Friday, 23 May 2014

AMTRAK COMES UP TRUMPS

Loop22.05.2014

We checked out of the hotel at 10 am and took the shuttle to the metro which was very user friendly with lifts and caught the train to Union Station, about 25 mins (fares are $1.50 a journey). The grand plan was to find the left luggage office and leave the cases there for the day whilst we explored until the train left at 18.15.
Of course nothing is simple and the left luggage office turned out to be a baggage claim office for incoming trains. However as we turned away, the girl called us back and asked where we were going. On hearing that we had a sleeper booked on the Southwest Chief, she tutted and said we wanted the Amtrak lounge on the next floor and gave directions, which had we not had them we would never have found the unsignposted lounge. This turned out to be a hospitality suite for sleeper car passengers with unlimited free coffee, snacks,drinks,WiFi,TV,magazines etc. and where a) we checked in and b) checked our luggage. 2 big cases to be checked for the train and 2 carry on with stuff for 3 days/2 nights  which we could check in there and pick up before boarding.. Now, our slight concern was that when we booked all this we thought we had a sleeper with toilet and wash facilities, but it turned out that we just had  a room with chairs that converted to 2 single bunks. I had rung Amtrak to try and upgrade yesterday only to be told that we had been given a v.good  deal in December at $336  and a bedroom with facilities would sell today at $1359 so the upgrade would be over a $1000. They suggested we wait until we got on the train and then did a cash deal with the sleeping car conductor ..nudge nudge wink wink. So as the very nice Jennifer Adams checked our bags , I thought I'd ask if she could do anything. At first she came up with the same figures and same suggestion but then said what a silly price it was, she could do better and would we be able to afford $200/300 ? The GF leapt in with how  nice it would be to have our own bathroom and that's what we had been expecting,sob,sob and yes we'll pay anything reasonable. So Ms Adams got on the phone to PR where she used to work, called a friend, whispered endearments about lovely people from the UK going all the way to New York, and got us the bedroom . Free.  All we had to do was go to the ticket desk and exchange the old tickets for new ones. Result.
So with a hop skip and a jump we shot through the station ( which was the last built of the Grand Union stations and is magnificent... deep leather arm chairs, tiled floor polished like a mirror, beautiful wooden ceiling, ....) and had a glorious day sightseeing..... first the pueblo area where the first 22 Mexican families settled(22men,22women & 22 children) by order if king carloslll of Spain to provide for his soldiers; then to China Town, mooch round the fascinating markets, lunch excellent at Plum Tree , then walked to the cathedral, magnificent, modern and rehearsals for local schools graduation later this week, with choirs so nice local touch Then the state courthouse, civic centre, LA mall and finally
LAPD headquarters where I bottled out of going in and asking for Harry Bosch, but a passing fireman offered to take our photo under the sign with some bewilderment BA's not many people do that. Very nice day's sightseeing.
Back to the Amtrak lounge where things got better. At 17.30 a bunch of people burst in, grabbed our carry on bags and
took us out to golf carts which carried us over to the platform where our train which had been released from the freightyard after inspection and servicing would be arriving in 7 mins. Being sleeper clients we got priority. We were dropped at points corresponding to our ticket numbers and when the train duly arrived our bags were taken to our rooms which are v.pleasant. Big picture window with a seat on one side,fold down table in the middle and a bench seat that folds out to a double bed with another single bunk that folds down if wanted. Toilet & shower, wash basin, towels, bottled water, cups ,tissues, soap. Lots of lights and mains sockets and air con. Complimentary coffee, water and juice all the time plus breakfast lunch and dinner included and last night I had a steak which was as good as I've ever had, cooked to order...GF had the roast chicken, enormous portion.
I did however think that drinks were included and ordered a half bt white for and a half bt red for me and was somewhat shocked to get a demand for $32 afterwards...but what the hell, this is really exciting and sooooo cool. After dinner we repaired to the observation car, brilliant, to watch the sunset whilst our man Richard arranged the beds and turned us down. Glen in the bar is a  font of knowledge and has lots of cold beer and the hoi-poloi try to sleep in coach class. Ooooo!
Had to get up in the night to watch the sky! Never seen so many stars, felt you could reach up and grab a handful, and a half moon that was deep orange. Watched an amazing sunrise coming up to Flagstaff that seemed to stretch for hundreds of miles across the desert .Then Gallup and Albuquerque where we stopped to refuel and wee stretched our legs through the throng of vendors who thought we might buy something. Nice lunch.......there is  a policy of community seating which means 'tables seat 4, so you will share'. There are about 4/5 sittings for lunch and dinner which you pre book  each day and so you get to sit with different people each meal which has been really great as we have met so many people and they all think we are marvellous and wish they could do the same trip but they have all been interesting as well ..,esp the nutter from Brooklyn with his 1000 model trains in a one bed apartment who worked on the NY subway for 30 years but he was funny like new Yorkers are in films.
We have a lovely waitress called Dayzi who looks after us  as I keep stuffing $ in her hand.,.... In America I seem to do nothing but stuff tips in hands and everywhere you go there are signs saying that gratuities will be appreciated.
At Albuquerque we added 3 private, renovated Pullman coaches to be delivered to Chicago, which were so heavy they slowed us down and we lost 2 hours by next morning. We have gone through 3 time zones and adjusting clocks forward plays havoc with breakfast times. We then ran into a track problem at Cameron Junction and lost another hour whilst a points switch was repaired and another hour whilst the 100+ freight train ( I thought they were all 22 coaches long?) Crept through ahead of us.......100 coaches x 15 yds = 1500 yds plus 3 engines pulling and 2 pushing = best part of a mile !
So we are approaching  Chicago. It is 20.05 and we should have been here at 15.15. We still have 45 mins to go, find our luggage, find our hotel and I had booked us into Buddy Guys House of Blues for dinner. So that'll be buggered then, let's hope I can get in on Saturday night otherwise I shall be a very unhappy bunny as that was going to be my high spot of Chicago.

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