Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Next Time I'll Take The Damn Greyhound Bus...

To my eternal aggravation, I have come down with strep throat. AAARGH!!!!

And Lord have mercy, but it wasn't a very good trip to New York and back.

Warning: Ranting and raving (and whining) ahead.

Although I usually like to present a better side of myself, this time I'm going to let it all hang out and show my whole, ugly temper.

But first, I need to tell you that Blaine's mother is not in good condition. The reason I'd gone to New York was to help her mend after knee surgery. But the poor thing developed post-op pneumonia and ended up having a lot more problems than just knee pain.

And then on top of all that, she received notification from another doctor regarding the results of a breast biopsy she'd undergone just before her knee surgery---

She has breast cancer.

My God, she was devastated. Her husband cried for two days. And her four children are frightened to death. She now faces a mastectomy and possible chemo/radiation just as soon as her pneumonia-bedeviled lungs heal up to the point that she can tolerate the general anesthesia required for the breast surgery.

Anyway, she could use some prayers, and I'll keep you posted. I had to return to Kansas because I have my own medical and dental issues that need taking care of, but I may end up returning to New York in the future to help her out some more.

But I'll swoney to heck if I ever take that damn-blasted Amtrak train again.

You know, now I know how those hapless, poorly-treated Third-Class "Steerage" passengers on the Titanic must have felt.

Because after this latest train trip, I now heartily recommend that if you want to have a nice trip the next time you travel, you might consider avoiding Amtrak at all costs in favor of the Greyhound Bus----or else the airlines.

I don't normally rant and rave very much about things I can't control, but I'm feeling a little indignant and surly regarding my trip on the Amtrak train.

Okay, a LOT indignant and surly.....

And it has to do with paying a walloping $916.00 for a so-called "First Class" ticket. I mean, you'd think that when you pony up that much money for a dang "First Class" ticket, you might assume that you will be given reasonably comfortable accommodations and also a fairly decent measure of polite, courteous treatment by Amtrak staff.

WRONG if you're traveling by Amtrak.

Part of my dissatisfaction is my own stupid fault----because even before this trip I knew fully well that the quality of Amtrak's service has been steadily deteriorating in the last couple of decades. But I kept forgiving them because of my desire to stubbornly hang onto the legendary "romance" and "glamour" of train travel.

But my bubble has been burst. Because now Amtrak has finally succeeded in surpassing even my lowest expectations.

First of all, I am totally disgusted with the fact that Amtrak has the most completely RUDEST employees I've ever encountered. Almost every single one I encountered behaved extremely unprofessionally and uncouth, acting as if they were doing me a favor if they even deigned to look at me or any other passenger---and that's IF we could FIND ONE.

One time I approached the snack counter in the cafe car where, as I gazed at the menu, the attendant belligerently snapped: "Hurry up! I'm about to close!"

Another time, in the Chicago station, while I quietly and innocently stood by a door awaiting my train's departure to be announced, a ticket agent HOLLERED at me from 20 feet away, "You there! Don't stand by that door! Get back behind that sign!"

No lie, he actually hollered at me. (Me! A quiet, cooperative lady traveling alone!) The reason I didn't flip out and complain about this issue is because I was already well aware of Amtrak's notoriously strict policy towards people who complain too loudly. I once witnessed an elderly couple being escorted off the train by the police, in the middle of the night, for complaining too vigorously about the poor service and their room conditions. And it wasn't an isolated event---I've seen or heard of tons of other incidents where Amtrak simply ejected anybody who complained more than one quiet sentence. Amtrak employees are not only rude but vengeful.

And rude employees were only the beginning....

The trip deteriorated just as rapidly as the weather deteriorated. It was bitterly cold and began snowing a few miles outside of Kansas City. When we crossed the mighty Mississippi River I noticed it was frozen over in many spots.

In Chicago I patiently waited out my 6-hour layover in Union Station, in the Metroliner Lounge as I had promised Blaine I would (and resisted the temptation to go to the yarn store because outside it was freezing, snowing, and horribly windy), and I found that the Lounge's public-access computer was broken. This irked me because I had reported that stupid computer as being broken last August while traveling through there.

And the Amtrak employees in the Lounge were also discourteous, sarcastic, and belligerent. One female employee loudly bellowed to her cohort that we "messy passengers" had left trash all over the Lounge. And then she and the other employee began walking aimlessly around the Lounge, repeating over and over to each other "what do you expect?---you can't teach grown people anything!"

The only "mess" I saw in there were a few empty coffee cups and pretzel packages.

But it gets worse.

Just before boarding the train to New York, we were informed that some of the sleeper car passengers had either been cancelled or moved to other accomodations due to one of the sleepers being taken "out of service". But luckily my own sleeper car was still functioning--- and so I settled down in my little room for the overnight haul to New York. And to my chagrin I found that my room's toilet wouldn't flush, which meant that I would have to use the sleeper car's public toilet---which I didn't mind except that it didn't flush either.

Finally, I drifted off to sleep in my bunk, hoping that the rest of the trip would prove to be less annoying. But it was not to be.

At 5:30 am in the morning I was startled awake by the train coming to a screeching halt, which was accompanied by the screams of a shouting conductor who was screeching for us all to "GET OUT! GET OUT! There's a FIRE!!"

Truly, there was a fire.

Because when I slid open my sleeper room's door, I was met by a frighteningly thick wall of suffocating smoke and heat. I was aghast that it took until the entire car was totally filled with smoke and heat for the employees to realize that they needed to evacuate the car. Where had the sleeper's conductor been?

Wheeww doggies, I mean from floor-to-ceiling smoke......

We were all hustled by shouting staff to the dining car--- in our SLEEPING CLOTHES!!---and told to wait there until we could be moved to a coach car, which was accomplished later by having us all trek OUTSIDE the train through two-foot snow for the length of the entire train until we came to the assigned coach car--- where we were then treated like unwanted step-children by more ill-mannered Amtrak employees.

Fortunately, I had remembered to grab my suitcase when I'd been ejected from my sleeper car, but when I humbly asked where I should stow it, a conductor snapped: "Just give it to me!" and roughly snatched it out of my hand---only to unceremoniously sling it down into a back corner of the car before disappearing.

The public toilet on that car was out-of-order as well. And yet scores of people kept using it--- so you can imagine how pleasant that area was for the rest of the trip.....

After my week in New York, I turned around and headed back to Kansas via the Chicago connection, in reverse--- and the nightmare continued.

AGAIN, we who boarded in Syracuse were notified that one of the sleeper cars was out-of-order, meaning that some passengers would have to be rescheduled. But, again, I managed to secure a room on the still-functioning sleeper car, where I prayed to the Good Lord that there would be no more troubles---even as I discovered that my room's toilet, as usual, did not flush.....

Someone please kill me now....

This was happening on the exact same day that President-Elect Obama rode the Amtrak train on his famous whistle-stop trip from Philadelpahia to Washington, D.C.---- and I couldn't help thinking... I wonder if HIS toilet flushed????

And then sure enough----two hours outside of Chicago--- a conductor came around and notified us all that the car's electrical system was "having problems" and that all the electricity to the car would be cut off for the duration of the trip!!! Which meant I would have no more lights or heat, even though it was 20 degrees outside with snow falling.

During this whole thing, I never saw any of the train employees doing much in the way of work. In fact, large mounds of snow and ice were building up on the train itself, in between its cars, over which I had to precariously climb over and navigate in my trusty Bass Pro Shop boots, slipping and sliding dangerously as I tried to make my way from car to car, heading to the warmth of the cafe car to buy some hot tea.

I don't suppose it would have dawned on any of the train's employees to make use of the numerous snow-brushes and scrapers that I noticed lying around, un-used, between the train's cars, obviously put there to prevent just such buildups of snow and ice.....


Actually, there are many more things about that trip I could complain about besides the above-mentioned issues, but I'm so mad that I might as well just do as Blaine advised and "let it go". But let me just sum it all up in this statement (as I promised... er... threatened Amtrak that I would do) :

After spending a total of approximately 48 hours within the dank bowels of the Amtrak Train System, I hereby declare that I found that:

-- ninety percent of their employees are ill-mannered and downright rude,

-- seventy percent of their plumbing doesn't work (which is a critical point when you consider the fact that their crummy food frequently causes.... er...digestive upsets, if you know what I mean....),

-- fifty percent of their sleeper cars are broken (and the rest are only marginally functional); and, finally,

--their outrageous prices for so-called "First Class" service are just plain *@*&#$%* ridiculous!

I will NEVER take Amtrak train again, even if the only alternative is traveling via donkey cart.

In fact--- and so help me, because I never thought I'd say this--- but even Texas DONKEYS are more polite than Amtrak employees!!!

And, as mentioned above, I did complain loudly to Amtrak's Customer Relations department once I arrived home. They ended up awarding me a $300.00 ticket voucher "for my next trip", probably just to get me to shut up.

But let me declare again, this time in the language of my Texan forefathers--- that wild horses couldn't drag me again onto that no-good, godforsaken, tin-can, yellow-belly, card-cheatin', low-life, egg-sucking, damned poor excuse for a railroad.

Oh yes, I did manage to do some knitting while in New York. I'm almost finished with one of the two pairs of entrelac socks I started (from the Sandi Rosner pattern), and I really love them, although I did a heel flap and my own toe.

And I continued working on a pattern for some entrelac socks in thicker, doubleknit-weight yarn, thick enough to be used as house or boot socks, also with a heel flap. I've finished the first one and like it well enough, but I need to knit the second one to work out a couple "bugs" in my pattern. I want to change the toe sizing a little. And I'm going to switch the purple and red contrasts for fun.


Go Greyhound.


Susan said...

Love the socks and getting to them through the rest of the post was pretty good, too.

Unknown said...

Oh my! Bang goes my dream of a long train ride across the USA. How absolutely dreadful On top of all that crap you have died in the fire. Truly dreadful. And we here believe that America is good service all the way. It seems not and it seems your rail service is as bad as ours.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Bo, for letting me know about Amtrak, because that means if I ever travel to NY again to see a friend, I'll be taking the Greyhoud bus because I won't FLY, either!

Prayers going up for mil ...

Anonymous said...

How utterly awful! I had dreams of riding the train up the east coast - but boy, you sure put a stop to THAT idea. The romance, the pampering, the charm.....all gone. Better to have the bubble burst now than to fork over the money/time and have anything close to your experience. Your socks are rocking wonderful. Maybe Blaine's mom will be comforted by the ones you knit her. So sorry about her health. Let's hope she one of the lucky ones!

Christine said...

I'd heard that there were reasons that train travel was affordable in the states. Looks like there is. That was a horrible trip to have to take. Train travel is so much nicer than bus normally, they shouldn't be allowed to ruin that with such horribly trained staff.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful socks! I had a similar experience on Amtrak last time I rode the train - just a MUCH smaller dose as it was only a couple of hours with the nasty employees and terrible service. I thought it was just a fluke that day. Guess not! Hope you're feeling better soon, and MIL's health issues resolve well too.

Maggie said...

I am glad you survived and will add your MIL to my prayer list...take care, Maggie

LizzieK8 said...

I'm so glad I read this. I had thought seriously of saving pennies to take a trip cross country on the train. Childhood dream and all....

I'm sorry your trip was such a disaster!

hokgardner said...

I tried to book a trip via amtrak once from Austin to Atlanta. The agent told me it would take two days and that they could only get me as far as Washington, and then I'd have to fly from there. Which completely defeated the point of taking the train.

I still think about taking a train trip,but your account has cured that.

And I love the socks.

Sharon said...

Most of the times, Amtrak problems are due to issues beyond their control. Would you rant against Southwest Airlines for being behind schedule because they were repairing a faulty electrical line? Or blame Delta Airlines because of one rude flight attendant?

I've been traveling cross country on Amtrak at least once or twice a year for over 15 years. Sure, I can tell you a few "horror stories" about service and/or on-time reliability. But that does not overshadow 99% of the trips where I enjoyed beautiful scenery, chatted with staff who truly enjoy their jobs, and appreciated a quiet, private room.

Just a different perspective that I hope you will post on your blog to offer "the other side of the story."

A Musician by Grace

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry you had such a bad Amtrak experience. My husband and I take the Autotrain from Virginia to Florida every year. The two of us and our car (with bikes on back) travel for about the same amount that you paid. There is complimentary wine and cheese on boarding, a lovely dinner in the dining car (table cloths and real dishes) and the beds are ready when we go back to our room. We take the smaller room and use the public toilet. The staff has always been very helpful and polite. I don't recall any toilets out of order. I've even taken a shower the next morning before we get to sunny Florida. We find it's much better than driving. The only downside is that they must use CSX tracks and the freight trains have priority so the train is often late getting to its destination.
On the other hand, if I were taking the trip you took from the midwest to NY, I would fly.