Something’s afoot on the Southwest Chief, the daily train from Chicago to Los Angeles. Nothing as serious as Murder on the Orient Express, but concerning nonetheless. Recently in both directions it’s been running hours late, as many as 12 or 13, on some days. It concerns me because I have reservations for a round trip in mid-August. I made the reservation back in February when I decided to attend my 50th high school reunion. As the date draws near, I’ve been wondering if I look too old, too fat, too bald or insufficiently successful (these are, apparently, the concerns of many 50 years after leaving high school). Last week I started worrying if I’d even get there on time. The reunion starts 8 hours after my train is scheduled to arrive in Los Angeles, but I’ve got to rent a car (which can take some time) and drive an hour to get there, and I ought to shower after 2 days on the train, too.
So I called Amtrak, if they can’t make trans-continental trains run on time, they CAN and DO operate a wonderful, friendly and helpful call center. A young-sounding guy who gave his name as Eric soon had me all sorted out. I’ll go a day earlier, giving the train a full 32 hours of potential late arrival time before the reunion begins.
After living in Taiwan, where there were plenty of trains that generally ran pretty close to “on time”, it comes as something of a shock to realize that the options are so few in America. But this is a BIG country and it’s been wedded to the automobile and interstate since the second world war. Riding the train is comfortable enough, but riding ANYTHING for 40 hours or more gets tiring. The blessing of living in Holland, MI is that there is a station here, with a daily early morning departure to and late evening arrival from Chicago every day. The station is near enough to our house that we can gauge, by the train’s horn, whether it’s on time, and it generally is.
David Alexander resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.