Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Wolverine that Bit Us

(the seats in the train are very comfortable-this is our conductor and steward getting ready to announce plans)
We were really trying to make our connection in Chicago, really we were! In the original plan, we were going to have a 2 hour layover, eat a wonderful dinner in the city, and enjoy the sites downtown. Then, engine trouble in Seattle, floods in Fargo, and freight train delays made the train severely behind schedule. The train was making up time, it looked like we might have to run for it. We were due to arrive at 6:00 and our train left at 6:15, but they might hold it for us, and
The Empire Builder is an Amtrak train for long distances. There are also commuter trains that use the rails in the bigger cities. In Milwaukee last Monday, Mar. 26, a commuter train hit a man, and he was killed. I don't know how often this happens. It was very sad to me.

All trains were stopped, the commuter train that was going to Chicago was unloaded, and 70 passengers from that train boarded ours. This process took almost an hour while railroad inspectors checked the lines, made out reports, and people found their seats on our full train, trying hard to keep groups and families together. We didn't arrive in Union Station-Chicago until almost 7 p.m. We were now running on breakfast from 10:30 a.m. and snacks. The dining car was not available because they thought we were going to have arrived at 4:00.

As we approached the stop, the conductor announced that our mode of transportation from Chicago was going to be a motor coach by road, rather than rail, to Ann Arbor. I immediately asked whether this "bus" would have restroom facilities because my father would need that option and we were assured that it would.

But it didn't. We were hustled from the bowels of the station to the street, where 15 of us, plus an infant boarded a 24 passenger bus. We were not given a chance to use a restroom in the station until I demanded to get off the bus and take my dad back down the escalator, claiming I had to go too. There was no food, but we were given bottles of water, and eventually they brought cracker packages with a shortbread cookie. We were on our way. I made sure the bus driver knew that we would need to stop for bathroom breaks. He proceeded to drive to Jackson, Michiga, over 220 miles, without so much as a yield. We wondered later why they gave us water bottles.

Strangers thrust together in small places do one of two things, I seem to think. They either try to make their own little bubble and do their best to feel safe and private even though it's not really true. Or, they decide to talk to those around them and commiserate. I'm the latter, while most of my family is is the former. I met a very nice lady who was coming back from a three month travel. She had an artificial foot, which was "acting up, the barometer must be changing." I heard about her mentally ill husband who had an "episode" and was now in the state's care, and her sister who stayed in London because she had met a man. She had taken a ship from New York city to London, and highly recommended it. I thinks she said it was the Queen Mary 2!

I also met Zachary and his mother. He was a sweet 6 month old chubster of a baby who was going to meet his grandparents for the first time. The mom had gotten on the train in Minot, North Dakota over 24 hours ago, without help, without a plan, without enough diapers, no sleep, and was coming back to Michigan, while the father got ready to go to Afghanistan with the military unit from North Dakota. This baby smiled non stop. I got to feed him a bottle, and held him while his very tired mommy took a much deserved nap. He never cried during this long journey, Zac was sturdy though and my arm was throbbing by the time we pulled in to the Amtrak station 3 hours later.

This town was someone's stop, and when he got off, so did I. By now it was dark, and the station was closed. I asked the driver to please find the next gas station or anything, McDonalds, or even a tree. My father was quite uncomfortable, and I have to believe that many other passengers were too, but no one else spoke up. We went another 30 miles down the highway, passing locked rest stops, truck stops and gas stations every 10 minutes or so. Was all of Michigan this desolate? Where were the accommodations that I needed?

Finally, I demanded that the bus pull over in the next town no matter what, and he found a Moto Mart that had a unisex one-stall bathroom. The entire busload got off, stretched their aching legs and one by one, we all used the bathroom. It was terribly dirty, and there was no baby changing stand. I held Zac while his mother went, and then we used the rubber mat over by the soda fountain to change his pants while more people silently waited their turn in the stall. It turns out that this town is less than 15 minutes from Ann Arbor's train station. If I had not been as vocal as I was, we wouldn't have stopped at all. Guess what? The Ann Arbor station was closed too. It was 1:30 in the morning after all.

My brother should have received a text from my daughter stating that we were 10 minutes away, but her cell phone didn't send it in a timely fashion. We called him after the bus left, wondering whether he was on the way, and he showed up as fast as he could. It was cold and rainy, and my mom and dad were exhausted. Our beds never felt so warm and cozy. We had arrived, even after all the missed connections!


  1. What a journey! Glad your folks came thru the ordeal ok (as it sounds).

  2. Hi John! They were so tired. I think they're still catching up. As you'll hear soon the return trip was much smoother. I still love the train...perhaps with some "reservations" now however...


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