about Jesus and to pray for us. I told them we had already been blessed and prayed for by 2 ladies. Thankfully, they didn't persist and left.

The musicians had finished setting up by then and began playing songs of praise to God and heaven and hell and saving grace. They weren't very good, but they sure were enthusiastic. The sounds of poorly played guitars and bongos accompanying "can't carry a tune in a sack" voices echoed off the high-ceilinged walls. Instead of praying for other people, they should have been praying for musical talent. Of course, that's just my opinion.

Not 5 minutes after we had chased off the last ones, 2 more ladies wanted to tell us about Jesus and pray for us. I'm afraid I was running out of patience by then and wasn't as nice about asking them to please leave us alone.

Outside in front of the Kansas City station
 I had just finished eating and the three of us were having a nice conversation when 2 more young, male cult members (at least that's what I thought of them by now) showed up from who knows where. Their numbers seemed to be endless and they just kept walking up to us from around corners like they were being manufactured down in the basement. That proved to be too much even for my sweet wife who said no thanks, got up and walked away. My daughter abandoned me and left with her mom. I thought we were partners, but I guess in the face of overwhelming odds, it's every man for himself.

"Have you met Jesus?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact, I used to pay him to mow my lawn."
"That's not really funny, sir."
"I thought it was."
Pointing to my military cap which displays a picture of an aircraft carrier and the words "USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63)" one of the boys asked, "Were you in the military?"
"What, the army?"
"Um, no, not the army. The army doesn't have ships."
"Oh, the Coast Guard?"
"The Coast Guard doesn't have aircraft carriers."
"Oh. Well, I'm in the military too," he said very proudly. "I'm in the Lord's army!"
"Does the Lord's army have aircraft carriers?"
"No, sir, we have something better - the word of God."
"That's good. I'll be sure to call you if we're ever invaded by hoards of evil doers."
"I would fight them with the word of God. It's the only thing that can save your soul, you know."
"OK, whatever you think. Would you do me a favor?"
"Sure, as long as it doesn't go against God's word."
"It doesn't. You guys are the 10th of your group to accost me and I'm asking you to go away and tell all your little friends to leave me alone. Can you do that?"
"Can we pray for you first?"
"No. Just go."
"God bless you sir."

The doors we retreated through while trying to
get away
Before more came, I gathered up all the luggage and feeling like a pack mule, struggled into a different part of the building where the actual Amtrak passengers could wait. And who did I find? There was the wife and daughter who had abandoned me! A few minutes later, we heard the music stop. Wondering what was up, Youngest-daughter and I quietly snuck back, concealing ourselves along a wall until we could look from our hidey place and see the "band." A security guard was standing there telling them they had to pack up and leave because people were complaining about their activities! They seemed to be good natured about it and immediately started putting their instruments in cases and preparing to leave. The security guard said something funny to them and they laughed as they began to leave.

We turned around to go back to our waiting room and surprise! Two more spreaders of the word had snuck up behind us! "Hi travelers."
"No! Look, we've already been approached by about a dozen of you people and we're tired of it. You guys need to hand out ribbons or pins or something to the people you approach so the rest of you will know not to bother those people again. Really, for your safety, I strongly suggest you just go away and don't say anything."
"Oh, ok. Sorry sir."
"Just go!"

Security Guard telling a joke after asking the
Jesus Saves band to leave.
I have never in my life encountered such a large, deeply religious group of folks who were so intent on praying and spreading the gospel as they believe it. I can only think it was a cult because normal people don't do what they were doing in those numbers. Not the normal people that I know anyway.

Retreating back to the Amtrak waiting room, we were patiently waiting when a large group of Mennonites came in. It was easy to tell from their haircuts, clothes and the way they spoke. We didn't pay much attention to them. Little did we know, we'd see a lot more of them on the next leg of our trip.

(part 3 coming soon)

The Great Plane, Train, Car and Bus Adventure - (Part 1)

Many Americans fantasize about a romantic vacation via passenger train - hop on and see America the Beautiful through the huge windows of a lounge car while sipping an adult beverage, letting the clickity-clack of the rails lull you to sleep at night after being tucked in by a friendly porter. My family and I did too so we decided to actually take one rather than just continue to idle talk it to death. Living in Arkansas and with there being a train station in the capital of Little Rock, we thought it would be a fun and easy adventure to take Youngest-daughter to Grand Canyon National Park before she heads off to college in the fall. Gather 'round and I'll tell you what we experienced fulfilling our great train vacation fantasy.

Union Station in Dallas
The first thing I discovered was there is usually only one train per day each way out of most places where there is a station. The train into and out of Little Rock is named the Texas Eagle and it is scheduled to arrive and depart at 11:39 pm. As in midnight. And the station is located in a part of downtown that is not a crime-ridden slum, but I certainly would not feel comfortable walking around the area after dark. Plus the parking lot where we would have to leave our car for the 10 days we would be gone is totally open - no gates, no guards, no nothing to at least give a hope it would still be there when we returned. Since we have newer vehicles we would like to hang onto and we didn't want to ask any of our Arkansas friends to drive us that far (we do not live in Little Rock) that late on a work night, it ruled out catching the train in Little Rock. Fortunately, we have family in Dallas (where we are originally from) who would let us leave our car at their house and give us a ride to and from the big Amtrak station there. It meant a 5-hour drive to and from, but we would much rather do that and not worry about our car still being where we left it when we got back.

One of our desires was to stay inside the park at the Grand Canyon. We also wanted a car to be able to come and go as we pleased rather than be restricted to a tour group itinerary. After checking out the schedules for the connecting trains and the logistics of getting a car, seeing and doing what we wanted and getting back home, we concocted plans for our "Great 2017 Train, Car, Plane Adventure." Basically, it consisted of taking a train from Dallas to Flagstaff, Arizona; renting a car and driving from Flagstaff to Las Vegas, Nevada with stops in Williams, Arizona and the Grand Canyon; then flying from Vegas back to Dallas. Man plans, God laughs (and it turns out, so does Amtrak).

Amtrak requires you to pay when you make reservations and to ensure you get seats on the day you want, you should make those reservations at least several weeks in advance. We made ours a month in advance. We also joined the Amtrak guest rewards program and started receiving e-mails advertising specials. Several weeks later, one of those e-mails advertised tickets to Grand Canyon were on sale for less than what we paid so I called up Amtrak to see if they would do something for us. The friendly reservation person was very helpful and refunded almost $200! However, if I wanted it refunded to the credit card, there would be a 20% charge so I would only get $160 back. Or I could get a voucher for a future trip for the full $200. A friend and I had been planning a train trip later this year so I chose the voucher. Now I wish I hadn't because that future trip is in doubt. If you make reservations on Amtrak, I suggest you watch their emails and call back a few days before you leave to make sure you pay the minimum.

The train leaving Dallas was scheduled to depart at 2:40 pm and arrive in St. Louis, Missouri, our connecting point for another train heading west, at 6:24 the next morning. A week before leaving, I received an e-mail informing me the schedule had been changed and departure from Dallas would now be an hour later. I wasn't too happy about this as it meant the person who was driving us to the station, my brother-in-law, would now be required to drive 35 miles back to his home in rush-hour traffic, a long and unpleasant experience. Great, let's start our vacation by feeling guilty.

Five days before leaving came another e-mail saying there would be no train service between Dallas and Longview, Texas so we would be riding a bus 130 miles and catching the train in Longview to continue on to St. Louis. Turns out Amtrak does not own the tracks it runs on. Commercial train companies like Burlington Northern and Santa Fe own the tracks and the owner of the tracks between Dallas and Longview scheduled it to be shut down for maintenance. Not happy about this, but OK, we can rename our vacation the The Great Plane, Train, Car and Bus Adventure.

Inside the Dallas station
The Dallas train station is certainly nothing fancy, but the architecture is interesting, it was fairly clean and the ticket agent was friendly and helpful. Try not to get there too early though as the seats in the waiting room are hard and not comfortable. There is also no food except for a vending machine so eat before you get there. 

Our bus arrived on time and much to our surprise, it proved to be a nice, new tour bus equipped with overhead storage and a bathroom. The A/C worked great and the seats were very comfortable. There were plenty of those seats available and most folks took one toward the front so we took 3 toward the back, the wife and daughter sitting next to each other with me right across the aisle from them.

We had been waiting a few minutes when a scroungy, homeless-looking man came on board. There were empty seats all along the way and 3 rows of empty in front of ours, but of course, he decided to come to the back with us. I was watching him closely and saw him staring at my daughter the whole way. She recently turned 18, but looks 14 and this creep was probably in his 30's, dressed in dirty clothes with filthy, greasy hair and smelling bad. Youngest-daughter was dressed conservatively in long pants and a t-shirt so it wasn't like she was inviting stares. 

The bus just before leaving - plenty of open seats
He took the seat right behind my wife and daughter, leaned forward and started talking to them. He said he had just flown in from Mexico City and was taking the train to Little Rock. None of it made sense. I had noticed him walking out of the station and he didn't have any luggage, plus why would you take a plane from Mexico City and then board a train in Dallas for Little Rock? The Dallas airport is miles away in a suburb and it's not easy to get to downtown Dallas without a car or very expensive if you take a cab. It would have been cheaper to stay at the airport and fly to Little Rock. He also said he had to get to Little Rock before midnight, but with the change in schedule, the train wasn't scheduled to arrive there until 12:40 and trains often run late. All lies coming from his mouth. He then announced he was going to get something to drink and left the bus. I got my wife and daughter to switch seats with me. Several minutes later he came back on the bus not carrying a bottle of water or anything else. He immediately looked straight toward where my daughter had been sitting. I very much enjoyed the confused look on his face when he saw me sitting there instead. He sat down behind me and a few minutes later, he "casually" stretched his arms out over the empty seat next to me while glancing across the aisle at my girls. By then it was getting dangerously close to either him getting off that bus or police would be called to pull me off this pervert so I turned and gave him a warning death stare. He saw my look and quickly responded that he was just stretching his arms and does his arms over the seat bother me? "Yes, as a matter of fact, it does." He got the obvious message, mumbled an apology and moved to the empty row of seats in the very back. Fortunately for me, his stink mostly went with him. He remained very quiet back there for the whole 2 hour ride.

Once we pulled out of the station, things went smoothly. I passed the time by watching the scenery and looking down into cars as they passed by. For some reason, it seems most people feel invisible once they get inside their car and become insulated from the world around them. Since it was rush hour, it was almost entirely individual drivers sitting behind the wheel looking totally bored, but occasionally there would be something interesting that came along. Like the guy dressed nicely in shirt and tie driving a clean, new-looking Lexus sedan. It was interesting because the front passenger seat and floorboard was covered in discarded fast food wrappers and bags and the whole back seat was piled from floor to ceiling with crumpled up clothes. I'm sure there is an interesting story there so I spent some time thinking up various scenario's.

Longview station
We pulled into the Longview station just two minutes behind schedule. There are two waiting rooms inside, but it was still very crowded. We managed to find two seats on a bench so the girls could sit with our luggage and I stood nearby. There was a ticket agent standing in a corner who told us the train was there, but we couldn't board until another bus with more passengers arrived and that would be about 30 minutes. Either there was no air conditioning in the station or it was broke so it was very hot and uncomfortably stuffy. We took the time to use the restroom, which turned out to be a good decision which I'll explain later. I then ventured outside and took a few pictures. We would eventually determine that most train stations are not in the better part of towns and Longview was no exception. Because of the number of people there and because it was in the daytime, I felt perfectly safe walking around, but it's still best to be on your guard when there are burglar bars on all the windows and fences with razor wire around the parking lots of the buildings around the station.

Across the street from the Longview station
After the next bus arrived and unloaded its passengers, we were told to line up outside and wait for the ticket agents to direct us to our train cars. Once outside, they sorted us into groups, those with sleeper rooms first, then all the rest of us. A little information here - list price for our three coach seat tickets from Dallas to St. Louis was $379. List price for a sleeper car (called a "roomette" by Amtrak) would have been $745, almost twice as much. For the extra $366 during the 14 hours we were on the train, we would have gotten a private "room" with 2 seats which at night, convert into a bunk bed with an upper bunk bed that is lowered (you either have 2 bunk beds at one time or 2 seats because if you lower the upper bunk, there's not enough room to sit in the seats). You also get free meals and 2 free bottles of water. The roomette is just barely big enough for the seats/beds to be enclosed by a wall about 6 inches from the edge of the bed. The main reason we didn't get a sleeper car on this portion of the trip was because there would only be room for two of us to sleep, we would only be getting one meal and not even getting a full night before getting off at 6:24 the next morning. And the coach seats are advertised as "featuring wide, comfortable reclining seats with ample legroom for your comfort." We figured it wouldn't be worth the extra money just for that one night.

Waiting in line to board in Longview
Amtrak advises you to pack light and use smaller luggage as large luggage will be placed in a car that may not be accessible during your trip. With that in mind, we each had 2 small suitcases and a backpack plus a pillow and blanket. After being directed to our assigned car and being given a little slip of paper with "StL" handwritten on it, a porter watched as we struggled with all of our luggage trying to get up to the second floor of the car through an extremely narrow, steep stairway. So much for the vision of a friendly, always helpful porter assisting with whatever you need. With much difficulty, we finally made it up to our car only to find it was already very full with only a few single seats available. It dawned on me the agent I had purchased our tickets from had assured me we had 3 reserved seats, but she had not promised they would be together. I looked around for a porter or other Amtrak employee, but none were in site. I finally decided to hell with this and walked through our assigned car, through the doors at the end and into another car. Hey, look at this, there's almost nobody in this one! 

The seats are arranged 4 in a row with 2 next to each other and an aisle between the two sets. We chose 2 seats together and an empty 2 seats directly across the aisle, stowed our luggage in the overhead and sat down. We were a bit nervous as we expected someone to come through and tell us to move since we weren't in the car they told us to be in, but the train started moving so we relaxed a bit. A little later a porter came through and walked up to us. Uh oh, I thought, he's going to tell us to move, but no, he just asked for the little slips of paper they had given us and stuck them under a small metal rail along the overhead bin. I asked him what were those for and he explained it indicated where we were going to get off so if we were asleep, the porter on duty would wake us up. He also said if we happen to switch seats, take the paper with us and put it above our new seats. On Amtrak, a "reserved seat" just means you are guaranteed a seat on the train and not any particular assigned seat. Throughout our whole trip we found Amtrak would never really tell you anything unless you asked. It's like they assume all passengers are frequent and know everything there is to know about Amtrak travel so if you don't know, ask!

What we saw from our window for several hours
Excited to finally be on the train, we sat back to watch beautiful views of the countryside glide by our window. That's part of the travel by train fantasy, right? For the next few hours, reality was far different. Right outside of Longview, we started traveling through woods - traveling very fast through dense woods. The trees were very thick and very close to the train. So close in fact that several times limbs would brush against the train. Sit back and relax, read a book or something because you will not be seeing anything on this particular section. I retrieved my laptop and decided to pass the time by wasting time on the internet using the advertised free wi-fi. Nope, can't do that. No connection available. In spite of what the advertisements said, there is no wi-fi on the Texas Eagle. "What? No internet connection? Dad, you said there would be wi-fi available!" Wonderful, just wonderful.

Having eaten a large lunch earlier in the day, we decided to get a light supper in the snack car. I wouldn't say it was bad, but I wouldn't say it was good either. Everything hot was frozen prepackaged items heated up in a microwave. Microwaved hamburgers are not good. No lettuce, no tomatoes, no nothing but meat and a soggy bun. Ketchup and mustard from those little single-serve packages made it kind of palatable. The wife got a sandwich of some kind and the daughter got an individual-size cheese pizza. Add a small bag of chips, a bottle of water and a can of Pepsi and $26.25 later, you have a small meal for three. We did, however, enjoy sitting in a restaurant-type booth eating our food while watching the scenery through the large glass windows even if all we could see was trees. Amtrak allows you to bring on food and that's what I recommend you do if traveling coach. In my humble opinion, pretty much any food you bring on will be better than what's available in the snack car.

Soon after our meal, the scenery outside our window improved greatly. And then the sun began to set and we experienced what we had thought train travel was all about. We sat back, relaxed and watched a wonderful sunset and the lights of small towns flash by. It was a wonderful couple of hours.

Once it got dark, there was nothing to be seen unless we passed through a town. The lights were turned down low, it was quiet except for the rhythmic clicking of the tracks and we were all tired from our busy day so we curled up with our pillows and blankets for a nap. And that's when we found out the seats, pretty comfortable to sit in for a while, were not comfortable to sleep in! There's not a lot of padding and when reclined, the metal bars of the seat frames are raised up and are extremely uncomfortable. I had two seats so I tried to curl up across them, but the bars of the frame forced me to give up that idea within just a few minutes. Youngest-daughter, being short and slender and much more "bendable" than her parents was the only one who managed to fall asleep.

Each coach car has seating in the upper level and 5 or 6 toilets on the lower level along with space to store medium-size luggage. Of course, nobody told us that, but we saw signs pointing the way. Needing to get rid of the Pepsi I had at supper, I made my way down and found all six of the toilets not working. There were signs on three of them saying, "Out of Order" but the other three should have had signs on them also. I went back upstairs and told the girls the situation. They got up and when they came back, they told me a couple of toilets were working in the next car behind us. By the time I got down there though, several people were coming back up saying there were no more working toilets. Going from car to car, I finally made my way to the front of the train where the "roomettes" are located and where us lowly coach travelers are not supposed to go, but nobody stopped me. Fortunately there were a couple of functioning toilets there. A few minutes after getting back to my seat, a porter came through saying, "All the toilets are broken and we cannot repair them until we get to St. Louis. Sorry for the inconvenience." I felt sorry for the folks who had not recently taken care of their toilet business as St. Louis was still 7 hours away. Sorry for the inconvenience indeed!

After a night of very uncomfortable, fitful, off-and-on sleep, I woke up early the next morning, early enough to see the sun starting to peek out. Lord help me, I really needed to make a trip to a bathroom. There's a reason why us "more mature" people have learned to never pass up an opportunity for a bathroom break. Hoping for a miracle, I went in search of a functioning toilet. I was sorely disappointed. You can't go from one car to the next on the lower level so my journey from car to car consisted of going down those tiny, turning stairs and then back up when I found only broken toilets, repeat, repeat, repeat. Desperate, just before suffering extreme embarrassment, I entered one and lifted the lid. It was the nastiest, foulest, most disgusting thing I have experienced in maybe forever - full to the brim of raw human waste. I came close to throwing up right there. Slamming the lid back down, I turned to the sink for relief and was extremely grateful for being a guy right then. Surprisingly, the water and sink drain still functioned so I spent several minutes using paper towels and soap from the dispenser to thoroughly clean the sink. That was most assuredly the cleanest sink on that train by the time the foulness from the toilet drove me out. Lesson learned - if the train stops at a station for more than just a couple of minutes to let people on and off, take the opportunity to use the station's restroom!

Asleep coming into St. Louis
Shortly after returning to my seat, the porter came through and told us St. Louis was coming up in about 15 minutes. He also said the train would be held there to get the toilets fixed. Fortunately for my wife and daughter, they had slept until just before arrival, but after the train stopped, a quick exit and dash to the ladies room was in order for them while I waited with our luggage. We then had an 8-hour wait before our connecting train arrived. So far, our eagerly awaited train trip had been mostly the train trip from hell. We were certainly hoping the next leg would be more in line with what we had expected.

(part 2 will be posted 7/14/17)