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)