Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Train Trip From Hell

If something can go wrong it will I suppose.  This story originates from the winter of 2000 when I was just trying to get home for Christmas.  Looking back on it, it was almost like Planes, Trains and Automobiles without John Candy selling shower curtain accessories as earrings.  Some of you younger readers might be shocked as to why I didn't pull out a cell phone and put a stop to all of this madness.  Sit down, because this may shock you.  Not everyone had cell phones in 2000.


Everyone has had some horrific traveling experience in their life. Whether it be the crying child behind you in an airplane that just refuses to shut its mouth, or running out of gas fifty feet before the entrance to the gas station. Boy does that suck. You ride out your tank on empty from Wednesday to Friday, hoping that you have enough to get from the bank to cash your paycheck straight to the gas station, only to sputter out right at the entrance. So you have to get out, put the damned thing in neutral and push like an idiot with cars whizzing all around you. Honking and laughing at the thought of some moron running out of gas so close to the gas station. But I digress..

I was unfortunate enough in the winter of 2000 to be stuck in the dark recesses of Great Lakes, Illinois. It was a cesspool of nothingness about forty miles north of Chicago. Confined in this cursed plot of land was the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. After getting out of basic training in the nearby base, if your rating classification dictated that you go to one of the technical schools contained in the Naval Training Center, you were stuck there for another few months, up to a year, depending on what your luck ended up giving you. Mine had me stuck in Great Lakes until winter.

Shortly after the completion of my tech school I had about two weeks of leave time saved up before I got stuck in another cesspool; Norfolk, Virginia. But that is another story for another time. Anyway, after getting done with the final testing at the school I catch a van ride with about four or five other people down to Chicago. This was a test in and of itself. Stuck in a minivan with about five other jackasses all going to three different airports. Took damn near six hours to get from Great Lakes to Chicago. Almost had my bags mistakenly set on an airplane when someone grabbed the wrong ones. Gee, who would have thought it to be a bad idea to make every bag in the military the same damn color?

As the last of the people on the van the driver and I make way for my aunt's house in Chicago. Pretty good trip. And cheap too, only about thirty-five dollars when the cab ride would have been in the hundreds. As much as I wanted to get out of Great Lakes, they could kiss my red Indian ass if they thought I was going to pay that much for a cab ride. I arrive at my aunts and try to keep the little thieves that she babysat from stealing everything I owned.

The next day I wake up at about five in the morning to get everything in order to travel from Chicago to Flint, Michigan. From everything I had read online it was supposed to be about a six hour train trip. Not too bad if everything goes right. Just sit back and read a book, fall asleep and wait to get home. The train was originally scheduled to depart at about nine thirty in the morning, so hopefully I had afforded myself enough time to get up, get ready and get the hell out of dodge. After groggily waking up after spending a few hours passed out on a couch in the living room I got up and walked down to the corner to a nearby ATM machine to pull out some cash for the train ticket and something to eat. By the time I get finished with all my preparation to proceed on my journey , I come back to my aunt's place and wait for a decent time to come to call a cab.

Some where around seven we call one of the five million cab companies in the city of Chicago. They tell us that there will be about thirty minutes until the cab gets there which will be perfectly fine by me. I can still get to the train station in time. Like hell I will. Thirty minutes goes by, forty minutes goes by, an hour goes by. Nothing, no cab, nothing. My aunt goes down to the corner to get coffee and while I am sitting on the front porch the phone rings to the house and I can't get to it in time. Turns out that not too long after we called the cab company they had a shift change and they were calling to see if we still needed the cab. Now let's think about this for a second. Why in the blue hell would you call a cab and then all of a sudden decide you not need it? Are there people seriously calling cab companies and dispatching them to random locations as a joke? Dear sweet crap these people are stupid.

At this point it is about an hour before the train leaves. I have to figure out a way to get a ride from the north side of town to downtown where the main train station is. Luckily, at about eight forty-five, a cab just happens to drive down my aunt's street, I hail the barely English speaking cab driver and we are on our way. There was one thing I had forgotten about; rush hour. I was trying to get downtown in rush hour traffic. Bumper to bumper the whole way and it was every bit of slow. At one particular red light the cab driver almost gets into a fight with an off duty cop who was trying to cross the street. As much as I appreciate the effort of this humble servant trying to get me to the train station, the last thing I needed at that point was him getting into a fight with some police officer and delaying my arriving at the train station. We finally arrive at the train station in great haste at about nine twenty-seven and I run in with two forty pound bags to the ticket counter. I go to ask about the nature of the train I was to be on and I was informed it had already left the station. 

Great, the one time in recorded history an Amtrak train left early and that just had to be the one that I needed to catch. The ticket fellow informs me that the next train will be leaving at about two in the afternoon and that it was one of those deals where you take part of the trip on train and the rest on bus. No big deal there, I can handle having to ride on a greyhound bus. Provided I take enough sleeping pills and wash them down with a bottle of gin, that part of the trip will become barely tolerable.

Now I have about five hours to kill, in a train station, in Chicago. There is no way anything out of the ordinary could possibly happen. Not one bit, uh uh. I hadn't even sat down at a Chinese restaurant in the train station for ten seconds when this odd smelling transient comes up to me asking if I could give him three dollars for a copy of The Onion. The onion is a little humor newspaper that this beggar had apparently stolen from a newsstand and is trying to make some money for drugs apparently judging from the gestations of his body and the smell on his breath. But I decide to make a piss poor attempt to improve my karma and give him three dollars for his little newspaper. As I go digging into my wallet for this cash I was going to give him, the son of a bitch starts looking into my wallet to see how much money I have. He starts asking me for twenty dollars for the paper. Kiss my ass you filthy beggar, a subscription to The Onion costs twenty dollars. I'm certainly not paying that much for one copy, least of which one I probably won't even have in my possession by the end of the day. I tell him to piss off and take the three dollars and that he is damn lucky to get that.

The rest of the afternoon is filled with me trying to pass time in about a million different ways. Most of which involve me walking around trying to avoid the gauntlet of bums and transients that congregate around the train station. Now this train was set to leave at about two pm so about a half hour I go to the departure area and wait. And then I wait some more. After about two hours of numerous delays and outright lying to us on behalf of Amtrak we finally get on the train. Turns out it was so cold in Chicago that day the train froze to the tracks causing the extended delay. So we can get on the train right? Wrong. Since this train was going to b eventually going to other destinations than mine they had to fill up and prep the dining car. So that means another forty five minute delay. Sweet crap, just tell everyone to get some candy or something. I can go a few hours without having to eat the microwaved crap that I will surely be served to me in the dining car.

I get on the train and for the first hour or so everything is fine. Then the dining car opens for business. In the minute or so that I waited to get up after the announcement that the dining car was open, the line had grown to one that would turn into around an hour long wait. An hour long wait for this ungodly looking sub sandwich that when I finally got to my seat and unwrapped it; it was frozen. Not cold, but frozen. So I let the thing sit for awhile to thaw out and then barely chew through the strong as cement bread. After about a couple hours of riding on the train we finally pull into the train/bus station in Kalamazoo. Yes, that is really the name of the town. Try saying that, pretty difficult huh? Yeah. At this point the most logical thing to do once arriving at the train station would be to get on the bus and ride to Flint. Problem is, the train had arrived so damn late that the bus had already left and gone. The official at the station informs us that they are dispatching a bus to come as soon as possible and that one should arrive within the hour. Now this bus station was pretty much an empty room with a coffee machine. No television, no arcade games, not even a damned gumball machine. So the hour goes by and there's no bus, two hours goes by and there's no bus. We finally, three hours later get on the bus and head to Flint.

The bus finally pulls into Flint at about two in the morning. It was snowing like hell the whole time so the bus goes extra slow. So of course we get there extra late. I hop off the bus and it comes to my realization that I am the only one getting off here. And that the station is closed so I got to stand outside and pray that my ride, who was originally intended to get there at about two or three in the afternoon to still be there twelve hours later. I walk around the outside of the station looking for a payphone and the thing is disconnected. Not out of service, the handset was ripped off from the body of the phone. I just finally look up at the sky and yell, "WHAT THE HELL ELSE IS GONNA HAPPEN!" Then I see a pair of headlights come on from the other side of the parking lot. Oh hell, I'm here all by myself, its late, and I am about to get mugged. The vehicle pulls up and its my mom who is just furious that I arrived so late. The next day we call up Amtrak and bitch them out for everything that went wrong on the trip. They decide to give me two free ride vouchers. Yeah sure, like I want to ever go on a train again.

So I guess the only thing that you can learn from this is that if you have a train trip you need to take, make sure you prepare properly. For example, if you have to get to somewhere that is five hours away; clear twenty hours from your schedule. Get to the station about a day and a half early. Get a can of mace for the bums and the beggars. Bring a backpack that could fit about three days worth of supplies. Bring liquor, bring lots of liquor. Maybe even some tranquilizers. Or you could just walk, you'll end up getting there sooner.

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