Thursday, August 31, 2017

Taking the Train to Iowa - All Aboard the California Zephyr - Dispatch #4

The Lakeshore Limited arrived 2 hours late to Chicago (all that stopping in the middle of the night), but luckily my layover was long enough to not create a rush. I got my 43-pound checked bag back, as there is no checked baggage for the short trip to Mount Pleasant. This is something important to remember, as it means you have to wrangle your suitcase through the train station and onto the train. I spent my layover time wandering around Union Station and taking photos of the classic, historic architecture.
Much of it had recently been repaired after an unfortunate incident in 2016 when a train passenger was hit in the head by falling concrete that fractured her skull.
Depending on what train you are leaving on, waiting passengers are asked to sit on specified areas, i.e., A, B, C, D, etc. My train was in the C group, and 30 minutes before the train was scheduled to leave, we were called to line up, just like you do in the airport.  However, after lining up, we had to walk all the way across to the other side of the station — something I expected that mature people with tickets for guaranteed seats would do in an orderly fashion. This, unfortunately, did not happen. 
As we approached the platform area, people began walking faster and faster. Some people began passing others who were ahead of them in the line. Once our tickets were scanned and the line proceeded to the platform things became even more disorderly.
The train stretched out for quite some distance, and the conductors instructed that all coach passengers (which we all were, since sleepers and business class get boarded first) had to proceed waaaay down the platform. (Describing the platform is also important to the rest of the story.) The platform is concrete, with tracks on both sides. Huge concrete pillars run down the center of the platform. From each trackside edge to about halfway across to the pillars is a bright yellow, bumpy covering of some type, presumably to caution people from walking there. However, if you are going to your train with one very large suitcase, and one small suitcase, it is pretty impossible to stay on the smooth concrete. In addition, at this point, anything resembling an orderly line breaks down. People rush past on the left side, on the right side, around the columns. Some are running. If someone stops to ask a conductor a question it creates a bottleneck with people careening to a stop, or bolting past.  
I was ridiculously trying to maintain my place in line as the crowd just surged around me. One of the wheels of my big suitcase got caught in the yellow plating material; it fell over and pulled me and my other suitcase down with it.  I fell flat on my face — actually my elbow and knee  —and slid a little bit on that skin-ripping surface. Not a single person stopped to help me, and I pulled myself back onto my feet as quickly as I could, despite the pain, because I really thought I was going to be trampled. This was probably one of the most disappointing moments of my life. (I rarely pull rank, but damn, I AM 62 years old) No one even bothered to tell a conductor, hey, a lady fell down back there, I’m in too much of a hurry to help her, but maybe you should.
When I finally limped down to the coach car assigned to my destination, it was really empty. I just don’t know where all those people were rushing to, whether it was for window seats or some other preference. However, this train is double decker, with great views from a regular seat, and then the famous sightseeing car with glass walls and ceiling, swivel armchairs, and tables with seating.
After I climbed up the steps and took a seat — a window seat — I stopped a passing Amtrak employee, showed him my bloody knee and asked for both first aid materials and an incident report. An ice pack would be especially nice, I told him. He found some Band-Aids and some alcohol wipes (OUCHIE!) for me, and told me the conductor for my car would return shortly to assist me.
The conductor was a lovely woman, and she was very concerned, even offering to get me off the train for medical care. I assured her that I didn’t need that, but in light of the fact that things always hurt worse the next day, I really wanted some ice and a report form. She supplied me with both. I was surprised that the first aid materials were so sparse on the train. She had to bring me a plastic cup with ice in it, and eventually got me a plastic trash bag to put the ice in. It was a bit leaky, but the quick application of ice did provide pain relief and kept down the swelling. I put the footrest up at my seat, took some acetaminophen, cleaned out the abrasions, and tried to relax.  It was going to be a 5 hour trip to Mount Pleasant and I didn’t want to be a bloody, limping mess when I got off the train and greeted my family.
More in the next dispatch.

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